Review of Leslie Reagan, Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America

via H-Disability

Leslie J. Reagan. Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. xv + 372 pp. $27.50 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-520-25903-4.

Reviewed by Heather Munro Prescott (Central Connecticut State University)
Published on H-Disability (March, 2012)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Prescott on Reagan

This book continues the compelling story of the history of abortion in the United States that Reagan began in her award-winning book, When Abortion Was a Crime (1998). The title Dangerous Pregnancies refers not to pregnancies that were dangerous to the lives or health of mothers, but to the “dangers” to home, family, and society posed by the birth of “defective” babies. Focusing on the responses to the German measles epidemic in the United States during the early 1960s, Reagan shows how fears of disability helped lend legitimacy to the abortion rights movement.

Reagan goes beyond her earlier work by linking the history of reproductive rights to two other fields of scholarship: the history of epidemics and infectious disease; and the history of representations of people with disabilities. She shows that in marked contrast to earlier epidemics, the German measles outbreak did not single out nonwhite or other stigmatized groups as sources of infection. Nevertheless, race was at the center of media representations of the disease. Responses to the epidemic highlighted how the birth of a disabled child wrecked havoc on the status of white, middle-class, heterosexual, nuclear families. The epidemic came closely after alarming reports about severe birth defects in infants born to women who had taken the sleeping pill thalidomide while pregnant. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had not approved the drug, some American women were able to obtain the drug from overseas. The story of Sherri Finkbine’s efforts to obtain an abortion after she discovered she had taken thalidomide while pregnant with her fifth child, helped transform attitudes towards abortion in the United States. During the pronatalist 1940s and 1950s, media coverage emphasized the deviant nature of abortion and of the women who sought these procedures. Finkbine’s story, along with that of other white, middle-class mothers who had contracted German measles while pregnant, transformed the image of abortion “from a shameful, thoughtless, and sick action to an ethical and responsible one” that protected families from the “burden” of raising a severely disabled child (p. 104).

Despite these changing attitudes towards abortion, significant barriers remained even for those who sought to terminate “dangerous pregnancies.” Reagan contrasts the cases of Barbara Stewart and Sandra Gleitman, who with their husbands filed “wrongful birth” cases against the hospitals that refused to provide abortions after the women had been exposed to German measles while pregnant. Both cases showed that hospital abortion committees were fickle and arbitrary. For the Stewarts, an African American couple, race posed an additional hurdle. While they had private health insurance, racial discrimination denied them access to physicians who had connections to hospital abortion review committees. By demonstrating the central role that race played in these deliberations, Reagan answers Chris Bell’s suggestion that disability studies scholars need to pay more attention to the experiences of “people of color.”

Reagan is less successful in showing how the German measles epidemic contributed to the emerging disability rights movement. She describes the work of “rubella parents”–most of whom were white and middle class–who fought for and won the right to public education for children with physical, sensory, and intellectual impairments. These parents were successful largely because rubella and its effects were not confined to the poor or to “people of color,” and because their arguments focused on the core middle-class value of access to education. Reagan also periodically mentions persons with congenital rubella syndrome and other disabilities, including those who objected to the “humane” and “merciful” reforms that made it easier for women to abort fetuses with birth defects. Reagan claims that even the suits filed by the Stewarts and Gleitmans reflected an aspect of this rights movement, since their aim was to get resources for their children. Yet Reagan underestimates the countervailing power of terms like “therapeutic abortion” and “wrongful birth” to reinforce prevailing beliefs that disability is a fate worse than death. Rubella immunization campaigns weakened the disability rights perspective even further. They used sentimental images of “pathetic” rubella children and played into popular notions of disability as a “tragedy” that could be prevented through universal vaccination against German measles.

Reagan shows how the rhetoric about “dangerous pregnancies” backfired during the 1980s and 1990s. Opponents of vaccination have seized on these same fears by alleging that vaccines cause autism, and that by refusing to vaccinate their children, they are saving themselves from the “heartbreak” of raising a disabled child. The discovery of fetal alcohol syndrome and other defects caused by environmental factors “erased” the history of women fighting for accurate information about potential threats to their babies and the right to abort “defective babies.” Public health campaigns by the March of Dimes and other organizations recast pregnant women themselves as risks to the unborn. Reagan rightly concludes that German measles acted as a “crucible for change” by prompting dialogue about reproductive rights, civil rights, and disability rights, but this change was incomplete. Abortion rights are increasingly under assault, and stigmatizing language about disability and misconceptions about persons with disabilities remain with us today.

