Harpers New Monthly Magazine, No. XX. January, 1852
Happy February 29th!
It is a rare day, one that only occurs every four years ~ giving the entire year a new name: a leap year. The leap year's extra day occurs to "balance out" our calendar. One Earth year does not take an exact number of whole days. Our calendar year is 365 days, but the earth's rotation around the sun actually approximately takes 365.2422 days.
As a person who doesn't hold much for standard units of measuring time, I find this extra day added to the calendar quite amusing! It tickles me the same way that Daylight Savings Time does – I think of it as a joke we all agree to play – let's all set the clocks back, and then forward, and then back again! We are so civilized that we can control TIME!
According to my dictionary, "leap" has several definitions:
1. To spring or bound upward
2. To move from one condition or subject to another
3. A place jumped over or from
4. An act whose consequences cannot be predicted
5. The act of believing or trusting in something that is incapable of being proved
I did some research and found a very thorough article about the Leap year via the BBC News Magazine. This article has a wealth of information about the day, and I found out some interesting things such as: the insertion of an extra day every four years in a 365 day calendar goes back to Julius Caesar’s astronomer, Sosignes. This idea was further developed mathematically under Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Different calendars all use some form of “leaping”.
There’s an interesting correlation to women on this day. On February 29, 1692, the first warrants in the Salem witchcraft trials in Massachusetts were issued. Historically, February 29th was the one day in which women were allowed to propose to men. It is believed that this tradition of women “switching places” with men on the leap year day goes back to a time when the day was not recognized by law. It was a renegade day; because the day had no legal status, and occurred so infrequently, it was considered acceptable to break with tradition.
I can’t help but feel a similar thread here. On Feb 29, women were allowed to “act” as if they were men – in terms of pursuing what they wanted (in this case, their choice of a husband, which was a very real concern, considering that not too long ago, a woman’s economic, social, physical, and emotional life depended on her position in marriage). On Feb 29, the first warrants leading to the Salem Witchcraft Trials were issued, which we know of now as the most famous accounts of persecuting women in history.
I’m thinking today about women. I’ve been hearing a lot of things recently that I must confess, I don’t really care to think about. I rather think in terms of “humanity” rather than “women vs. men”. But sometimes it becomes apparent that women are still laboring to live under traditional constraints and rules, subject to persecution simply because they are women. I don’t understand this, but I do recognize it. And I also recognize that many women play a part in their own subjugation.
It was the Susan Komen Foundation – maybe one of the most famous women centered organizations today – who most recently decided to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood. Why? Because Planned Parenthood has been under attack. Because Planned Parenthood offers services to young women. Because Planned Parenthood gives abortions. The Republican party this election year, headed by presidential hopefuls like Rick Sanoturm, have focused on Planned Parenthood (yet again) as a symbol of what needs to be fixed in America.
Forget the glaring economic crisis or the fact that unemployment is so high that every other person I meet is without a job. Forget the recent attempts at governmental internet censorship, calling our very idea of democracy into question. Forget the incredible need to mend the crumbling infrastructure of this government. Don’t listen to what the entire country has been saying via the various and spontaneous occupy movements. No … that would make sense.
Instead, it seems that politicians and people in “power” only want to talk about two things: women’s reproductive rights and gay rights. And to the same effect – to limit and control them. Even the recent fiasco of PayPal refusing to handle transactions on very specific books – books with erotic, sexual content – I’ve been seeing authors (mostly women, by the way) finding their independent creative work being thrown aside and made unavailable, in a sick move reminiscent of the banning and burning of books. Why?? It does not make sense. Because they are sexual, and PayPal (a business of money transaction) has suddenly felt a moral need to censor books with erotic content?
It burns me up to think that an author like Sharon Olds, who is a celebrated, respected, literary poet with several books published through an independent, private publishing house, and who has taught at one of the most well known and expensive universities in Manhattan, writes some of the most explicit and sexual work I have ever read. But … a writer who self-publishes and calls her work “erotica” is in danger of having her books taken from the public eye, and insulted further by being refused by the most common method of payment online?
Planned Parenthood is where I go for my annual check-ups. It was where I went to get my pregnancy tests. I have been to “private” gynecologists and I prefer Planned Parenthood. I prefer Planned Parenthood because they are a clinic, they are professional, they are highly educated about women’s health, and they understand the tie between politics and women. And when push comes to shove, they are for women. All women. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, old or young. You will get the same care. Planned Parenthood also offers many services for men, too.
And that is why I go to Planned Parenthood, why I drive past older white men holding signs saying “Abortion kills babies!” just to go to a routine appointment. No kidding. If people think that women have abortions because it is fun, or because they don’t know what an abortion is … I have to say, just seeing those signs make me angry.
Women I know who have had abortions have found the experience traumatic. It is not “birth control”. It is a last resort for many women, and leaves emotional scars. I wonder, if these anti-abortion activists would even consider finding the man responsible for the pregnancy and forcing a vasectomy – to control man’s reproductive rights. Unthinkable, isn’t it. Yes, controlling someone’s reproductive rights is unthinkable, and should not even be part of a political discussion. Especially suspect about this “discussion” is that it is wholeheartedly directed towards half the human race – women.
Honestly, I’m getting a little angry even writing about this. The truth is, I like being a woman. I like having a woman’s body, a woman’s mind, a woman’s experience. Like the nature of time, there are things that, try as some might, can’t ever be truly controlled – our sexuality, our expressions of sexuality, our reproductive rights – these things are beyond external power. They are deeply personal, from within each of us.
So today is February 29. In another time and place, I may have been issued a warrant for arrest, under suspicion of being a witch. In another time and place, I may have been bold enough to defy traditional convention and on this one day, ask a man for his hand in marriage.
But it is February 29, 2012, and I am here – somewhere between these two poles, wanting only to live as a woman in the world, without these ridiculous attempts to control my sexuality, my expression of such, or my reproductive rights – on a day that exists only once every four years, an eclipse into shadow, nostalgia burned into memory; wishing, wanting, lingering in the half-light of reason, and still hope.