Dangerous Jobs for Women: Sexual Objectification in Science and War

“Support the relief organisation: Mother and Child”

Someone I know had a baby yesterday, and it got me thinking about a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a while. Women are strong to have babies and it’s usually a positive experience. But what can I say? With babies comes sex, and with sex in history, women have usually ended up playing the more … unfavourable roles. I have to warn you – this is strong stuff.

At Christmas, I went to my partner’s grandparents. His grandfather is always telling stories and some of them feature the Second World War. Around the time of the war, I guess it was after, when there were English soldiers in Germany, he was stationed there. He told us about how the soldiers of different nations used to do swaps – items of food and such. Then he said about a young German woman who he spent time with at this point, and used to go and see. He said she had a baby, after she was made pregnant by a German soldier. I said,

“You mean, she was in something like the joy division?”

He said, “Yes.” It almost put me off my food.

The first time I heard the term “Joy Division” was in relation to the late 1970s’ band . The first time I came to learn of what it meant was when I watched the film Control about Ian Curtis – the lead singer of the band. They named their band after a prostitution wing in a concentration camp that featured in the novella The House of Dolls. There were two strong forms of sexual objectification in Nazi Germany: on one side there were brothels with forced prostitutes – joy divisions, on the other, the idealistic baby farms with voluntarily and involuntarily impregnated women. Whilst it’s not proven that the novella is based on any diaries, researchers have evidence of female prisoners being bussed through Nazi concentration camps to become sex slaves  in the brothels of the men’s army barracks. This was Himmler’s idea – what better way to relieve his hard working men? So female prisoners were forced into prostitution. Though the Nazis maintained they were against brothels, they had state-run prostitution houses throughout Europe. And for female prisoners, threatened into it or coerced into becoming prostitutes through promises of decent food and their release from the brothel in half a year, it was the only chance they had to save their lives.

Aryan baby farms were another disturbing component of the grand Nazi regime that sought to establish their super Aryan race, in which SS men fathered “super babies”. Blonde hair, blue eyes – you know the rest. Either children with the right look were stolen from their parents across Europe, or they were produced by Aryan couples, or impregnated women. After the war, many of these Aryan babies were hidden away shamefully from society, in mental institutions and the like. In this article, it’s interesting that one of these men who was once a super baby, surmises that had the Nazis won, he may have been someone of high office in the Nazi leadership today. And people like me wouldn’t be alive. He was born amongst 2,800 other babies at the Third Reich’s first breeding centre in Lebensborn which means “spring of life”. The plans were drawn up for these farms by Hitler and his men, including Himmler (again), as far back as 1932.

And the so-called “pure-bred” women involved?

Racial selection agents scouted out innocent women in countries across the world that Hitler planned to overrun, to become mothers, or more correctly, baby mules. Many of these women were forcefully taken to Lebensborn, and alongside voluntary women, become the bearers of the “super race”. Married couples were also encouraged to have sex elsewhere to help produce this blonde haired Aryan race (personally, I think the Scandinavians beat them to it), and the women who volunteered to have up to four babies received the Mother’s Cross – the Mutterkreuz:

Many of these babies survived, some were experimented upon, but any with disabilities were killed. The idea of women being forced into this position is horrendous, but the idea of women volunteering for it baffles me. Or at least it used to, until I watched a programme about another “super race”.

After the Russian revolution in 1917, and more importantly, the death of Lenin in 1924, the Soviets looked into the idea of creating a brand new super race themselves – between man and ape. This idea was fronted by the Bolsheviks – a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (try saying that first thing in the morning), who were worried that their ideas would die out with their lives. So to combat this, Stalin ordered the top animal-breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, to develop a new race, that would be resistant to illnesses and so live longer. He came up with the idea of mixing human blood with another species, that of an ape. So how did they do it?

He tried to impregnate apes in Africa through artificial insemination, but when this failed, he tried the opposite: women volunteers were to be impregnated with ape sperm. Some women signed up. But this operation also failed, when the only postpubescent male ape left in the study died. When this also failed, Ivanov was sent to prison and then exiled in Kazakhstan.