If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at:

Citation: Heather Munro Prescott. Review of Reagan, Leslie J., Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America. H-Disability, H-Net Reviews. March, 2012.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Blog for International Women’s Day 2012: the Girl Scouts have always had a feminist agenda

via Gender Across Borders.  The theme for 2012 is“Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures” and Gender Across Borders asks us to address one or both of the following points:

  • How can we, as a culture and as members of the global community, involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?
  • Describe a particular organization, person, group or moment in history that helped to inspire a positive future and impact the minds and aspirations for girls.

Since it’s the 100th anniversary of Girls Scouts of America, I’ve decided to use this organization as the focus of my post.

By now most of you have heard of the  accusations by Rep. Bob Morris (R-Indiana) and other conservatives that the Girl Scouts have a “radical feminist lesbian agenda” (and if you haven’t, here’s an article that summarizes the issue, and Stephen Colbert’s hilarious commentary)

Those of us who remember our days in the Girl Scouts are naturally puzzled by this statement — seriously, what’s radical about selling cookies or singing songs by the campfire?

However, it is true that since it’s beginnings the Girl Scouts of America in 1912, the organization has promoted a feminist ideology for girls, although the term “feminism” needs to be placed in historical context. According to Rebekah Revzin, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America during a time of significant change in women’s social and political roles. Low’s life was a microcosm of the southern women’s movement: raised to be a good southern belle, her disastrous marriage impressed upon Low the necessity of training girls and women to be self-sufficient.  Furthermore, Low’s disability (she was deaf in one ear) ensured that the Girls Scouts were ahead of their time for promoting inclusion for girls with disabilities.  The organization welcomed girls from various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds as well.  Revzin observes that while a significant portion of Girl Scout literature focused on traditional notions of femininity, the literature also contained “a significant amount of material that challenges the more conventional feminine doctrine espoused at the time.” The most persistent theme that runs throughout Girl Scout literature is the notion of self-sufficiency: “Because traditional view of women, particularly in the South, implied that dependent or weak women were more desirable, the Girl Scout emphasis on female self-sufficiency appear particularly progressive” Revzin argues.  Providing for oneself included “cultivation of the body through physical activities that further empowered girls by giving them a sense of strong physical ability.” This support for physical fitness, says Revzin, “attributes a ‘natural’ desire for outdoor exercise to young girls, an innovative idea for its time.”  In order to ensure that girls would be economically as well as physically self-sufficient, the Girls Scouts “advocated professional careers for women.” The Career section of the handbook advised girls to pursue occupations that traditionally been reserved for men — physician, stock broker, managers, accountants, architects, even fire chief!  Revzin concludes that the Girl Scouts was more than a social club for girls: the leaders and participants aspired to go beyond “true womanhood.” Many of the “new women” of the early twentieth century “began their path toward social activity and political participation under the guiding influence of the Girl Scouts of America. These young women desired a forum in which they could express their independence, take part in outdoor activities, and provide help to others.”  Although the GSUSA never explicitly endorsed feminism, the organization “did advance women’s place in the public arena and their right to lead strong independent lives.”

Today, the Girl Scouts continues to empower girls — see its latest campaign, To Get Her There. In honor of its 100th birthday, Girl Scouts is also “setting out to raise $1 billion to achieve, in five years, a generational leap in opportunities for girls. This initiative will ensure that every girl in this generation will have the opportunity and the tools and the access she needs to reach her fullest potential. That is our promise. Together, we can make 2012 the Year of the Girl.”

Yet another reason to buy some cookies. . .

#Komen sucks, support @BCAction

Posted by Lorraine Tipton on Susan G. #Komen Facebook page:

via Huffington Post

As you all saw in my Twitter feed, I’m mighty upset with the Komen Foundation for their decision to no longer provide funding to Planned Parenthood for preventive cancer exams for low income women.

I’ve been a Komen “grumbler” for years but usually bite my tongue and shell out money when folks ask me to contribute “for the cure.”   My gripes include Komen’s support companies that “pinkwash” — i.e. sell products that have been linked to breast and other cancers and save face by selling pink stuff.  They spend a lot of the money they raise on administrative costs (e.g. the VP who pulled the plug on Planned Parenthood funding makes a six-figure salary), and there are doubts about whether the organization “raising awareness” really does anything to improve the survival rate of women with breast cancer.

