The above sentiments, typical of conservative narratives that lament the good old days, have always been ones I found particularly amusing, since nine times out of ten they are made by rather stereotypical prudish old hens or right wing good old boys, whose tight lipped snarls appear as if they could suck the skin off a lemon. So it was with mild amusement, that eventually turned to horror, when I happened to be going through a trunk of old books and stumbled upon this relic, On Becoming A Woman.
I should probably explain.
In 1993 when I moved to Los Angeles to attend grad school, it just so happened to coincide with my parents finally remodelling the basement. Thus, like it or not, I was presented with a crate full (yes a crate) of old memorabilia from my mothers nursing student days. What this had to do with a graduate degree in community health was anyone’s guess, so not surprisingly the crate has stayed largely unopened. That is until my recent move and the subsequent incentive to purge my belongings.
Though the cover of the nursing student version seems to be significantly more serious and boringly textbook like.
That said, this was a find that I was in no way expecting.
Because until I came across it, I had assumed that my mother’s stories about the puritanical and very unscientific ways she, as a nursing student, had been exposed to sexuality were largely exaggerated hyperbole, most often imparted to generate a reaction. That is until I came across the book above by one Harold Shryock, M.A, M.D, the author responsible for this overtly sexist, paternalistic, misogynist, homophobic, and puritanical screed. I was shocked to learn that this book was the actual textbook used to teach the fundamentals of female sexuality to my mother’s class of undergraduate nursing students at one of Canada’s best and most progressive universities, as recent as 1957.
As if the following from the introductory pages isn’t enough to solidify Shyrock as the conservative gender essentialist he proved himself to be …
It gets worse, fast.
Of course some of you may be thinking, “but Allan, all those new, liberal feminist ideas weren’t around then.” Well, judging by the content of the book, I’m sure many wish they had been. Since there was really no one to challenge the notion that masturbation is evil, and it will turn proper young women into lazy, sex obsessed tramps with “loose morals.” Another heavily touted principle underlying the understanding of female sexuality was the idea that young women have a responsibility not to tease young men with their bodies, since young men may misread the signals and “have their way” (in 1957 clearly a more palatable term than rape) whether the girl wants it or not. The assumption being that either men are incapable of self control, or worse, entitled to the woman’s body since she has so unfairly lead him on.
Though given the 1994 fate of US Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders, incidentally the first woman and African American to occupy the position, it shouldn’t be all too surprising. After the Democratic majority government surrendered to Republican pressure, the resignation of Elders as Surgeon General was the unfortunate outcome. Her outspoken views about drug policy, harm reduction, and sexuality had made her the target of a conservative campaign to oust her from office. Her specific crime that sent them over the edge? She had condoned the idea of teaching schoolchildren that masturbation could be one of many alternatives to risky, unprotected sex, thus potentially avoiding or limiting STI risk.
By far the most shocking theory in this little gem of a book, is around how to solve the pesky masturbation crisis that will often befall young women. If the dirty little tramp won’t stop touching herself, and all punitive measures prove unsuccessful, you need simply have the young woman circumcised. You heard me, circumcised. A North American medical text, from the nineteen fifties, advocating female genital mutilation as a means to keep particularly pesky young women from pleasuring themselves.
I’ve included some examples of actual pages below. Here, the author expounds on his ideas surrounding that unwelcome habit of female self stimulation, and the appropriate surgical remedy.
Sobering, isn’t it? Not really that funny either, when you realize this was standard medical thinking and practice just a little under sixty years ago.
So, let’s not lull ourselves into the notion that even today, the culture, not to mention the medical profession, doesn’t still, in a multitude of ways, attempt to regulate female sexuality through theories and models that have little to do with actual science or psychology. Instead, they are still often centred around negative perceptions and false assumptions about women who have the audacity to define their sexuality through nothing more than their own individual desires and needs.
In closing, is there anyone who still doesn’t think that feminism is a necessary movement in 2016? Or is it, like, ick, feminism is so strident!Yeah, and genital mutilation isn’t?