The “Curse of Familiarity,” or “The Feminine Mystaque”

January 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

On January 10, the San Antonio Express News reported the rate of babies born with syphilis in Bexar County was skyrocketing. From 2005 to through 2011, Bexar County’s rates of congenital syphilis, which is transmitted from the infected mother to the baby in the womb, were five times the national average. In 2012, the rate doubled.

“We’re so far off the chart, we probably need a new chart,” said Dr. Thomas Schlenker, director of health for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Last year, the Metro Health STD Clinic received reports of 18 babies born with congenital syphilis, five of whom were stillborn.

The rise of the disease (which had nearly disappeared from the population in the 1980s) among infants corresponds to its rise among adults. Syphilis cases have reached unprecedented levels in Bexar County. San Antonio has the highest rates of syphilis of any metropolitan area in Texas.

Schlenker said there likely are many causes for the rise in syphilis. One of his biggest concerns is women who are trading sex for money or drugs and who may not have legal status here, so they are wary of seeking medical attention. He also wants to know why syphilis has been spreading among teenage girls.

In some respects it is like San Antonio has stepped back in time 100 years ago, when prostitutes sold their most intimate favors for money and the drugs (mostly morphine and cocaine) many of them were addicted to, were social outcasts (not unlike lacking legal status) and if they ever sought medical attention, it was ineffectual.

In August 1918, the Council of National Defense estimated, on a conservative basis, that more than 500,000 adult Texans had some flavor of VD. Texas’ State Health Officer was of the opinion that at least one million Texans were then infected. Keep in mind that according to the 1920 U.S. Census, Texas had 4.663 million citizens of all races, ages, and sexual preferences, which means that about half of the adults in Texas had VD, if you wish to believe worst-case estimates. There was nothing new about these staggering numbers; they had persisted for decades and thousands of babies were born blind or still-born every year, infected in the womb from syphilis or gonorrhea. While some of the mothers of these unfortunate little creatures were prostitutes who had picked up their affliction(s) from the plying of their trade, many more of them were innocent housewives infected by their loving husbands who had visited said prostitutes. Although condoms had been invented, they were seldom used.

Mercury was the most widely used “cure” for syphilis among men, leading to the popular phrase, “A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” Newspapers from the end of the Civil War until the 1920s were filled with ads for doctors who specialized in treating venereal diseases. The sad irony was that mercury does not cure syphilis, it merely holds the outward symptoms at bay, while extracting other terrible physical tolls, like the loss of all one’s teeth.

At the same time, newspapers and magazines were filled with ads for products meant to alleviate female “nervousness” and such. Many of these aids were basically the vibrators we know and enjoy today, and the real problem they treated was sexual frustration. Female orgasms were even rarer than marital intercourse, whose frequency was usually measured by number of times per year as opposed to number of times per week. Marital intercourse was chiefly reserved for baby making. Sex was not meant to be fun for women; it was a necessary evil meant to keep the human race alive. Women were meant to be kept on a pedestal for worship from a respectful distance. Men, on the other hand, were acknowledged to have prurient interests and needs that had to be satisfied, and that is what whores were for.

Married and unmarried men alike supped at Boys’ Town rather than dine at home and soil the holiness of their wives and sweethearts, a mentality expressed by a couple of editorial items picked at random below, in this instance picked from the March 2, 1899, edition of the Schulenburg Sticker. Hundreds of thousands of similar pieces littered the newspapers and magazines of America for the better part of 100 years, until Betty Friedan began tearing down the grand myth of the woman on pedestal in 1963 with The Feminine Mystique.

“In their strife for mental equality with men, women have unintentionally broken down a fine reserve of manner which previously lent them an air of mystery, of superiority, in the best sense, than which no element is more successful in holding a man’s interest, love and respect. The young woman who greets a man friend with ‘Hello, old man!’ or its equivalent in modern slang, might in return be called ‘a peach,’ but she would be a peach with the bloom rubbed off.

“Every day I become more convinced that at the root of the increasing evidences of widespread marital unhappiness would be the familiarity that breeds contempt. When a boy climbs a tree for green apples or cherries, whichever he prefers, he constantly sees a better one higher up beyond his reach, until he nearly breaks his neck to get the one out of his stretch, partly hidden by foliage. And so man’s ideal woman hangs at the tip-top of the tree of knowledge. If the ideal drops into his hands he throws it to the ground as worthless and begins to climb again. Would it be reasonable to think, after working so hard for cherries, that he would value them long if he ate a surfeit of them. – Louisa Knapp, Ladies Home Journal.”

“The Terrell Times contains the following prediction: ‘The girl who gives away a desire to gad about the streets and cultivate the acquaintance of young men, and acting the simpering simpleton, is laying the foundation for a useless after life. Ten to one after she is married she will develop into a slatternly gossip, if no greater misfortune befalls her. It is the girl of good sound sense, the girl who loves home and helps her mother, that wins the model husband and becomes an ornament to womanhood. The girl that does this and devotes some of her time to reading, tries to win the esteem of everybody, while the gadding street ornament wins only the admiration of those whose admiration is not worth having.’”

Even Sigmund Freud wrote, “I believe that all reforming action in law and education would break down in front of the fact that, long before the age at which a man can earn a position in society, Nature has determined woman’s destiny through beauty, charm, and sweetness. Law and custom have much to give women that has been withheld from them, but the position of women will surely be what it is: in youth an adored darling and in mature years a loved wife.”

Ironically, this worship of women amounted to prayer before a false idol. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is another hoary saying that well describes all the physical misery and heartache incurred by this misguided cult of female worship.

How much more diametrically opposed can today’s “My wife is my best friend” mentality be to 1899’s “The root of marital unhappiness is the familiarity that breeds contempt. No other element is more successful in holding a man’s interest, love and respect than a woman’s fine reserve of manner, an air of mystery, of superiority.”?

Here’s some final food for thought: Divorce rates these days are staggeringly higher than they were “back in the day,” while intra-marital syphilis (and other VDs) rates are just the reverse. We have drugs that can cure VDs; what do we have to cure our 50 percent-plus divorce rate?

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