Tick Tock & More About Sex and Gender

Regarding linking: link to me as Further Records. Thanks!

I am an alarm clock and a broken record. No need to compulsively refresh until at least 1pm EST tomorrow – our appointment is at 11:20am. Anyone have any actual useful advice for stopping constant nosebleeds during pregnancy? I’m know it’s dry air but I’m drinking gallons of water a day – there’s no way I’m dehydrated. No one who’s dehydrated needs to visit the restroom as often as I do. One useful site told me to apply pressure to the bridge of my nose, which I’ve done, and failing that, it suggested I stop picking my nose. I never had a problem with that because my gag reflex is so strong.

I read Gordon Wood’s biography of Benjamin Franklin Friday. A task I’d avoided because it’s popular history, and honestly I usually find such books dull and pretentious – David McCullough’s 1776 being the primary example. Or perhaps 1421. Really anything that claims to “shake and rattle” (from a review of 1421) academic histories. My father-in-law was very into the latter for awhile. These books suggest that academic historians have elitist agendas in our research, and that somehow it’s democratic to subvert our specialized knowledge. What’s subversive about purchasing a book that steals other people’s research or the ideas that percolate in our minds and communities for years, only to repackage it into a format that sells millions rather than thousands? Or worse, in the particular case of 1421, to suggest that there are theories (like Columbus “discovering” America in 1492) that academic historians protect because of some concern that careers will be ruined if they are disproved. I promise you that no contemporary trained historian I know thinks that Columbus “discovered” America in 1492, and no one’s career or reputation would be ruined if there emerged truly decent arguments for the existence of Chinese colonies all over North and South America in the 16th century. Nor I am entirely against popular histories. Writers like Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, should just acknowledge more openly that their books are popularizations of academic works.

But that’s not the point today. I’m glad I finally broke down and read The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, realizing that Wood is after all an excellent academic historian who is just now old enough and respected enough to write whatever the hell he wants, even if it is the umpteenth biography of a founder. I should be grateful that a really qualified writer has joined the craze. My father-in-law would ask what “new information” I learned about Franklin. That’s not the right question. The man is among the most studied in history. It’s not likely we’re going to discover some big secret in his life that will shake our foundations. Nor do I particularly care, from an historian’s perspective, about the true man. From the point of view of my dissertation and how I might someday teach the story of Ben, I was concerned with that question of Americanization, about how this figure who spent most of his life abroad and was fairly well hated and ignored by American politicians and presses, became the symbol we have today.

And I have thoughts on that now. But I have other, nonacademic thoughts too. Like how come, even though I don’t find it at all disconcerting anymore to know that Franklin, like Washington and Jefferson, owned slaves, I’m newly disturbed by how he treated his wife? I suppose it’s because I’ve contended with that question as a student and teacher dozens of times already, so much so that it’s boring. I’ve also known for years, however, that Ben treated Deborah as expendable. These family relationships are starting to jump out at me in a new way. Anne Hutchinson’s “monstrous births” in the 17th century. Edwin Forrest’s 4 dead infants in the 19th. I know why I’m noticing these facts obviously. But I want to know more about them & their historical meanings. Last summer I found a diary account, from the mid-19th century, where a father mourns his daughter’s miscarriage. It’s a big jump from the 17th to the 19th centuries, of course, but Hutchinson was demonized for her failed pregnancies, and other midwives were sometimes accused of witchcraft because of births gone wrong. Historians have been writing about pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood lately. And I need to read some of it. Because my intuition (educated) tells me that so much of what I hear about pregnancy and infant death “historically” is wrong, particularly the idea that we’re only just now coming to mourn them so deeply.

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3 responses to “Tick Tock & More About Sex and Gender

  1. First, I found your historical discussion fascinating. I completely agree with you that I suspect infant loss has always been cause for grief, and I would be very curious to know about anything you uncover in your studies.

    I didn’t find out the gender of our babies in either of my first two pregnancies. Obviously they were both boys, and both fun surprises. However, now I look back on those pregnancies and marvel at my innocence and fearlessness. It was fun, and I wish you could have that too, but I understand completely why you cannot. I couldn’t either in my sub. preg. And no, it had nothing to do with whether to paint the room pink (which we didn’t anyway) or blue. The reasons are so much bigger and complex. And maybe part of what is annoying you with your mom and sister is the feeling that they are over-simplifying this all too much. Oh goody, it’s a boy, let’s start buying clothes. Sigh… if only it felt that simple. If only it really were that simple.

  2. This is an interesting post to me. I recently picked up a book that claimed to tell the “history of birth” Flipping through it, I could not find any reference to stillbirth or even infant death of any kind. How could this be? How can a book touting the history of birth, leave out this important experience of so many women? Grrr….

  3. It’s after 1, and I have now officially began to refresh obsessively.

    I have often wondered about the pregnancy and child loss throughout history. And my hypothesis is that because it was a much more common experience, it was perhaps easier shared and easier understood. Friends were able to relate in a more immediate way, I would guess. But not that it was dismissed, at least not by mothers. I would guess we as a species would not survive if it was that easy to dismiss.

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