A Cultural History of
Outrageous Beliefs
About Women

Lana Thompson
Plato said that the uterus was "an animal within an animal," and said that if deprived of sexual activity, would go somewhere else in search of satisfaction. Hippocrates stated the womb wandered about the body, looking for love, and when it bonked into other parts --- heart, lungs, kidneys, liver --- it caused disease. To stop this hobo-ing around, medievals would wave smelly burning herbs at women, putting the stinkiest up at nose level (to drive down the uterus) and the nicest scents at groin level (to bring it back home).

Women who consorted with the devil needed a "witch's tit" --- a place for Beelzebub to hook into, so he could suckle his poisons. Usually, this spot was the clitoris. There were professional witch-hunters who could identify witches through this organ.

Then there was one Ambrose Paré said that there were many fantastic and surreal creatures residing in the womb. He is said to have found a coiled serpent therein. The Book of Genesis laid all our troubles on Eve, so that up to fifty years ago, women were not offered any pain-relief during child-birth because it was right that they should suffer for their part in our Original Sin.

The primary complaint of women, over the centuries, was called "hysteria," and came about either through too little or too much sex: men were divided on this subject. Even into the 20th Century, Herculean efforts were used to cure hysteria and depression. The actress Francis Farmer remembers being taken into an insane asylum, tied to a wooden frame with a canvas sheet, and immersed in ice water (it was known as a "hydro:")

    The first crash of icy water hit my ankles and slipped rapidly up my legs. I began to shake from the shock of it, screaming and thrashing my body under the sheet, but the more I struggled, the more I realized that I was helplessly restricted to a frozen hell...Hydro was a violent and crushing method of shock treatment. What it really did was assault the body and horrify the mind until both withered with exhaustion.

If we think that we have moved beyond such backwards thinking about women, the author reminds us that the current debate over abortion is really an attempt, yet again, to tell women that once they have conceived, the womb is no longer theirs. It will be forced to wander away from her control, into that legal morass run mostly by white men. In addition, by the age of 60,

    35 percent of American women will have had a hysterectomy. Death rates from this procedure range from six to eleven per 10,000, with nonfatal complications in 25 to 50 percent of the cases.

This thirty-five percent figure is five times the number of men's prostatectomies; even with cholecystectomy --- gall bladder removal --- women are three times more likely to have the operation than men.

Ms Thompson is angry --- at the history of women's treatment, at the medical profession, at blind biblical tradition, at men --- and perhaps with good reason. Her rhetoric may get a bit hectoring at times, but the wonderful etchings presented with extensive notes, help to make her case: that even after all these centuries, men seem to not want women to own their own bodies. It is, as always, another form of slavery.

--- R R Doister

Made Easy

William Carroll
Those of us who have published our own books have many war stories to tell you. I sure do. About how I ordered 13,000 copies of one title, not even dreaming how many tons of books this represented (and having no place to store the 500 - 600 boxes that ultimately arrived). About sending out 450 copies out of a printing of a thousand for review purposes, and --- getting some good reviews --- selling out in two months (and being broke at the time, unable to print any more.) About my most recent: a humor book, which cost an arm and a leg. We sent out a bunch for review, got a couple of mentions in the "Fly-By-Night Weekly" and "The Garbage Shoppers Digest" --- and ended up selling somewhere between 20 and 40 copies, total. We don't have exact figures because I am unwilling to torture myself any more over that turkey.

Now comes William Carroll who uses the word "easy" and "self-publishing" in the same title. He makes it so very logical: you have a concept, you make a synopsis, you research the market, you reduce the risks --- and then, after writing and publishing the mother --- you start getting it in bookstores and selling it. "For what it's worth, the book publishing business has been very good to me," he says, "and I live a pleasant life." He does mention the fact in passing that only twenty percent of books published make money, but then he says, "thankfully, in the latter group are many self-published books."

He does not tell us that there are more than 60,000 new titles being published in the United States right now, and that your chances of getting publicity, finding a distributor, or getting any book store to carry the book are close to zilch. The big ones won't touch you, even with the sexiest title (your one title is too much trouble); and most of the poor bastards who run home-town book-love outlets get someone like you on their doorstep no less than ten times a week asking to use up their precious shelf space with your particular work-of-art. In truth, Mr. Carroll --- with all his let-me-tell-you-the-facts --- makes it sound like a fun-loving breeze, but, believe me, even though you've titled it Make A Million Dollars Breeding Rottweilers The Christian Way, no distributor will touch it, and you'll soon have ninety-two cartons of this turkey in the garage --- no room for your car. It does tend to breed despair.

