If there is one thing I noticed while reading section two of Get Me Out! it’s the conflicting idea of feminism that seeming became very common during the early 1900s. On one hand, leaps and bounds were made for women simply because equality between men and women was suddenly a belief that a majority of people began to hold. However because the way of going about equality, at least in the motherhood aspect, was skewed, women were not actually benefiting as much as they thought they were, particularly if they weren’t from high class families.
In a way, the ideals that were popular in the early 20th century were a kind of false-feminism. This was actually pretty common, if you look at the beginnings of feminism
. In particular, the way Randi Epstein discusses the Twilight sleep drug that many early feminists fought for shows how the amnesia-inducing birthing drug actually took the power away from women. “Ironically, they considered being knocked out with drugs an expression of feminism.” (82) Women of that time period actually preferred the idea of not remembering delivering their child, and the pain that came along with it, rather than having the security of knowing that their doctors were respectful to them throughout the procedure. Unfortunately, both their doctors and the journalists that raved about this seemingly miracle drug were not always worthy of the trust placed in them.
It wasn’t until US doctors began using the twilight sleep that the truth about what happened behind the closed doors of the operation room came out. “Neighbors were enraged. They claimed that the screams of women in labour and ambulances carrying away the dead ones would keep them up at night.” (90) But countless women overseas experienced this kind of treatment before it ever came to the United States. Covered up by journalists, stories of German hospital rooms with, “twilight sleepers [that] were blindfolded and restrained while they writhed and hollered during delivery. To keep women still so that doctors could catch the babies, nurses tethered their arms to the bed rails and their legs to the stirrups with leather straps. Some rooms had ‘cribs’, padded, deep beds to prevent women from falling out while they were twisting about.” (87) More than that, the news articles also failed to mention the health risks that were involved with using the twilight sleep drug.
Despite that, I can understand where those women were coming from when they decided to use the medicine to deliver their child, despite warnings from their doctors. As Karla Ru. mentioned in her post, childbirth could be a scary thing because of how little reliable information was available and how little choice they were given in a procedure that was such a huge part of their lives. The twilight sleep wasn’t just to relieve their pain, but to give historically repressed women a chance to control their own lives.
So maybe the social movements in the early 1900s weren’t false-feminism like I originally believed. Perhaps instead it was more of a morally-right-but-misinformed-feminism movement. Sure, the women of that time didn’t always do the right thing for their health. Yes, they often relinquished control that they thought they were gaining. But did they have wrong goal in the end? Absolutely not.