“Last Call” has been on the nightstand, over there in the right rail, for a while now, but I’m still not done with it. It’s a time issue, not one of content; plus, I added “Freedom” to the mix, diluting my attention even further. But “Last Call” — a new history of Prohibition — is a great book, and I’m savoring it like two fingers of good scotch, a sip at a time.
Also, it’s dovetailing with the central plot lines of “Boardwalk Empire,” which takes place in 1920 Atlantic City, immediate after passage of the Volstead Act. It’s about the birth of American organized crime (or, at least, its vault into the big money) and a lot of other things, too, all of which were wrapped up with Prohibition, specifically the emergence of women as a political force to be reckoned with.
Women bore the brunt of their husbands’ drinking, sometimes quite literally cleaning up the mess it left behind, and became the driving force behind Prohibition. Many of the suffragettes came out of the temperance movement, and vice versa. A woman newly empowered in one area might look around for some other things to make right in her life, and so this week’s “Boardwalk Empire” episode introduced the once-taboo subject of birth control.
One of the dowagers of the local temperance movement hands a younger woman a pamphlet, which gets a significant-prop closeup: “Family Limitation” by Margaret Sanger. Once it’s opened it’s a chamber of horrors — Lysol douche, anyone? — but it was a necessary step along the way. Everyone fights with their biology to some extent. This was how women had to do it, once upon a time.
One of the obvious traits of the so-called pro-life movement that isn’t often discussed is the large percentage of its adherents who oppose all artificial birth control, as well as abortion. To them, it’s very simple: Don’t want children? Don’t have sex. The act is designed to bring babies into the world, and in order to do it in the way God intended, you always have to be open to the idea of increasing your tribe. Nice Catholic married couples can practice something called Natural Family Planning, which works on the same principle, and if you look around the web you can find many enthusiastic adherents talking about how hawt it makes their marital sex lives, how in-tune they are with their bodies, etc. It always puzzled me why it was OK to consciously avoid making babies by regulating your sex life but not OK to use a device or drug. Isn’t this imposing one’s own human will on the Lord’s business, as well? Yes and no. There’s a concept called “prayerful consideration” involved, and well — I check out at this point. Whatever these folks are selling, I’m not buying.
A friend of mine works in upstate New York, near Kiryas Joel, that odd Hasidic town where everyone is orthodox Jewish (and many of them are on public assistance, because if there’s one thing a small town can’t provide for that many people, it’s a living). Orthodox Jews also condemn birth control. My friend tells me the No. 1 most-asked-for service at the public-health clinics in the area is the tubal ligation done on the QT (i.e., without the knowledge of husbands and/or rabbis), perfect for that population, because their own religious practices take women out of the sexual rotation for about two weeks out of every month anyway, and laparoscopic procedures leave no trace and have short recovery times. The women come to the doctors trailing a brood of six or seven, exhausted, impoverished, with one goal uppermost: No more. In many ways they are the counterpart of the women of 1920 — oppressed by their biology but smart enough to know there’s a way it can be different. And that way is worth fighting for.
I have a feeling Margaret Schroeder, the woman at the center of “Boardwalk Empire,” is going to discover the limitations of Lysol as birth control. I salute her, and all her real-life sisters of the period, just the same. It was worth the fight.
So, some bloggage:
George Soros calls for an end to the other kind of prohibition.
Hysterical clip of John McCain, with the applause line that keeps on giving, via the Daily Show.
Office hours. I must give guidance to the young! Have a great, windy day.