From time to time, I will publish a post for “Flashback Friday” from my prior blog. The first in this series originally appeared on July 24, 2013. In this post, I attempted to place the Right-wing hysteria over abortion rights in an historical context. In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined that two years down the road, the attack on abortion rights would escalate to the point where the House of Representatives (9/18/15) would vote to defund Planned Parenthood!
The surge in anti-abortion legislation, which seeks to turn back the clock on women’s reproductive rights, lends comparisons to the witch craze of 15th century Europe.
It was a time when women held a central role as their village’s midwives, healers of the sick, and leaders in pagan rituals exalting nature.
As the Catholic Church’s influence grew the village wise women became a threat. Their tendency to exalt the sacred feminine was in direct conflict with the Church’s insistence on the worship of a patriarchal God. Additionally the era was fraught with wars, dire economic straits and various plagues. The Church needed to find a way to disempower female leaders and to develop a scapegoat for the era’s horrible living conditions.
In 2013 we find ourselves living in unstable conditions marked by high unemployment, global warming and an every increasing number of wars.
Passing laws which single out women by making abortion illegal is reminiscent of the laws the Reformation passed to curtail women and to make them scapegoats for the larger social problems.
The Reformation enacted laws making it illegal for anyone without a medical degree to deliver babies and administer to the sick. These edicts ushered in medical schools open only to men. Male doctors came to supplant the village wise women. Those women who continued to practice midwifery and healing were arrested and burned at the stake.
Historian Anne Barstow author of Witch Craze, labels the witch craze, which took the lives of up to 9 million women over three hundred years, as the “women’s holocaust.”
A focus on female sexuality as the source of societal problems continues today just as it did during the Reformation. Women healers (“witches”) were tortured until they confessed that they fornicated with the devil. Modern women who seek abortions are being punished for being sexual, even when they are raped.
By and large powerful women remain suspect, unless they exhibit values (usually pro-war) consistent with our male leaders (women like, Hillary, Susan Rice or Samatha Powers). Among contemporary wise women who resemble the compassion of the earlier wise women are: Medea Benjamin, a founder of Codepink, the women’s international peace organization, which has led women’s peace delegations to Pakistan and the Left Bank. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s Presidential candidate who champions deregulating banks, universal health care and an end to our seemingly endless wars; Marion Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund a tireless advocate for poor children for the past 40 years; Amy Goodman, the anti-establishment anchor of the progressive news show, “Democracy Now.” Other wise women live among us just as they did in the small villages in France, Germany and Italy centuries ago. We owe it to them to uphold their legacy.
We are called upon to forge a community of women that supports other women because hard times make it harder for women.