melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2015-12-03 08:11 pm
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Notes on Birth Control and Childrearing for Fantasy Writers

I thought this one would be easy because I wrote it in a comment reply on a post many years ago, and broke the DW comment limit in the process. Twice. I always kind of wanted to expand it, polish it up and repost it here, but then I ended up rewriting a little more extensively than I'd expected, to nobody's surprise.

This is, in rough paraphrase, meant to answer the question: I want to write sexually active cis female characters in a world with pre-industrial technology, without having them be tied to childbearing and childrearing. How can I do that, realistically, without having to rely on "because magic" or "because I say so"?

So below the cuts are various ways people have used to control and limit their reproductive and childcare roles across cultures and histories. It's heavy on historical European and Mediterranean cultures - that's way easier to research if you only read European languages, and also I'm less likely to completely screw them up. But most of these things, at least in broad strokes, would apply to most human cultures more or less. Warnings for... most things you can think of regarding gender, sexuality, reproduction and/or unwanted children, and possibly a few things you can't.


I actually got my historical birth control learning not through women's studies, or history, or sexuality, or anything, but as part of a population and demographics class - you can skim over it in history, but you can't ignore contraception when you're down to the question of "why is population exploding here but not here? Why did parts of the ancient world have negative population growth even though they had food surpluses, and other parts have boom-and-famine cycles? What do you need to change in order to move cultures from the famine category to the low birthrate category?"

So, the most important principle here is: the most effective way to reduce a birthrate, as shown over and over again, is simply to make sure women have societal options other than being baby machines. There have even been comparative studies: If you give women free condoms or birth control pills, the birthrate drops a little. If you teach women how their fertility works and outlaw marital rape (and enforce it!) the birthrate drops more, whether or not you also give them condoms or pills.

If you give women general education, economic and social opportunity, mobility, and models of women's success other than motherhood, the birthrate drops a lot more, even if there's nothing explicitly done about birth control. Give women opportunities beyond motherhood, and they can generally figure out the rest themselves, and the birthrate will drop to an average of two or less kids per woman. (Usually via some women having a lot more than two kids and many women having one or none.)

(And this isn't just a 'women are forced into pregnancy' thing; even in, for ex., teen birthrates in poor communities in the US, it's often simply that if you have no hope for your own future, and few options for personal enrichment, having kids is one of the only ways to give your life some joy and meaning and control, especially if you live within a culture where motherhood gains you respect and more access to community resources. If there are other sources of joy and meaning and hope available, people delay kids.)

So if you build a world where women have good opportunities other than childrearing, and social support for those choices, you will get plenty of heterosexual women who don't have kids, even without any changes in access to technology.

The simplest way to have fewer kids is to just not have PIV sex.

The modern world did not invent anal sex or oral sex or intercrural sex or frottage or any of the other myriad ways of having non-PIV het sex. So that is always an option. That could be the preferred and accepted option for het couples who are not wanting kids. There is some historical/cultural evidence for this being really common in some places.

The modern world also did not invent queer sex, although it did to some extent invent the idea of everybody having a a fixed "sexual orientation". So if you're writing a particular het couple, this may not be as useful, but it would be perfectly reasonable for people to move back and forth between same-sex and different-sex intercourse without considering that odd, and stick to same-sex intercourse when they're particularly concerned about avoiding pregnancy.

Some of the ancient Canaanite cultures apparently had temple set-ups where the men went to male (or trans female) temple prostitutes, and the women went to female (or trans male) temple prostitutes who had really fancy toys, and they all lived happily ever after! Some ancient Greek cities would emphasize same-sex relationships and then expect people to move on to a het marriage only when they were ready for kids. There are a bunch of these workarounds in various cultures, many of them queer, many of them variously abhorrent to modern morals.

Most of the historical evidence for this kind of stuff is about men having sex with men, because after all if there are no men involved why would history care, amirite. But if you dig a little deeper, you can find evidence that women were doing the same kinds of things. The documentation is worse and sometimes you have to read really sketchy radical feminist alternate histories, but as long as you're doing it for fiction research, ehh, good enough.

To get the same-sex temple prostitution for women, you have to a) read histories that are *specifically* about women's sexuality, and b) be willing to read between the lines of the records we've got. But in the cultures where women were treated as people, which was not all of them, they did go to the temples just like the men did - and there are an awful lot of mentions of things like, ah, anointing the ithyphallic idols with oil for the womens' ceremonies, and the goddess Ishtar's priestesses having *rods* as their gear, etc., etc. And it's pretty well established that the Greek "herm" statues - which eventually became basically a stone pillar with a lifelike erect cock carved on it at a convenient height - were, um, not always purely decorative. And then you can get into non-Western cultures, which I'm not going to do here because I'm way more likely to screw it up, but let's just go with there was a lot of that kind of thing around.