So, if you really want to support an organization that truly cares about women’s health and is far more effective in fighting the breast cancer epidemic, then give your money to Breast Cancer Action (and Planned Parenthood because they need it.)

#HERVotes Blog Carnival: Extend Unemployment Insurance!

via HERVotes.

Why extend benefits, you might ask?  Isn’t the unemployment rate down? Well, yes the overall unemployment rate decreased from 9.9 percent to 8.6 percent.  However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for single mothers was 12.4 percent, up from 12.3 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009. And African-American women’s unemployment rate in November was12.9 percent, up from 12.6 percent in October 2011 and 11.7 percent in June 2009.   In addition, among women age 20 or over, 5.1 million were officially unemployed and another 2.8 million were not in the labor force but wanted work.  So if there ever was a “mancession” it appears to be over — and the recovery is clearly favoring men.

Now, some of you might be asking — why don’t those single mothers just go on welfare?  Well, let me remind you about the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act that was passed during President Clinton’s administration.

Debates about welfare “reform”exposed gender discrepancies in our country’s economic safety net.  As historian Linda Gordon observes in her book Pitied but Not Entitled, unemployment insurance was set up within the Social Security act as an entitlement program for (mostly) male workers.  The assumption was that men had to support their families, so they needed the income security that unemployment benefits provided. Initially, larger categories of employment — e.g. domestic service, agricultural jobs — were excluded from the social security and unemployment systems.  These of course were occupations where women and men of color tended to be clustered.

The Social Security Act framed women as objects of pity who needed to have their domestic roles protected.  What later became Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) started out as “widows pensions” so that women who lost their husbands could support their children without having to work outside the home.  Female recipients were frequently subjected to “morals tests” to ensure they were sufficiently worthy of relief. Later these benefits were extended to divorced and never-married women (and not surprisingly, what was already a controversial program became even more unpopular).

Because of reforms in the 1990s, there is no “welfare” anymore: the program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, with the emphasis on “temporary” — There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits within one’s lifetime, although some states have instituted shorter periods.  How many of these single mothers have already run through the 5 year lifetime limit? What happens when their unemployment benefits run out as well?  The answer isn’t pretty — see the other reports in the #HERvotes Blog Carnival.

Thoughts on Bachmann’s “Viral Politics”

via Student Activism(among many others).  At Tuesday night’s CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate, Michelle Bachmann chastized Texas governor Rick Perry  for his 2007 support of a mandatory state program vaccinating girls against Human Papilloma Virus — a sexually-transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer.  during the debate, Bachmann called the vaccine  a “government injection,” and Perry’s decision as “a violation of a liberty interest.” She also suggested that Perry’s support of mandatory vaccination was payback for Merck’s support of his campaign (Perry’s former chief of staff was a lobbyist for Merck). After the debate, Bachmann went even further:

“When you have innocent little 12-year-old girls,” she said, “that are being forced to have a government injection into their body — this is a liberty interest that violates the most deepest personal part of a little child. … A little girl doesn’t get a do over — once they have that vaccination in their body, once it causes its damage, that little girl doesn’t have a chance to go back.”

Student Activism says he was “gobsmacked by the language itself — the use of such heavily loaded molestation imagery to describe a non-invasive, voluntary medical procedure.”

I wasn’t going to get mixed up in this but because I contributed to the volume picture at left, and I’ve been getting links to articles about this asking for my thoughts, I’ve decided to weigh in after all.

I agree that Bachmann’s rhetoric is outrageous (especially since she shows little  concern for women who have been sexually assaulted, or those who need basic reproductive health care like pelvic exams or cervical cancer treatment).

Even the conservative paper  Wall Street Journal has condemned Bachmann’s “viral politics” and demagoguery, calling this “the kind of know-nothingism that undermines public support for vaccination altogether and leads to such public health milestones as California reporting in 2010 the highest number of whooping cough cases in 55 years.”

Wow, it’s not often I agree with the WSJ!  It’s also not often that the WSJ critiques a Republican candidate — obviously Backmann is beyond the pale (and I bet Perry’s ties to Big Pharma is a plus for the pro-business publication).

At the same time, I’m going to plug my and my colleagues’ work in Three Shots of Prevention and suggest critics get it and learn about the multiple moral, ethical, and scientific questions regarding HPV vaccines.