So why did the women sign up? They felt they had a strong patriotic duty to their country, as did, I’m sure, the Nazi women volunteers of the baby farming program. They believed they were the first steps toward a super race, and they were proud to create human-ape hybrids.

A darker side of Russian history concerning the treatment of women is what happened after the Second World War, when the Red Army (the Workers’ and Peasants’ Army) “freed” the countries of Eastern Europe from Nazi occupation.

“Facism is woman’s worst enemy. All on the fight with facism!”

“Revenge for the people’s misery!”

“Glory to the liberators of Ukraine!”

It’s a well-known fact that as the Soviets marched through Europe, they raped woman after girl after woman “from eight to 80” years old including those in Russia. It’s so well-known in fact, that the Russian government today ignores it. Which doesn’t make sense. Or at least, there is now a law in Russia that prevents people from promoting anything negative against Russian history – this included. Surely these rape victims deserve some sort of apology? Instead, they face denial. If only these idealistic posters were true to life. Alas. Propaganda never is.

Russia wasn’t the only nation to sexually abuse women and girls during the Second World War. Japan is known to have stolen young women and girls, some barely teenagers, and forced them into becoming sex slaves for the soldiers. I always remember reading one account from a woman who was 14 at the time, and she was playing in her front garden when a man pulled up in a car. He got out and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in his car. She said, “Yes.” He never took her back home.

These girls and women were known as “comfort women” – as they “comforted” the Japanese soldiers. They weren’t just from Japan, but also a number of other countries including Korea, China, the Philippines and many more. One woman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, explains how not only was she systematically beaten and raped every night, but also how she and others were raped by the Japanese doctor who checked them for venereal disease. At least some Japanese leaders have apologised to these women.

Finally, I come to the treatment of “Nazi Collaborators” at the end of the Second World War. Across the European nations, civilians were turning on themselves, accusing and punishing others for “collaborating” with the Nazis. Whilst there were a lot of collaborators during the war in Nazi-occupied countries, many people were simply trying to get on with life, and accepting Nazi soldiers was a part of that. For many, this was it – this was the forseeable future. In places like the Channel Islands and France, their governments had failed them – so what hope was there? In particular, I always found the treatment of French women at the end of the Second World War horrific. These so-called “German collaborators” were made an example of in their towns and villages – they had their heads shaved as a form of desexualisation and were paraded around like cattle at an auction.

These were young women, many of them teenagers, and many were simply prostitutes who treated every man with the same value: as trade. And there were male collaborators too, so why did these women bear the brunt of fraternising with the enemy? Yes, a couple of the French leaders were imprisoned, but what of the civilian male population? The not so funny thing is that although some of these French women were prostitutes, they were the ones that inevitably paid the price for their sexual encounters.

There are more stories and facts from more modern history concerning these issues, but I think that’s enough for now. Instead, I’m going to go and look at nice pictures of a newborn baby. And I’ll be thinking to myself: What a relief that I live here and now.

This is a Journey into Sound (Part One)

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be taken as seriously as the others (as if I have to tell you – nobody takes disco seriously anyway).

Maybe this post jars a little with previous post topics, but oh well, I’m writing it anyway. It all started when I recently watched an evening of disco on BBC4 (some people say that disco died in the eighties – as long as I’m still alive – and BBC4 for that matter – it will be too), which seemed to show all the dodgy duds of disco, that I came across this charmer:

For your awareness, this isn’t exactly my cup of disco tea; I just like watching it (their chuffed smiles bring light into my world), and their effort on making a British claim on something American is commendable. I thought it was usually the other way round. Recently, when I found myself drawn to staring at their jiggling heads once again, I was suddenly struck by something that I’d never thought of before now:

What exactly is the hustle? And more importantly, the British Hustle? This is my latest historical quest.

I am a disco geek. I’ve boogied on down to it since I was a nipper, and it in fact led me to learn the bass, Bernard Edwards of Chic being a divine inspiration (RIP). So I know quite a lot about disco music. Or at least I thought I did.