Also, in the European "witch cult" researches, that link witch trial testimonies to pagan religion - a lot of the people writing about that are full of crap, but some of it is pretty convincing, and one of the bits that comes up again and again in a pretty convincing way is women at all-female religious gatherings having, always barren, intercourse with "devils" who have breasts and whose phalli are larger and harder than a man's and always stay erect and are also colder than human body temperature. ...that really sounds like women with strap-ons.

The ancient Greek cultures where the men all had sex with boys or each other unless they wanted kids? Yeah, them too, it's pretty well established that women in those cultures were doing the same thing, it's just that the Macedonians and Romans and Muslims and Christians were a lot less likely to copy over the texts that talked about that part, but we've got a few bits of text. (I have a collection of all extant f/f ancient Greek poetry as of c. 1995 that is almost all tiny fragments and it generally makes me weep that we lost so much of it..)

There are also heterosexual versions of this, where upper-class people have sex with lower-status people (...consensually or otherwise) pretty explicitly as a birth control method. For men, any children of those unions don't "count"; for women, they could enforce no PIV sex with lower-status men in ways they couldn't with men of their own social standing.

Another option is to make your main character physically infertile. This won't change things on a societal level, but if you want an individual character who doesn't worry about it, this is reasonable. In the US, right now, something like 10% of cis women who are of "childbearing age" have impaired fertility to some extent. In preindustrial cultures, this is likely to be higher, because of the lower levels of medical care. For example, some common diseases which we can cure with antibiotics (for now) will cause infertility in women if left untreated. Also, some kinds of botched childbirth can make it impossible for a woman to conceive, or to carry a child to term afterward. And if your het couple is an RH+ man and an RH- woman (about 10% of couples among Whites, less among other groups) then without modern medicine they will be able to have one child, but subsequent pregnancies will have very high risk of miscarriage/stillbirth, risk increasing the more pregnancies there are.

Also, if a person with a uterus is under very stressful physical conditions - inadequate food, serious chronic disease, extended amounts of very intense physical labor or exercise - it wouldn't be unusual for the fertility cycle to just take a break for awhile. There's also some evidence that if adolescents are under stressful conditions longterm - like chronic partial malnutrition or hard labor from childhood - their onset of fertility can be delayed a lot from what most of us are used to, sometime right into their early 20s. So your super-intense teenage knight-in-training who's hitting the palanquin for fourteen hours a day or your super-intense teenage mage-in-training who is living on two bowls of gruel a day could just not have to worry about it yet.

And of course you could always make part of your het couple trans, which seriously reduces pregnancy rates without magical or technological intervention, and that's been going on pretty much forever pretty much everywhere.

Or make your heroine post-menopausal. More sexually active post-menopausal fantasy protagonists 2k15.



But a lot of people seem to really want to have a lot of penis-in-vagina sex, regardless of the risks and inconvenience, and it is not for me to judge.

And people across history have come up with plenty of ways to do that and still control their fertility.

I'm going to start with birth control methods that require the penis-owner to be cooperative.

First, and probably most widespread, is the method where the person with the penis pulls out before ejaculation and spills the seed somewhere else. This is not 100% effective - there will be some sperm seeping out before ejaculation, even if you do pull out in time, and of course it relies on controlling yourself every single time. But it has the benefit of not requiring any preparations or supplies. And it is a lot more reliable than not doing it. This is also one of the only methods the penis-user can control without needing cooperation from their partner.

Second, you can have the person with the uterus track the fertility cycles, and only have PIV sex when least fertile. This isn't super-reliable either, at least when it's done with numbers and calendars, but again, it's better than nothing. Also, if you do more "paying attention to your body" than watching a calendar - tracking all sorts of symptoms that are very idiosyncratic to the individual - that can be a lot more reliable than just counting days or tracking one single marker. So if your heroine was raised in, say, a lesbian separatist outlaw gang that was all about being in touch with your feminine mysteries, she might be able to predict her high-pregnancy-risk days really accurately without even putting much conscious effort into it, just because of 'how she feels", and just not do PIV on those days. Still some risk, but much lower.