Update:  I’m addressing Dr. Pete’s comments here rather than in the comments section.  First, I and others who work on adolescent health issues acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between young children and teenagers.  One of the keys to successful adolescent health care is involving teenagers in the process (and as they age, asking Mom and Dad to step out of the room). In other words, girls (and boys) who are being offered the HPV vaccine should be part of the conversation about whether or not to receive it.  So individual liberty includes teenagers too, not just parents. The imagery used by Bachmann in her remarks does not acknowledge the developmental differences between teenagers and younger children.




Reminder to Certain Feminists: Teenagers have rights to choice and bodily autonomy too

via Historiann, who discusses Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Twitter battle with Katha Pollitt and Amanda Marcotte over her Salon article about her daughter getting the wrong vaccineat her annual checkup. Williams knew she would get flak for the article, but she “wrote it anyway, because I felt strongly about two key issues of the story. If you’re going in for any procedure, drug or vaccination, take a moment to double-check that the person administering it is giving you what you’re there for. Also, I believe my daughters should have final say in whether or not they receive the HPV vaccine. And flak, indeed, I got.”

As  an expert on the history of adolescent medicine and contributed to an edited collection on the politics of HPV vaccines, I have to say “right on.”

Certain feminists in the twiterverse disagreed, though:  “Amanda Marcotte took some mighty big umbrage on Twitter,”  calling Williams’ piece an “‘overreaction’ and then proceeded to engage in something that looks remarkably like overreacting.

“A single tear shed over this causes everyone else to wonder if you don’t have real problems,” she wrote. “I’m honestly not invested in freaking out on an innocent mistake that resulted in no real problems… I mean, I have real shit to deal with in my life… If that’s the most awful thing you’ve learned at 11, you live in a big time bubble…. I’m sure her mother’s reaction to it had nothing to do with the little girl thinking this was the worst thing ever.”

Author Katha Pollitt also jumped into the fray, calling the story “ridiculous.” Not the review I’d wish for, but all right. But I’d like to correct her assessment that “I just felt this woman was hyperfreakout helicopter parent, infecting her kids with anxiety.”

Unlike Historiann, I’m a twitterstorian who tweets regularly (see my feed to the right) although I must confess I find it impossible to keep up with all the people I follow and use an automatic aggregating program to compile all these posts into the Knitting Clio daily ( does this automatically — I don’t stay up late at night putting the daily together!)  I went to Twitter to look at the exchange between Williams and her critics (and fans).  I especially liked Angus Johnston’s comment:  “I think it’s utterly reasonable for a parent to want to choose when and how she discusses the HPV vaccine with her daughter.”

I made the following comment at Historiann’s blog;  “Wow, this woman dares to treat her adolescent daughter as a developing adult (i.e. follows the recommendation of experts in adolescent medicine). Kudos to her. Interesting that feminists like Marcotte and Pollitt are all for choice and bodily autonomy, unless the body in question belongs to a teenager.”

Now looking forward to my own Twitter battle!

Celebrating the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut

via Ms Magazine blog. On June 7, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision, Griswold v. Connecticut [PDF] which struck down an 1879 state law “that prohibited the use of contraceptives and made it illegal to assist, abet or counsel someone about contraceptives. Griswold established a constitutional right to marital privacy that, in the words of Justice William O. Douglas, would no longer allow ‘the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives.'”

At left is a photo from Corbis.  The image is from an awards ceremony on October 19, 1965.  

