Thoughts on Wake Up Little Susie by Rickie Solinger

This past month, I finally got around to reading Wake Up Little Susie by Rickie Solinger, a book that has been highly recommended in the adoption community. The book’s focus, though, isn’t adoption, but rather the ways in which unmarried pregnant women and girls were dealt with in the United States between 1945 and 1965.

I want to say two things about this book. First, the information it presents is important for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of women’s rights in this country. It was eye opening for me to learn how political and social policies have determined two separate fates for black vs. white women who have deviated from accepted norms. I came to Susie knowing that, in most cases during this time frame, white unmarried pregnant women and girls were convinced to relinquish their babies for adoption while black women and girls in similar circumstances kept and raised their own children with the help of their families, but I did not know why that was the case or how the system was designed to punish those black women at every turn.

Having myself been born to an unmarried white girl in the late 1960s, I was most familiar with the narrative expressed by the women interviewed by Ann Fessler for her book The Girls Who Went Away. Solinger’s book, however, reveals how social support systems across the country aimed to diagnose women like my mother as psychologically impaired and then rehabilitate them via whisking their babies off to respectable, married couples, thereby satisfying two goals: supplying infertile couples with children who could blend into their white families and providing a means for fallen women and girls to become eligible again for marriage and respectability.

Black women and girls were not offered this same chance at rehabilitation. They were deemed to be immoral by nature, and were therefore required to deal with the consequence of their immorality. Services that might have helped them in raising their children were denied to them, because officials decided that to offer assistance would be akin to encouraging illegitimate pregnancies. Thus, the trope of the welfare queen took hold, due largely to a desire within the white establishment to keep black mothers, and, by extension, all black people, in their place. In reality, most financial assistance to single mothers went to white women, because authorities created onerous roadblocks to keep black women from receiving aid. Black women were also denied space in maternity homes or the option of offering their babies for adoption.

What can a woman in crisis do except to utilize the options that are available to her? What better way to control women than to limit their options.

The more I learn about this period in US history, the more obvious it is to me that control of women’s health and financial options has been used repeatedly as a means of trying to shape our society according the vision of white men in power (and the women who go along with them), without too much concern for the individual people or families affected by those political decisions. And this continues today. We see the current administration attempting to cut back or eliminate services related to sex education, birth control, and women’s health, services that have been in place now for several decades and that have been successful in reducing unplanned pregnancies and enabling women to make informed choices for their own lives. There are people in positions of power in this country right now who want to take us back to that time when women had very little say in what happened to their lives because they had so few options when it came to giving birth or raising children. We cannot allow them to force us back there.

The second observation I want to make about Wake Up Little Susie concerns its format, the actual written words in the book. As I said, this book has been highly recommended, however it was clearly written for an academic audience. Solinger’s research consists of studying a slew of sociological studies along with historical documents. Even when she quotes individual women affected by the policies she’s describing, those quotes are taken from previous studies in which the women were interviewed, so it feels as if the women’s voices exist only in service to answering the academic question that’s been put forth. This is not to deny the relevance of Solinger’s work; her synthesis of all this information is still quite valuable, as I’ve already described.

But, here’s the thing. The way the information is presented is so dry and so academically worded that I fear many lay readers would not have the fortitude to stick with this book long enough to fully grasp the enormity of the very important conclusions Solinger reaches. We need researchers and historians like Solinger, but we also need creative writers and other artists who can find ways to better communicate important information like this to a much broader audience. I believe the key to real change in this country lies in raising the awareness and understanding of a broad swath of regular, everyday people.

Everyday people in large numbers demanding change is what makes things happen. It’s up to those of us who first recognize the need for change to figure out how to communicate that need in a way that many others will feel in their bones. Action requires passion. We must inspire in order to effect change.

Anatomy of Power

Women whom I’m friends with on Facebook post photos of other women dressed in vagina costumes at the Women’s March.

So embarrasing!

A disgrace!

How to explain this to their daughters?

* * *

My girl only recently learned how babies are conceived. We call our body parts by their anatomical names—breasts, uterus, vagina. We avoid shy slang.

