Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Rabbit Done Died

One of my favorite episodes of Mad Men is the one where Betty gives birth. I love the scene in The Group where poor Dottie sits in Washington Square Park with a diaphragm in some sort of complicated box contraption. I was completely transfixed by the horrific sex-ed scene in Frederick Wiseman's classic High School documentary. In short I have an unhealthy obsession with the horrors of pre-second wave medicine for ladyparts. Sometimes you hear people make a joke that the only thing the second wave ever did was get us women gynecologists, to which it made sense to me to say, even if that was true, daiyanu and we should make a shrine to them.

So I'm really really confounded that, until I came across this piece, I'd never known about the rabbit test. How could this be? What a crazy image, what bait for writers - this must be in The Bell Jar at least. Maybe it's one of those things you skim over and don't notice when you don't get the reference. According to our wikifriends, who love this sort of thing, it's been name-checked on lots of shows (including MM of course), but a full-on description, someone sitting at home waiting on the results of a rabbit autopsy - why I have I never read this scene? From what I could figure out with a little basic searching, it ended sometime in the sixties or early seventies - certainly recent enough to be part of our cultural memory. Is this something everyone but me knew about? Interesting that we're never too old for this to happen.

Interestingly, the linked article notes that, according to Kinsey's 1958 study, 80 percent of single women with unwanted pregnancies chose illegal abortion. On MM we've now had all three of the main female characters have unintended pregnancies, and we've had two consider abortion but decide against it, and one be completely unaware until giving birth and then having a coerced adoption. Three more unlikely outcomes. Now, of course, only Peggy was single (though statistics on women married to one person and pregnant by another would be interesting, though impossible to obtain), and of course drama rests on improbabilities, but it's still revealing. I asked a friend who used to work at Planned Parenthood and she said, of course, we gave counseling to tons of people and they made all the different decisions you can make, but once they're in the waiting room like Joan was, they're not changing their minds. Again, drama rests on improbabilities, and no one story has to be another story. People often respond to the dodge of this issue in contemporary-set films by saying, well, if Juno or whoever had had an abortion, there would be no movie. That doesn't apply to Mad Men, with its ensemble and multiple plot lines. If Mad Men is a story about what it was like to be a woman at this time, an actual illegal abortion should be part of the story. Not that I'm not feeling ungrateful this week of assurance of its return, in whatever form.

On a somewhat related note, reading this made me wonder if, along with the attack on reproductive rights, the fight against asshole doctors will continue forever. No one cares about writers, except to ask for free books when they're come out from anesthesia. Jesus.