Incest… How important is that in light of the Gulf Coast volcano, or the endless wars around the world, or global warming…? I mean, really. Isn't it just more of the West’s navel-gazing, my-mother-didn’t-love-me narcissism...? I mean, really?
I mean REALLY. It is the root, it is the ground zero, it is the central organizing paradigm of the patriarchy. Yes, really, I mean the patriarchy. That male-dominated system that, in the words of Robin Morgan, institutionalizes dissociation. What does that mean? It means it splits off profit motive from the murder of animals. It sees an oil leak as good for the Gross National Product, because it generates jobs and stimulates technology. Ditto war. The military is the largest consumer of goods in the US.
So… Just how important is incest in light of ALL the problems in the world today? Very. Priority. Central to the solution. Never equivocate on that. Never. And when you save a child you strike the most powerful blow against the empire. And when that child is yourself, you have raised the dead.
Quick story: In the 1800’s Donaldina Cameron ran an orphanage in San Francisco for Chinese girls rescued from prostitution. Look her up. Read the book about her life. Anyway, she didn’t just run the orphanage. She went into the opium dens and the brothels of Chinatown and abducted these girls, often against their will, because they had been taught that she was the “white devil” and was going to eat them. And of course, they were addicted and trauma-bonded to their captors. On top of all this, they were often legal wives, even though they were little girls. Their marriages had been contracted on paper in China. So her rescues were technically illegal. But she did them anyway. Very, very dangerous rescues… down fire escapes with unconscious girls over her shoulder… Someone should make a movie. Except, you know, it would probably be about the sexy, fun-loving Chinese whores and the puritanical churchworker…
ANYWAY… I’m telling a story. Donaldina was on her way to Washington to lobby the President about a law that would confront this child-bride loophole that was enabling the trafficking. Halfway there, in Chicago, someone slipped her a note about a girl being held prisoner there. She dropped everything and rescued her, missing her chance with the President. She had her priorities right. She “got it.”
A quick summary: In the early days, when so many girls began showing up with gonorrhea, the doctors could always pretend it was something else, because there were no lab tests for identifying the bacteria. It sure looked like gonorrhea… and if it was in an adult female, they would have diagnosed it as a venereal disease, but because these were little girls… well… nobody really wants to hear the truth, and the child won’t know the difference.
Then the bacteria was identified. So now the doctors had to face the fact that a very large number of girls, 5 and 8 and 12, were turning up with gonorrhea. So now they decided that they must be getting it from toilet seats. Unbelievably, this was taught by medical schools for FIFTY YEARS, even though there has never been a single recorded case of transmission of gonorrhea from a toilet seat. The bacteria does not survive long enough.
Worse than that, the doctors advised that girls with gonorrhea be removed from school, so that they would not spread the disease via toilet seats. It’s not bad enough that your father has raped you and that you have a hideous disease, but now you are socially ostracized and deprived of an education! Fortunately, most public health and school officials were too lazy to enforce this. And, of course, there never were any epidemics in schools… aside from the ongoing national epidemic of fathers raping their daughters.
The emphasis in the early years of the 20th century was on hygiene, and, of course, the burden of this fell on the mothers: If the daughters contracted gonorrhea, the mother had not been vigilant enough about toilet seats, bath towels, washcloths, and so on. Here’s just a sample from 1928: “After each use of the toilet, the child’s hands must be washed and cleaned with bath alcohol… the infected child’s bed linen must be washed in a separate laundry… first be saturated in a bichloride of mercury solution… followed by boiling from one-half to one hour… The seat of the toilet should be protected by a towel, followed by washing with… creolin solution.” How about lock up the perpetrator?
Now, what was puzzling to me was how these women who were disseminating this information were Amazons and lesbians like Jane Addams, and that early tribe of fiercely feminist social workers. Were they really that stupid?
And here, I want to interject a note from my own experience… Many mothers who suspect that their husbands have sexually abused their daughters are not going to bring that daughter to a doctor or a clinic, if they feel the secret will be exposed. They will let the daughter die of infection before they risk exposing the incest. Seriously. I actually believe that the majority of women will side with their husbands against their daughters. And dykes would know this.
So women like Jane Addams embraced a medical myth that would give these cowardly or vicious mothers an escape clause. Their daughters could be diagnosed and treated, and nobody would require that the family members be tested. The conversation would be around toilet hygiene. One practitioner even had a toilet in his lobby so that mothers could practice with their daughters. Because, like Donaldina Cameron, these women put the welfare of the child first. The toilet-seat myth did nothing to bring the perpetrators to justice, but it probably allowed thousands of girls to get treatment.
In the book the author does say that many mothers only permitted doctors to treat their daughters after a social worker convinced them that it was a common and easily transmitted disease among children. But she never draws the obvious conclusion… that women like Jane Addams were not gullible or naïve. The women “on the ground,” as women on the ground always do, focused on the immediate, and if the lies of the doctors could serve their purposes, they did not hesitate to deploy them to save the children.
There was a three-year study by a vaginitis clinic in 1927, but the questionnaire asked no questions about sexual assault at all. Instead, it was focused on toilet facilities and sleeping arrangements. Sleeping arrangements might have been instructive, but the concern was contamination from bedding!
“No idea” keeps turning up over and over again when doctors are asked how so many girls are being infected. As the author notes, “record keeping remained—almost insistently—scattershot.”
In 1940, four decades after the epidemic had been identified, the toilet seat theory was still appearing as scientific fact in the most prestigious pediatrics textbook of the 20th century, Holt’s Diseases of Infancy and Childhood.
Well, what on earth must have happened to change all of this? Or has it changed? Or did it change and then change back again? And can we change it for good? I am sure that these questions must have readers on the edge of their proverbial seats, no pun intended. Stay tuned for Incest History: Part Three
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 1"
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 3"
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 4"