Also, there were condoms. Usually they were finicky, expensive, variably reliable, and not terribly user-friendly, but if your characters have access to materials that are thin, flexible, durable, waterproof and nontoxic, somebody has probably tried to make a condom at least once.

And there are surgical modifications that can be done to the male genitalia, even with pre-industrial medicine, to reduce fertility. Castration is the obvious. Many cultures have practiced castration in many contexts, and depending on precisely how it is done, it can still allow for full PIV sex, just with no risk of pregnancy. There are also some less drastic modifications that have been traditional in some cultures that reduce without completely ending male fertility, such as opening up the urethra at the base of the penis so that ejaculation releases the semen outside the vagina. Have no idea what the actual reduction in pregnancy is with this, but it's probably somewhat worse than pulling out every time, somewhat better than pulling out most of the time but sometimes missing it.

As for methods under the woman's control, lots of them existed, and some of them were fairly reliable.

Most of them involved herbal medicine. One reason that witches/wise women/midwifes tended to be looked on as evil by the medieval Christian church is that many of them knew about, and were willing to teach, herbal birth control. And the ancient European/Mediterranean world supposedly some really good herbal birth control; there were probably similar things in other regions, but the Western world is the only one I've studied.

Silphium/laser is a plant that was so widely sought after and used around the ancient Mediterranean that the entire economy of the region where it grew (Lydia) was based on it. And it was so heavily harvested that it went extinct. It was said to be a really good contraceptive when regularly used. Related plants have lots of phytoestrogens, so it's possible that taken on a regular basis, it would've worked very much like modern birth control pills. As it got rarer toward the Roman period, it got more expensive, so only upper class women could afford it, which increased class tensions, which might have been part of the cause of the decline of the Empire.

Even after silphium became impossible to get, those related plants, and other sources of phytoestrogens, continued to be used in teas and other preparations, though they were less reliable and probably had more side effects.

There were also herbal pessaries, where you took a bag full of herbs (usually including magical amulets as well) with a string tied to it, and stuffed it up the vagina before sex; they don't get mentioned often in the literature, but when they are mentioned, it's as something you'd just expect a loose woman to wear. There's a lot of argument about pessaries; some people say they worked as spermicides, some people think they worked like a sponge or diaphragm, some that they had active herbal ingredients absorbed through the mucus membranes that would prevent implantation of an embryo; some that they usually simply didn't work at all. In some cases the people would use them secretly, in others they would make it really clear to the people they were with that they were using a safeguard.

The theoretical possibility of a contraceptive UID was around all the way back to ancient Greece, but there's no evidence I am aware of that they were used (at least in humans). The theory was there, though, and we've had really pure copper around since forever, so in a fantasy setting I don't see why it couldn't work.

The other form of herbal birth control is abortifacients. These essentially worked by causing miscarriage in the first few weeks of pregnancy. There are a lot of plants that will do that, and most of them were used, and many of them can still be picked on roadsides, because they're really common weeds. (I have a list, just in case we outlaw abortion and I need to publish it. Not that I'm paranoid or anything.) If you're reading a list of herbal remedies - old or new - and it lists a plant for "menstrual irregularity" or "amenorrhea" or "female problems"? That probably means abortifacient. Basically, if you missed a period and you didn't want a kid, or you were afraid you might miss a period, you went to the midwife, and she gave you an infusion that would make your womb empty, functionally similar to a morning-after pill or pharmaceutical abortion. If this happened often, you'd tell your husband you had female troubles, and take the tea habitually every month.

My guess is this wasn't usually conceptualized by the women involved as "ending a pregnancy"; there was just an awareness that if you stopped getting periods you might be having a kid soon, so to prevent kids you made sure you always got your period, even if it meant drinking a tea that made you a bit sick every month. And of course they would also be used for other kinds of reproductive issues, much like hormonal birth control is today. But there were also cases of these preparations being used later in a pregnancy when everyone involved very clearly knew that ending a pregnancy is what they were doing.

This is not ideal birth control, because a lot of these herbs can be very dangerous if you get the dosage wrong, and if you take them with a pregnancy that's more than a few weeks old, the miscarriage can go really badly. But the upside is that most women would have had access to them in some form or another, through most of history.

Whether the more physical means of inducing miscarriage were regularly used in pre-industrial times, I don't have much information. I suspect that abusive fathers everywhere have figured out that if you beat your wife enough, she'll lose the baby. And that desperate pregnant people everywhere have figured out how to use that to their advantage. The methods that involve introducing foreign objects into the womb to puncture the amniotic sac, I have no idea. There are some old myths I vaguely recall that might sort of imply that such things were attempted by desperate people. My guess - and I could be way off-base here - is that most of the time, pre-modern medicine, "surgical" abortion was risky enough that unless you were really really desperate, you used other methods, or you carried to term and then got rid of the baby afterward.

