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Posts Tagged ‘morphine tea parties’

women in herstory month is in March every year

Well, the other day myself and a few of the gals from GWV went to an event on at Portcullis House, one of the parliament buildings, to hear a group of very inspiring women speaking on the issues of women in history – or rather, herstory. (A pre-launch event to kick off proceedings in March 2011)

Annoyingly, all my notes I wrote for this blog didn’t save so I can’t really pass on any of the fabulous quotes I heard from the women speaking. However, I can pass on a few thoughts of my own from the evening. I was finding myself more and more fired up as I heard over and over about the way women have been written out, forgotten, rewritten or purposely omitted from our history books. The incredible women of science, of the humanities, of business…

While I was sitting there, I started thinking about women drug users, the women who, over the years had taken copious amounts of drugs, trailblazed their way thru doors of perception to deliver amazing works of art and science, only to have either themselves, their drug use, or their contributions omitted from history. Think about it – how many men do we know of who took drugs and created something useful, who are remembered in history – along with the knowledge about their partaking of Substances; Burroughs, Byron, Coleridge, Freud, Wilberforce, the list is huge! We admire their courageous flouting of respectability, their conquests as leading men of their day, their inventions/creations etc. We remember them as the whole package ( tho admittedly occasionally their drug use is played down if they are held up or painted as a ‘leader amongst men’, like philanthropist William Wilberforce.

Yet for women who used substances readily, so strong is the need to keep women on some kind of glass pedestal

Invisible Women?

as good girl, good mother, fragile and delicate, we kick her off it if she ‘betrays’ these homely values, becoming the temptress or fallen woman who lures men (and even worse, other women) to their ghastly fates in druggies squalor.

Very few women are celebrated for the way, when using drugs, they broke societal taboos, pushed through boundaries, and pushed through those doors of perception adding to their creative process. It is rarely if ever recognised as anything more than a women being influenced to take drugs by another usually male person , or she is a failing mother, a sick or mentally ill woman, vulnerable or perverse, a prostitute or slag.

Women’s drug use has become racialised, sexualised, pathologised, and criminalised. When women take a prescribed drug they are being compliant, when it is illegal they are viewed as morally bankrupt. Even if we are talking about the very same drug – for example, an opiate. If she self medicates with an opiate while pregnant she is mentally ill, dangerous, immoral. If she takes the opiate on prescription from a Dr when pregnant, she is maternal and responsible and compliant.

We have some amazing women activists in the drug using community and I’m left wondering if we really appreciate or acknowledge them very well. For women’s history month in March I will write about a few of these amazing women, its like one woman said the other nite, its not enough to occasionally rise women up to be remembered, women need to be consistently written into history, regularly remembered for their contributions, and streamlined  into the historical documents for our historians and society to remember.

Lets address the gap!

It is interesting to note that temperance – puritanism around sobriety and the views that alcohol is the corrupter of man -did not emerge until the 1800s and was readily embraced and espoused by women themselves.  Yet before that it was only women of good standing that had access to morphine which was enjoyed (in a very ladylike manner) in regular morphine ‘tea parties’. The temperance movement had collided with our views about women – and race, sexuality, mental health and the law have all conspired over the years to keep the woman who uses drugs viewed as either – or : The weak and vulnerable  OR the fallen, the temptress.

Men do not carry these labels around in the same way, and their ‘labeling’ does not act as barriers or obstacles in their every day lives in the same ways as such labels do for women. A fascinating discussion and one that could go on for some time. I intend to write about some of these women for Womens History Month in March. Any views or ideas, please do comment!

I believe it is in fact a syndrome, that it doesn’t suit us to look at women as drug users, and that in itself has meant that some extraordinary women – or parts of their lives –  are being airbrushed or rewritten –  from our history books .

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