I heard from someone that Harry “KC” Wayne Casey of KC and the Sunshine Band coined the disco sound. Here’s where I was going to say,

“You know that song Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry where they sing ‘Play that funky music, white boy’? Well, it referred to KC of the Sunshine Band – he was the white boy.”

 

One of my favourite disco songs. That’s a video of KC. Here’s a picture of him now:

That’s what happens when you party too hard (as with most disco acts – many thought they were untouchable. Many, I’m sure, thought they were travelling on a disco spaceship though time and space…). I suppose I have to give his age some credit.

About Play That Funky Music above – that’s what somebody told me and what I’ve believed for years. And yet, I was completely wrong. Sorry to those I ever told this “fact” to. I don’t know where the person who told me this heard it, but this is what happens when you do a history blog that involves research – you have to authenticate everything you hear. I discovered from Wikipedia, though I know that some of you will definitely say this is no place to authenticate ANYTHING, that it was actually because Wild Cherry were a hard rock band at the time, and dance music – disco music – was very “in”, so when their fans shouted for some dance music, the drummer said,

“Play some funky music, white boy,” to the singer. The song was born. Nothing to do with KC.

With regards to KC being the leader of the disco sound, from more research I’m led to believe that he didn’t necessarily invent disco, just helped bring it to the forefront of the pop world.

Disco evolved in American underground clubs, a sped up offspring of funk and northern soul. In fact, if you listen to some soul tracks like Jerry Butler’s One Night Affair you can hear the disco influence before the genre was properly recognised:

To me, it’s the pace, orchestral string instruments and drumming style (heavy snare and ringing hi-hat) that sets disco apart from funk and soul, though there are some definite overlaps, with BBoy funk. I’d say BBoy music is set apart by rhythm and percussion, but more on that in another post. Here are two obvious examples where you can hear exactly what I mean:

Grease – Frankie Valli (of the Four Seasons):

A Fifth of Beethoven -Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band:

And I have to throw a little bit of Chic in, considering the Chic Organisation  – the production company created as a result of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic – are behind many music acts. They called themselves Chic after the chicly dressed people they watched dancing to their music. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote, produced and collaborated on many funky tracks for many funky acts – Diana Ross, Sister Sledge and David Bowie to name a few:

Yeah, diggin’ that…

Anyway. What is the hustle?

The hustle is a dance move. You do it. Do the hustle:

This is what you do it to:

 (I wonder if there’s a limit to these videos…)

Anyway, the hustle is…a name for several popular disco dance styles. Apparently, it primarily incorporates partnered movements and emerged around the same time as the Discofox dance move. I know what you’re thinking: but what is Discofox? (Either that or you’re thinking, shut up about disco) In answer to your question, I think my Dad may be a Discofox…or a sweaty Discofox perhaps. And not really in the John Travolta idea of a “Discofox”. But he does like disco, although I’m not sure if the Goombay Dance Band really count:

 

Is that song really disco? Maybe that’s another topic for another post but not on this blog any time soon. I should give my Dad more credit than that anyway – he introduced me to Earth, Wind & Fire and Sister Sledge.

Jokes aside, Discofox is a “social partner dance” – the European equivalent of the American Hustle. If you look the dance up on You Tube, you can see how it may be influenced by tango or salsa. Real smooooth.

So we have the “Hustle”, and yet above, they’re singing, “Do the Hustle”. But which one? There’s the British Hustle, as voiced by Hi-Tension in the opening clip, but there’s also the Spanish Hustle, and many more besides (apologies for the naked, dancing woman – it’s not her fault):

I had the glory of dancing to a band that played this song live in a bar in Whitstable, Kent. Not like the woman in the video of course – she’s not doing the hustle at all! Though I’m not sure I was really doing it either.