Original caption: Dr. C. Lee Buxton (Left) and Mrs. Estelle T. Griswold are shown with planned Parenthood awards they received on October 19, at the annual dinner of Planned Parenthood at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel here. Along with the gold statuettes each gets a scroll and they share the 2,500 Albert Lasker Award of Planned Parenthood-World population.
Now, I’ve always wondered why Dr. Buxton seldom if ever gets mentioned in the commemoration of this event.  I reckon it’s because he was a male doctor, and that just doesn’t fit with the over-simplified narrative of the women’s health movement of women combatting the “evil,” mostly male medical profession.
I don’t want to overdo it and give Buxton too much credit — but what I’ve heard from the residents who worked under him at Yale-New Haven Hospital  is admiration for his willingness to put his reputation and career on the line to fight the state’s restrictions on contraception.  This acknowledgement came even from Virginia Stuermer,  who said that while Buxton was very progressive on issues of birth control and abortion, he was not”so hospitably disposed toward young women who wished to become resident physicians in our department. At a time when the government was scrutinizing the hiring practices of universities which received federal grants(vis-a-vis women and minority groups),our chairman still felt he could ask women residency candidates if they would forego childbearing for the duration of the four-year program. Needless to say,fewwomen became residents during that chairman’s tenure.Today, a preponderance of residents in our department is female. This fact has certainly brought a sea of change in the attitudes of physicians in my field in this community.”  Nevertheless, Stuermer acknowledged that Buxton’s work along with Griswold’s, was “paramount” in the struggle against Connecticut laws banning birth control.  Buxton also was willing to enlist Stuermer and another junior faculty member as clinicians at the New Haven Planned Parenthood clinic.  After the Griswold decision was handed down, Stuermer replaced Buxton as medical director at Planned Parenthood, and abortion became the “next battleground” in the Nutmeg state’s history of reproductive rights.  At the forefront of these efforts were female physicians and law students at Yale.
This “sea change” among women professionals in medicine and the law deserves more attention,.  For a start, see  the essays by Sandra Morgen and Naomi Rogers in Women Physicians and the Cultures of Medicine, edited by Ellen S. More, Elizabeth Fee, and Manon Perry (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

Think Before you Knit-a-Boob for Breast Cancer Awareness

via Bust Magazine blog, which announces that on May 6th, Oak Knit Studio (OKS), “a learning and making space devoted to textile arts in Brooklyn, NY, announces the first-ever “Knit-a-Boob” special event in partnership with Knitters of all levels from novice to expert will gather on Friday, May 6th, to knit actual, wearable prosthetic breasts for patients and survivors of breast cancer, who have lost their breasts to the disease., the world’s leading online resource for breast health and breast cancer information, will lead live information sessions throughout the day, briefing participants on the latest in breast cancer treatment and prevention.  The organization will also be accepting the knitted prostheses, and will distribute the handcrafted boobs to those in need.”  The pattern for the boobs “was inspired by Beryl Tsang, a knitter who developed the pattern for herself while undergoing her own treatment. Beryl found her knitted prosthesis to be a much more comforting, and light-hearted alternative to other prostheses that she was offered, and it later inspired her to start the website, which offers custom knitted breasts.”

When I first saw the link to this on the Ms. Magazine blog I was all over it — I’m a knitter, I like nice yarn, I’m a feminist, I have boobs, what’s not to like?  If I hadn’t already planned to go up to Vermont to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day I’d be tempted to go (except that I also have piles of papers to grade — I hate it when work gets in the way of my hobbies!)

I still think this a worthwhile event since the boobs will be donated to survivors, but let’s reflect on what kind of “awareness” is being raised.  In a guest post at Breast Cancer Action‘s campaign  Think Before You Pink™, Anna Rachnel describes “The Dark Side of Pink Awareness”:

The color pink and the pink ribbon have become the ubiquitous and saleable trademarks of breast cancer awareness and the associated pink fundraising machine.

Through canny marketing, cutesy slogans, pink imagery, and campaign after campaign, we hear the pink awareness messages loud and clear.

Early detection saves lives.

Education saves lives.

Pink ribbons save lives.


But what is breast cancer awareness?

According to Wikipedia, breast cancer awareness is defined as

“an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and reduce the disease’s stigma by educating people about its symptoms and treatment options. Supporters hope that greater knowledge will lead to earlier detection of breast cancer, which is associated with higher long-term survival rates, and that money raised for breast cancer will produce a reliable, permanent cure.”

Rachnel asks, “Is this the definition of breast cancer awareness the public learns about through pink ribbon awareness campaigns? ” Her reply is a resounding “no”:

Women and men with Stage IV breast cancer are not the happy-happy-joy-joy-Sheroic survivor stories portrayed in the popular pink culture.  As a community we continue to fight; not only for our lives, but for official recognition by a mainstream breast cancer movement caught in a dangerous rut of pink unawareness. We are tired of our deaths being used by marketers to sell emotionally charged displays of pink, designed to generate both fundraising dollars and profits. Fundraising that the metastatic breast cancer community continues NOT to benefit from.

Breast Cancer AWARENESS? I think not.”

She points out that “this nation’s largest breast cancer fundraising organization, which was largely responsible for the instigation and rise of the pink awareness machine, contributed less than 19% of its total resources to actual breast cancer research in 2010.”