My girl does not like anyone to use vulgar words. She calls them bad words, but I correct her. There are no bad words, because a word itself does not have any moral value. Every word we invent serves a purpose. Sometimes our purpose is to hurt other people, and that’s when a word becomes a thing we shouldn’t say.

My girl did not know the word pussy as anything other than a cat until I had to explain what a then-candidate for president meant when he said that, if he wanted to, he could grab women by their pussies.

* * *

Photos of women dressed in vagina costumes at the Women’s March make me feel timid. A taboo has been broken. Some parts of a woman’s body, I have been taught, should always be covered. Breasts. Buttocks. Vagina. To expose these to view is to incite sexual urges in men.

Let’s be frank, this is what we’ve been taught, that we as girls, as women, must always be careful not to do anything that might cause a man to feel sexual desire. We girls, we women, have been taught to be responsible for men’s reactions, as if they are not capable of controlling their own behavior. We have been trained to be culpable. Continue reading “Anatomy of Power”

Election Aftermath

The past ten days have been rough. I have never before cried because of an election result, but I have cried multiple times since Hillary Clinton conceded. My body aches from the stress it is now holding. It has been a very long time since I physically held this much stress, and I know how bad for my body this is, and I know I must take steps to relieve my body of this stress. Writing here is one of those steps.

I am more afraid for my country now than I was after 9/11. That was an attack from the outside, a threat I knew everyone here would unite against. This is different. This is a threat perpetrated from the inside by my own countrymen and countrywomen, a calling to dismantle the very systems that have made the U.S. the free and prosperous country it has been for so long.

People are ascending to power who believe that they should control what the press is allowed to say about them, that they should control who is or isn’t allowed to call themselves American, that they should control how U.S. citizens define their own identities, that they should control what U.S. citizens can or cannot do with their own bodies.

Let’s not pretend this isn’t happening. Continue reading “Election Aftermath”

Do You See What I See?

Transracial adoptee Angela Tucker recently penned an insightful, thought provoking blog post over at Lost Daughters, in which she dissects the experience of being told after a speaking engagement that she was the “Whitest Black person” an attendee knew. She says she hears this sort of thing often, and that she tries to give people the benefit of the doubt when they say things like this, but that there seems to be no inverse; the people who call her the “whitest black person” cannot think of the “blackest white person” they know.

When I read this, I immediately thought of a woman whom I have, indeed, thought of as the “blackest white person” I know. She is a person close to my age, who grew up in the same city as me, yet had a very different childhood experience.

In 1973, after many years of protests by parents, the NAACP sued the Cleveland Public Schools, alleging intentional segregation of students based on race. The school system was found guilty of maintaining separate schools for whites and blacks, and in 1979 began busing white kids over to the east side of town and black kids over to the west side in order to integrate classrooms as mandated by law.

Many white parents, even non-Catholics, chose to send their children to the numerous private, Catholic schools in the area rather than allow them to go to school across town. Many white parents who could not afford private school tuition chose to move to one of the Cleveland suburbs to avoid having their children bused. Continue reading “Do You See What I See?”

Congratulations Ohio Adoptees!

In just five days on March 20, the estimated 400,000 people adopted in Ohio between 1964 and 1996 will be able to request and obtain their original birth certificates, and I am even more thrilled now than I was at the end of 2013, when legislation was finally passed to restore this right to us.

I am one of the people who fall into this category of Ohio adoptees, whose right to their real, factual birth certificate was revoked through legislation authored in large part by adoptive parents back in the mid-1960s. You can learn more about how this happened and the long effort to reverse this misguided law here and here.

Personally, I have been luckier than most of my fellow Ohio adoptees because I was able to identify and reunite with my biological parents without having my original birth certificate (OBC), and I was also able to obtain my OBC with the assistance of my birth mother. Even though I already knew my birth name, the names of my birth parents, and the circumstances surrounding my conception, birth, and relinquishment, it was vital to me to see and hold that one piece of paper that documents my entry into this world. Finally, I felt real–created and birthed in the same way that all the non-adopted people I knew were. Continue reading “Congratulations Ohio Adoptees!”