Back to the Hustle’s variations – apparently, the early originator was the Manhattan Hustle. Then there’s the Continental Walk – a bit like disco line-dancing – or for you modern kids, Kylie’s The Locomotion, but funkier. You can see a similar example in the Fifth of Beethoven video above, and its clip from Saturday Night Fever – an old film that’s quite like Glee, but with a bit of rape and suicide. Actually, they’re doing a tango hustle, invented specially for the film, but you get the idea.

So, was there such thing as a Spanish Hustle or a British Hustle?

I couldn’t find any evidence of the British Hustle, or how it drove anybody “crazaire” as those lads of Hi-Tension sing, yet the song was apparently very popular on the little British Isles. The Spanish Hustle on the other hand is just another term for the Hustle. From my hisorical wanderings, it appears there is no basis for the British Hustle. If you know any more than me, then please comment on this post and prove me wrong.

Otherwise, I will be forced to invent the British Hustle, and I don’t think my dance partner-to-be will be very happy with this conclusion.

I can’t finish without mentioning one of the first funky basslines I ever wanted to learn, by the all-female disco act A Taste of Honey – a couple of widely talented female musicians who could play anything and wrote all their own music, but were sadly treated as pop fodder due to their all-femaleness. I once had a conversation with a man in a pub for half an hour about this bassline:

Here’s one final British disco classic that cannot be missed out of this post…something tells me the drummer got a bit carried away:

Better still, check out the Reggae Disco Hustle.

Vampires and Crematoriums

So I was watching Breaking Dawn: Part 1 last night, and whilst I was deciding on whether I could deal with another minute of the male chauvinistic story (no offence to Twilight lovers, in fact I love the first film, but you have to be honest – Bella is passed from man to man like a newspaper on the underground), a classical tune in the background caught my attention.

It was Jeremiah Clark’s “Trumpet Voluntary” being played by a violin quartet during the wedding scene. I recognised it straight away, and thought it so wierd as it has such a regal sound for a wedding, especially for a film like Breaking Dawn.

The reason I knew what the song was, and this is going to sound like a real history geek kind of thing to say, but it’s because I once bought an album called The Magic of the Proms because it had a couple of tracks on it that reminded me of school and the First World War (funny how it reminds me of the two together. Depressing really – war and school). There’s something about the tracks that make me think of all the pomp and jingoism and patriotism before the First World War, as most of these tracks really are quite regal and poncy, like “Trumpet Voluntary” and also “Pomp and Circumstance March No 1” by Elgar. Elgar tried to disassociate the link that many people made between his music and jingoism.

Then there’s “Jerusalem“, composed by Hubert Parry, with lyrics taken from the poem originally by William Blake; the song at the beginning of many England games and at the end of every commemoration service that my school held at the end of every year in Canterbury Cathedral. Everybody seemed to love it. Funny how few people actually read into the words – if they did, they would have realised that the words are actually reflecting on the fact that England, rife with “dark, satanic mills”, is still trying to reach its Jersualem – not quite patriotic in the way you first think. “Nimrod from the Enigma Variations“, again by Elgar, always brings a tear to my eye – cue battle scene footage.

Finally, this is the track that I think I need to bar from bus journeys, and this is going to sound really geeky, but it practically makes me sob every time I listen to it in my headphones. I get the impression that many people think that Holst adapting part of the tune from his “Jupiter from The Planets” as a backdrop to the poem “I Vow to Thee My Country” by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, was a scandalous crime. But I love a good scandal and I love this song, though I’m probably showing myself to be a bit of a philistine. Strangely, Holst’s patriotic adaptation was written in 1921 after the First World War. Though I love this song, I am in no way a Royalist or land-lover (though I do like this country to an extent). To me, it’s quite a melancholy piece full of minor chords. It doesn’t make me think of how great this country is, but rather how many wars it’s waged. I will have this song at my funeral. It will play as everyone walks into the crematorium. And they will have to listen to the whole goddamn thing.

In all honesty, I didn’t think Breaking Dawn: Part 1 was too bad – some of it I enjoyed. And I bet you never thought that a history themed blog post could start with a Hollywood film like that of the Twilight Saga. But this is still a young blog, and I need to get some hits somehow.