Because that is another option that plenty of people chose.

Because there are plenty of cultures that allow for infanticide as a birth control method. Most of these cultures have a very, very high infant mortality rate. You don't bother with birth control, because two out of three babies aren't going to tie you down for very long anyway, and you want to have enough that at least a couple of 'em live till they're old enough to be worth bothering with.

Sometimes the high mortality rate is just a result of bad conditions. Sometimes it's partly because letting babies die of neglect is how they do birth control.

Exposure (leaving the baby at the crossroads/under the sacred tree/in the woods/etc for the king/the fairies/a poor but virtuous farmer/wolves/etc. to find) was never a primary method of population control, that I am aware of, but it was pretty common cross-culturally as a backup method when your primary method failed, or if you knew there would be famine that winter, or when something about the baby's conception or birth meant they would be A Problem. And since, in all the stories, the kid gets rescued, you can still cling on to a tiny scrap of hope that it's alive and in a better life. There is disagreement as to how often this happened outside of the stories, and whether exposure was infanticide, or an adoption method, or both at different times in different cultures. I suspect the babies usually died.

Although there is an Old Norse saga in which a family is exposing a bastard newborn, and so they go around and tell everyone in the vicinity that they are going to expose this baby, so sad, they're going to leave it at this particular place on this particular morning right before dawn, you got that part right? Let me repeat it. And then the local religious leader goes to a single man who is trying to earn his way into the community and says, so hey, if you want to be rehabilitated, you should go to this particular place on this particular day right after dawn, and the gods will have left you a son to adopt. And miraculously, there was indeed a newborn boy there! Who could've guessed. The Norse Sagas are in this weird place where they're almost myth, but they're still sort of connected to lived history. So it's possible that in certain cultures, exposing a baby did frequently lead to adoption rather than death, the equivalent of the modern "Safe Baby" sites that let mothers anonymously leave newborns for adoption.

That sort of more organized "leave your baby here" site might also have happened in larger communities in pre-industrial times, often through religious organizations. And there are also many other methods of adoption, which we'll get to later.

What has also been used, sometimes, as a primary method, is just not feeding the kid, and when it dies of neglect, you say "it's so sad, these things happen," and bury it. I read an article once about how in some slums and refugee camps in Catholic countries, this is still common. Birth control and abortion are sins, see, you have to let God decide. So you have the kid, and if you can't take care of it, or you don't want to take care of it, or it's colicky, you decide it's just "not strong", so clearly God has decided it's not going to live, and therefore feeding it/clothing it/getting it medical care/paying attention to it/loving it/naming it is a waste of time.

Oddly enough, usually the prediction about God's will is right, and the 'not strong' babies do die young! The person who wrote the article was an American working in one of these communities, and she talked about how one of the women she was quite close to had a baby like this, and all that was wrong with it was malnourishment and dehydration, but she couldn't convince the mother to get it help; finally she took it to the free clinic herself, got it treated, it was happy and healthy and thriving, the clinic gave it back to the mother, it was near-dead again within a few weeks, and died within months. The same woman, when she'd had other kids both before and after this one, when she was in a more stable point in her life, was a devoted, caring mother - because those kids weren't sickly, see. This is common and accepted in these cultures, and the mothers really do tell themselves it's just God's will that the kids that are born at inconvenient times won't live. The author talked about how she'd gone to the priest, the main social support in the community, and he said, basically, 'yeah, it sucks, but they really can't raise these kids, and nobody else would want them, so as long as the Vatican doesn't let me teach them about birth control, it's their only way out.'

Anyway. So that's depressing. Similar things happen in many cultures where resources are low; excess children aren't killed, they're just not given care, or are fed last when food supply is limited. Especially this happens to girl babies. This also sucks. Because the people involved don't think of it as disposing of the extra kids, they just think of it as some kids die, and may even be in denial that they're choosing to do it, it's another thing you have to read between the lines for. Even as recently as my grandmother's family, in the Midwest in the Depression - the adult men ate, then the adult women, then the boys, then the girls, then the stepdaughters (which was her,) and if there wasn't enough food left for the stepdaughters, oh well. (When she got a kitchen of her own after eloping with Grandpa, she always made sure there was plenty of food for everyone and girls ate first.)