I don’t know much about but if you click on their corporate sponsors link, you will find a long list of drug companies and shopping sites where you can buy pink stuff.   How much of the profits raised from pink consumption do these companies donate to breast cancer research?  Can a website so heavily supported by drug company marketing be considered a neutral source of information?  These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of prayer and comfort shawls I need to finish.

Invigorated and Exhausted from American Association for the History of Medicine meeting

I got back from the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine meeting yesterday as as usual am bursting with ideas and buried in work.  So, this will be quickie overview with more reflection and analysis at a later date.

First, I’d like to report that my forthcoming book  (cover photo at left) is moving much closer to actually being out.  I received the page proofs about a week ago and am working on getting them back ASAP.  Unfortunately the editor decided not to have them available at the meeting because they aren’t corrected — but there’s always next year.  Hopefully they will be available at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians next month.

Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to plug my book and establish myself as an authority on the “morning after pill” in an interview for a documentary by Caryn Hunt, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.  It was a lot of fun and I wasn’t as nervous as I expected.  Also, I got a new suggestion for a doppelganger. Thanks,  I agree!

My presentation on The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory went very well and I had a substantial audience (at least 30) despite it being on first thing on the last day of the conference.  The reaction was enthusiastic (especially from this leading authority on the history of the Pill) so I’m planning to expand this and submit it to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Since I’m teaching in a public history graduate program, and living in Connecticut, my “commemorative mania” will continue with some kind of commemorative event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (which follows soon after my own half-century mark).  Not sure what this will be but the folks at Yale and Planned Parenthood are keen so looks like it will happen.  I also told the editor at Rutgers that I’m interested in doing a narrative history (as opposed to a legal history that uses Griswold as a lead-up to Roe v. Wade rather than an event in it’s own right).  As it turns out, a very distinguished senior historian of medicine and public health was one of the witnesses who testified.  It seems that the New Haven police was willing to shut down the clinic so that birth control advocates in the state could use this as a test case, but they needed evidence that the clinic was dispensing birth control.  This historian was a graduate student at Yale and was one of Dr. Buxton’s patients.  She volunteered to get the evidence (a tube of contraceptive jelly) and then went straight to the police department to turn in the incriminating evidence and give a statement.  When she blurted out that contraception was “women’s right”, the Irish cop asked her, “don’t you mean a married woman’s right?” What a story!

I heard lots a great papers and connect with all my history of medicine buddies.  However, work awaits so I’ll have to continue these conference report later (most likely much later since research papers and finals will be landing on my desk shortly).

Is the new film of “Jane Eyre” Feminist?

via Ms. Magazine blog, where Melissa Kort recalls, “When I was in college and graduate school, we were just discovering what it meant to read a novel–even a novel by a woman–from a feminist point of view. Then came, among other groundbreaking critical works, Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic: the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (1979). The madwoman in the title appears in Charlotte Bronte’s evergreen 1847 novel Jane Eyre, becoming for Gilbert and Gubar a symbolic depiction of Victorian women as either uber-repressed angels or unseemly, passionate monsters. Madwoman, in turn, generated an industry of critiques, thus widening further the focus of feminist criticism.”

I just watched the new film version of Jane Eyre by director Cary Fukunaga and starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender as Rochester, and Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers (I recognized Wasikowska from last year’s Kids are Alright but it took a visit to Internet Movie Database to remind me where I’d seen Fassbender (Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglorious Basterds) and Bell (the title character from Billie Elliot — blimey has it been that long since that film came out?!)

Back to Jane Eyre — I have never read the book and had not seen previous film versions either.  I was worried that the film would replicate the anachronisms of the most recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (which I refused to see because, like Bridget Jones, I consider Colin Firth to the be the best Mr. Darcy ever!)  So, I enjoyed the film on its own merits.  My complaint is that there wasn’t much chemistry between this Jane and Rochester.

So, is this Jane Eyre feminist?  If one considers the historical period of the film — the 1840s – then absolutely the answer is yes.  Jane defies the gender role expectations of the time and insists on a full life on her own terms — e.g. she refuses to marry St. John even though that’s what women are supposed to do.  Unlike Kort, who felt that film left out too many details about “complex social forces that engender” the madwoman in the attic, I found the minimalist approach of this version quite appealing.  This made for a leaner storyline but also a movie with a reasonable viewing length of two hours.  That and Wasikowska’s subdued yet luminous performance might just draw in a new generation of young women. Besides, if you want to learn more about the madwoman, from her perspective no less, read  Jean Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea.