Changing Times, Part 1

Roy Hanu Hart, M.D., aka Doctor Faith, April 3, 2017

I think it was Megyn Kelly, when she was still with the Fox News Channel in 2016, who came up with the terms “snowflakes” and “cupcakes” to describe today’s hypersensitive  mollycoddled collegians. In the end, “cupcakes” was dropped, and we now hear the current crop of NARP collegiate millennials referred to as the Snowflake Generation. (NARP is college slang for “non-athletic regular person.”)

Bill O’Reilly, news doyen at FNC, has come out with yet another book, Old School: Life in the Sane Lane, where he contrasts the older generation with the 18-34-year-old, or millennial, population. In the terminology I use, that would be the modern and postmodern generations, respectively. The dividing line was the 1960s, an earth-shaking  – I might even say cataclysmic -- time in history, not just our own nation’s.

We reserve the term Cultural Revolution for the young people’s uprising that occurred in China under Mao Tse-tung during the ‘60s. Our cultural revolution had a name of sorts: it was called the Counterculture. Usually, it was not capitalized, but its importance is such that the term deserves to begin in upper case. It marked the beginning of the postmodern world.

History is replete with events that have “changed the world,” an expression repeated so often it begins to sound like a cliché. But the Counterculture will be viewed by future historians as a turning point in human history.

How did it all begin? Well, my first awareness of the changing cultural scene came in September 1963, when I was a third-year medical student at McGill University in Montreal. I had been living in Europe for a number of years, and what was going on in North America caught me by surprise when I returned home to Maine.

During my rotation on psychiatry, I saw a distressed young woman who, in between copious tears, managed to convey the reason for her distress. She thrust a copy of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963) into my hands and proceeded to explain Friedan’s new feminist vision of womankind, which was in marked contrast to the world view that had shaped her own upbringing.  

Of course, Betty Friedan wasn’t the first crusading feminist to appear on the horizon, but her book was the catalyst that fueled the post-World War ll movement. Historically, French feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex preceded The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1949, The Second Sex may be said to have touched off second-wave feminism, the movement that began in the early ‘60s. Second-wave feminism expanded first-wave feminism, which was concerned with voting rights and property rights, to include reproductive rights, inequalities in the work place, domestic violence, et cetera. As for the content of The Second Sex, de Beauvoir saw history as the story of women’s oppression: “…humanity is male, and man defines woman….”

How far back do we want to go to pinpoint the origins of feminism?  Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Frankenstein novelest Mary Shelley, wrote an early feminist work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Wollstonecraft argued that women were good for more that the 3 Ks: Kinder, Kuche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church). She believed the distaff side was ready for cognitionis, Latin for knowledge.

We can go back to antiquity to identify women of exceptional talent who could be considered “proto-feminists,” such as the Greek poetess Sappho (better known for her lesbianism than her poetry) and Hypatia of Alexandria (a pagan scholar who taught philosophy and mathematics at the university), and from the Middle Ages, Eleanor of Aquitaine (one of the wealthiest and most powerful women of 12th-century Europe).

From my late wife Chen-Wu, I learned about Pan Chao (Wade-Giles spelling), 1st century A.D., the preeminent woman scholar of China: historian, astronomer, mathematician, poetess, essayist, and national librarian. Empress Deng Sui called her the “Gifted One.”  Pan Chao wrote Lessons for Women, a Confucian guide for women’s conduct. The book, I should point out, stressed family harmony.   

Since I have brought Confucius into the discussion, I need to say something about yin-yang theory: Confucianism underscores yang’s dominant, male characteristics (while Taoism, on the other hand, accentuates yin’s subordinate, female features). In Pan Chao, despite her Confucian orientation, yin and yang were not in conflict but in harmony, which may help explain her enormous intellectual productivity and the ease with which she maneuvered through her patriarchal society. (In psychological terms, not “conflicted” for Pan Chao meant she was free from emotional confusion caused by opposing forces.)

At court, she rocked the cradle of the infant Emperor Shang of Han. I think she would have appreciated 19th-century William Ross Wallace’s poem “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Is the Hand That Rules the World,” a paean to motherhood, one of the forces that  helps drive humanity forward.

One of the people who played a seminal role in the new feminist movement was Gregory Pincus. “Gregory who?” you ask. Dr. Gregory Pincus, co-founder of the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, endocrinologist and “father of the sexual revolution,” who already had an idea, in 1949, of how to develop an oral contraceptive pill. At a dinner in 1951, he met Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, whose life’s work could be summarized in two words: birth control.  She was thrilled at the thought of a pill to prevent conception and introduced Pincus to Katharine McCormick, first woman M.I.T. graduate with a science degree (biology), suffragette, and heir to an International Harvester fortune, who would fund his research.

Pincus developed “the pill” (Enovid) with the cooperation of the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle, and after clinical trials in Puerto Rico, the FDA approved the drug but only for the treatment of menstrual disorders. On the bottle’s label, in bold red letters was the warning: MAY PREVENT PREGNANCY. Women seized on those three red-lettered words! The FDA approved the drug for use as a contraceptive in 1960. Margaret Sanger had her hallelujah moment. And women had what they had been yearning for since antiquity: the ability to control their own destiny.

Order Now!