And, of course, you can always just kill the baby outright. In cultures that don't consider babies properly human until some time after birth, or when the situation is desperate, this happens.

In a lot of cases, when infanticide or exposure is used, no matter what the method, there's a cultural narrative that says there's something "wrong" with the baby that means it wouldn't be a good idea to raise it anyway - whether it's cursed or sickly or unclean or ill-omened. I'm sure this was often used with babies with obvious congenital disabilities, but it was probably used just as often with babies who had no obvious problems or markers of fate except that they were born to the wrong parent at the wrong time and the parent needed a narrative to make it right to turn them out.


But sometimes a person gets pregnant, has the kid, and decides they don't want to cast it onto the winds of fate - but don't want to devote their entire lives to childrearing either.

This is normal. Women being full-time carers for their children is really anomalous, culturally speaking.

Most women throughout most of history have had to just have the baby, strap it on, and then go right back to work. Once it's too big to carry it's probably big enough to do some of the work itself, so that's useful. As a bonus, while you're breastfeeding you're less likely to get pregnant again, and breastfeeding can last for years if you're in a society that makes allowances for this.

I can reel out a whole list of historical women who have gone on epic adventures while pregnant and/or caring for a baby or small child (Sacagawea, Pope Joan, Eleanor of Acquitaine, La Malinche, Gudrídur Þorbjarnardottir....) but there's also all the unrecorded working class and refugee mothers who never had the choice whether to keep going or not. Not letting the pregnancy slow you down is a lot more common than dropping everything to become nothing but a mother, and always has been, despite what our current cultural hegemony wants to tell you.

I have read a total of one fantasy novel where the strong warrior woman is a single mother who drags her kids along on quest with her, whining and bickering all the way. There should be more. There should be a lot more. Seriously, an adventuring party is like a whole collection of built-in babysitters!

Even if you don't want the kids to come along, there are lots of other ways to ensure they are being well-cared-for by people other than Mom.

Cultures based around strong extended families, especially "matrilocal" ones where husbands moved in with their wife's family, would often raise all the kids together, so if one woman had to be away from home, her sisters/aunts/cousins/etc would seamlessly take over. In fact, a lot of languages don't even make a distinction between "mother" and "mother's sister" - they are seen to have exactly the same relationship to the child. Similar sharing of childcare happens in polygamous marriages and polyamorous relationships, and in all kind of close-knit non-kin-based community structures like feudal villages, racial ghettos, communes, sex workers in shared housing, and nomadic bands. In some cultures where early pregnancy and young women having to work outside the home are common (like, er, American trailer parks, but there are plenty of other cases) child-rearing is set a generation or two off: Grandma raises you, your mom raises your kids, you raise your grandkids. Birth parents share childrearing, short- or long-term, with aunts and uncles, older siblings, great-aunts and great uncles, elderly cousins, neighbors, families of choice, community leaders, anyone the parents trust who wants to take the kid.

Nuclear families that consist of just a parent or a couple parents and their bio kids are deeply weird.

Upper-class women frequently handed the kids off on servants or nannies soon after birth; sometimes they'd be handed off on concubines or secondary wives (Or children of secondary wives would be claimed by primary wives, freeing up the birth-mothers to do other tasks.) Sometimes they would be fostered with other upper-class families. Cultures where the sexes are highly segregated would often take the male babies to the male side to be raised by fathers as soon as they could eat solid food. Some cultures used creche-type systems where all children were raised by specialists, largely segregated from the adult world: in fiction this usually seems to come up in science fiction, but similar things were done in ancient cultures such as Sparta, and even in modern ones (like the British public school system.)

There are also all kinds of variations on adoption that can be used. The model of adoption that most of my readers are probably most familiar with - where a child, preferably a very young child, is completely separated from their family and community of birth, and raised by adoptive parents who have full custody and try to treat the child exactly like a birth child of theirs - is also super-weird, and it's started to change even in the US as more flexible models gain more visibility and legal support. There are a ton of different ways that a child can be formally made a part of, and taken into, a family other than the one that birthed them, by a birth parent's consent.

Sometimes this is done within the framework of "selling" the children. Sometimes this really is about slavery or sex trafficking or kidnapping. Sometimes it's part of a practice that makes sure the kids are cared for, with the adoptive parents paying the birth parents partly to acknowledge that the child is valuable, partly to prove they have the resources to care for it, and partly to help out the poor family. Sometimes the existence of the caring, safety-net kind of child transfer makes the space in society for the trafficking and kidnapping to co-exist with it. Again this is something that comes up worldwide in both historical and modern cultures (including modern US and Europe.)