There is something a bit more troublesome here. The author has put together a faulty product. If he's going to tell us about self-publishing, he should put together an impeccable book to show us exactly how-to-do it. This one is far from impeccable. We're not just talking about typographical errors, though there are a bunch of those. We're not talking about ignoring the dictionary (you spell it "English," not "english"). We're not talking about creating words where none existed before, viz., "As artists will explain, design and art on a cover can be highly impactive."

No, what we are talking about is what our favorite grouchy 7th Grade English teacher, Mrs. Doogan, would call a "Hunh?"

  • In all of the above a prudent publisher places one toe carefully into the water but slightly...
  • Skipping back to the time you spent cruising book stores for comparable books, reconsider that as you walked past the shelves you saw more spines than covers.
  • I give books away at the drop of an interest[Is he perhaps referring to the Federal Reserve 13th District Rediscount Rate?]

Carroll suggests that the cheapest form of publicity is the book itself, sent out to possible reviewers, and he's right; but when he lists Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher's Weekly, he neglects to tell us that they want pre-publication copies four to six months before the title comes out (he doesn't even mention the importance of such newspapers as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, et al.)

Finally, for all his discussion of how to construct a cover for your book, it's damn near impossible to read the type on the back of this one, the lettering being off-black on a very dark red.

Marilyn and Tom Ross, who've been in the self-pub biz for many years, have just brought out one called Jump Start Your Book Sales (Communications Creativity). The title is dreadful but the book is chock-a-block full of the information you need, and you'd be wise to pick it up and ignore Self Publishing Made Easy. In any event, be forewarned. One chapter of Carroll's book is titled "Money in the Bank." No matter whose advice you follow, it had better be there before you begin.

--- A. W. Allworthy


John Barth
All right, all right --- it's not new. In fact, it's almost forty-five years old. But if you haven't read it up to now, call up the American Book Exchange on your computer and order up a copy. You won't regret it. I swear: it's Barth before he became famous, and turned obscure.

It's ostensibly the tale of a Maryland country lawyer, involved in country law: wills, divorces, personal injury, torts. But being Barth, it's more --- much more. For one thing, it has to be one of the best writings extant on the silliness of the practice of law in American. It is, too, one of the first novels --- outside of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Anderson --- to demonstrate what some might think of as U. S. Existentialism.

Most fetchingly, there are the tricks the author uses to suck us in: tricks --- right out of Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne. "I don't know anything about this novel-writing business," the hero seems to say, "But I'll try, and let's see what comes out of it." And so he leads us a merry chase, at times chastising himself for getting off the track; at times chastising us for what we might be thinking. For instance, if the main character's name is Todd, does that have anything to do with the German word for "death?" Absolutely not, says Barth: perish the thought. And the very fact of his bringing it up makes it stick in our minds --- maybe The Floating Opera is all about death.

Every reader will have his favorite passages. For me, it's the description of the central legal hinge of the novel, the Harrison Mack Senior Will case:

    Now of the several characteristics of Harrison père, three were important to the case: he was in the habit of using his wealth as a club to keep his kin in line; he was, apparently, addicted to the drawing up of wills; and, especially in his last years, he was obsessively jealous of the products of his mind and body, and permitted none to be destroyed.

As the narrator tells us, this give Todd and his legal counterpart on the other side a chance to have a field-day with legal technicalities. It is in the description of these that makes the book such a nougat.

There is, above all, the simple truth that Barth is a fine writer. Listen to this description of the fact that because of a peculiar heart condition, that Todd, relatively young, might well pop off at any moment:

    Eleven times the muscle of my heart contracted while I was writing the four words of the preceding sentence. Perhaps six hundred times since I began to write this little chapter. Seven hundred thirty-two million, one hundred thirty-six thousand, three hundred twenty times, since I moved into the hotel. And no less than one billion, sixty-seven million, six hundred thirty-six thousand, one hundred sixty times has my heart beat since a day in 1919, at Fort George G. Meade, when an army doctor, Captain John Frisbee, informed me, during the course of my predischarge physical examination, that each soft beat my sick heart beat might be my sick heart's last...

[Note the luscious use of "soft;" the heart-beat like repetition of "sick heart"]

    ...Having poured my drink, I may not live to taste it, or that it may pass a live man's tongue to burn a dead man's belly; that having slumbered, I may never wake, or having waked, may never living sleep...Having heard tick, will I hear tock? Having served, will I volley? Having sugared will I cream? Having eithered, will I or? Itching, will I scratch? Hemming, will I haw?...

Sigh. This is prose-poetry of the highest order --- and it is part of a dandy novel, one that won't leave you alone until you come, very regretfully, to the end.

--- Laurie Wilson

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