So I'm supposed to be marketing my upcoming book, sending emails and posting about it relentlessly on social media, so people will know about it and buy advance copies (all of which helps the publisher know how large of a print run to do, so there's incentive for me to market the bejeebers out of this thing). But it feels wrong. Not just because I feel awkward about it and more than a little embarrassed to toot my own horn, but because recent events, especially the massacre in Orlando, have me feeling profoundly sad. Even though I don't know anyone who was personally affected by the killings, I grieve with the friends and families of the victims, and I suspect you do, too. It's difficult to come to terms with the sudden and violent deaths of people we love. I know because I lost my sister and niece to a head-on collision. Senseless violence, though, I mean, violence intentionally perpetrated by another person is hard to fathom, which makes accepting loss practically impossible. Even the word "acceptance" sounds a bit like acquiescence. As though accepting their deaths implies some degree of condoning or accepting the behavior that led to them, rather than simply acknowledging the reality of the loss and moving past the initial shock.
Then I read about the girl who at 14-years old was "gifted" by her parents to a man more than 30 years her senior -- a man who subsequently fathered two children with the poor girl.
The parents, Daniel and Savilla Stoltzfus, reportedly turned their daughter over to Lee Kaplan in an arrangement that somehow allowed the Stoltzfus' to keep their family farm. It's horrifying to think of parents selling their own children, if that is, in fact, what happened. And horrible to think of anyone buying a child, apparently for his own pleasure. And yet, cultures throughout the world have arranged marriages, often with an underage girl, and often with a "bride price," similar to a dowry. Are these situations any less horrific than the situation of the unfortunate girl in Feasterville, PA? Or what about the situation in some countries, where unscrupulous grooms and their families continue to extort money from the bride's family by beating her unless they are paid. Sometimes they will go so far as to kill the wife in an "accident" such as bride burnings in order to free the man up to marry (and extort more money), starting the cycle all over again.
Sorry to be so depressing. On a happier note, huge kudos to the heroine, Jan Betz, the neighbor who alerted police to the situation in Feasterville.
Her compassion may have prevented who knows what kind of abuses against the eleven children in total who were found in the house. Not to jump to conclusions, but based on what the police have revealed so far, the prospect that none of the other children was affected, directly or indirectly, seems highly unlikely.
Since the arrests of Kaplan and the Stoltzfus parents, several neighbors have come forward to say they suspected something, and that some of them had notified the police as long as two years ago. If that's true, there have been several heroes acting on behalf of their neighbors, whether successful at the time or not. Those are acts of courage and compassion, and I applaud them.
Meanwhile, in Poland, the populace prepares for a vote to ban abortion in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger. In 1993, they passed a vote that makes abortion illegal except in cases of incest, rape, or extreme deformities of the baby, as well as to protect the life of the mother. The latest law would force victims of incest or rape to carry the child of their rapist full term. As if rape weren't already a terrible crime of violence against women, the ability to then make the woman carry his child may appeal to those brutes, and may even motivate some particularly sadistic rapists to rape with the hope that he can spread his seed and father more children in the world -- with no greater repercussions than the original rape charge, IF he is caught. He wouldn't have to bear the child, give birth to it, have the heart-wrenching decision of whether to keep it, and wouldn't have to pay a penny for its upbringing. But let's not talk about the rapist. Regardless of what happens to him, and in fact regardless of whether the pregnancy is the result of rape, the government has no business controlling women's reproductive rights. If abortion is illegal, where will they draw the line? Will it be illegal for a woman to drive while pregnant, in case the baby should be injured in a car accident? This is the law in some countries. Will it be illegal for pregnant women to work outside the home, or even leave the home, for the same reasons? Are we one step away from the regressive and oppressive ideologies of the Taliban, Daesh, and other extremist, fundamentalist religions? Are we headed back to the Middle Ages?
Who will speak out against such legislation? Who will speak on behalf of women who get sold, married off, and forced to bear and raise the children of their rapists and oppressors? Who will speak out on behalf of lesbians, gays, transgender, and queer folks who are judged and targeted by nearly every fundamentalist religion (and some not so fundamentalist), as well?
I'm supposed to be marketing my book, but it feels like there's more important work to do in the world. The funny thing is, the book addresses these oppressions -- against women, gays, religious minorities (yes, including Muslims) -- and bemoans the fact that we return to these fights for basic rights over and over again. Some days it feels as though the compassionate among us repeatedly rally against these actions and attitudes, and some days our voices (my voice) seem futile. But maybe if we all stand up -- for love, for autonomy to control our own bodies and lives, for human understanding and respect -- maybe it will move the needle. Maybe we will return to a less violent and oppressive world. At least for now. At least till the next fight.
Oh, and to make my publisher happy (and stop avoiding and procrastinating), here's the link to the book. I'd be ever so grateful if you decided to order it. Or even just admire the pretty cover. ('There,' she says to herself, still feeling supremely awkward. 'That wasn't so hard, was it?')
Jill McCabe Johnson's research and writing practice follow the tradition of the French Medieval poetic form, the "chanson d'aventure" or song of adventure, where a writer walks into a new environment for enlightenment and inspiration.