In cultures where same-sex pairbonds are acknowledged, same-sex couples will frequently buy or be given babies. So will "thirdgender" or transgender parents. Similarly infertile het couples or infertile sister-wives; older couples whose children have died or moved out but who still want to care for children; childless widows and single women; witches, shamans, and other people whose profession traditionally precludes marriage but who need to raise an heir; and so on. Often, but not always, they would also be people with some sort of kin or community relationship to the birth parents. (These are also the same people who might be rescuing exposed babies, or getting babies left on their doorsteps. Sometimes there might be a liminal or low-caste category of people - witches, genderqueer people, religious initiates, travellers, disabled women who can't do agricultural work, 'fallen' women, etc - who are expected to take in all of a community's parentless children, and end up running essentially group homes.)

I read awhile ago about an African culture (and I wish I could remember where, so I can look up the name) where poor rural girls between the ages of about five and ten, especially second and third daughters, are encouraged to "court" successful city widows or single women. If they're successful, the widow will negotiate with their mother to "lease" them, and the girl will move to the city, become part of the widow's family (not quite an adopted child, but more than a student or a servant), and eventually become an independent city woman herself; meanwhile her family gets compensated for her absence, and when she's older, she'll probably "rent" some of her young female relatives in turn.

This is not entirely unlike young rural girls going into "service" in European cultures up to the 19th century. Before that, European children were frequently apprenticed, fostered, or sent to boarding schools as young as five or six, as well. In many places children, and even babies at birth, would be dedicated to the Temple (or the church), and either raised and cared for there until they entered the clergy, or left with their parents or with foster parents until a certain age, with the parents or foster parents being paid a stipend by the Temple. (And, uh, the opposite as well. There are stories about nunneries in medieval Europe where the nunnery paid significant and steady amounts of money to local women to adopt the nuns' children.)

In most of the models I mentioned, the child who was being 'adopted' would become in some way a part of their new family, but still retain strong ties to their birth parents and community of birth, whether through visits, regular communication, the fact that they still lived in that community just with a different primary caregiver, or with an expectation that they will at some point return to their birth community, or move fluidly between them, or be an advocate for them.

So: there are many, many models for doing this. But it is perfectly acceptable for a society to not believe that only the birth mother can raise a child. And fairly common for these methods to be used even in cultures that theoretically want the kids to be with the birth parents.

Sometimes these practices lead to abuse of the children or children being taken from parents who do want them. Sometimes they lead to what we'd think of as abuse, but is (in the culture's standards) better than they'd be getting at home. Sometimes it'll all be sunshine and rainbows. Some cultures have built-in safeguards around the practices (such as the kids being able to leave the adoptive parents, or able to shop around for new adoptive parents, or the birth parents keeping limited parental rights, or the children being raised communally rather than by one family, or as simple as everyone in the village keeping an eye out). Very often, the safeguards are similar to the safeguards around marriage contracts, with formal ways to request a dissolution and property changing hands. Sometimes the practices are so similar to marriage that you start thinking dark thoughts about how marriage is part and parcel of the infantilization of women.

Sometimes the practices, especially when the kids are expected to be eight or older, are for all intents and purposes, *actually* marriages, yes including sex, and are in fact described that way within the culture, and the only distinction is that the contract ends when the younger partner reaches full adulthood. This is not the same as child marriage, where the child is expected to fill an adult woman's role, though that, too, is sometimes a poor family's only way of providing for their daughters. But there are also practices like Greek pederasty, where the relationship is parental-but-with-sex, usually same-sex, and distinct from het marriage; Greek pederasty was not unique. Though as before, it's mostly the m/m versions that get recorded; you have to infer the lesbians.

But then, it's not like forcing kids to be raised by birth parents always works out perfectly either.


...and this just hit 6,000 words, so I'll leave it there. A lot of this is based on memories of things I studied in college quite awhile ago now, so no guarantees on accuracy, but if you want me to try to expand on any particular thing or offer recommended reading I will do my best to either give you something more or admit I don't have it.
alexseanchai: Blue and purple lightning (Default)

[personal profile] alexseanchai 2015-12-04 01:24 am (UTC)(link)
Excellent resource, thank you!
bluemeridian: Chloe from Smallville, with coffee and a sideways look. (Default)

[personal profile] bluemeridian 2015-12-04 01:36 am (UTC)(link)
This is fascinating! Thank you for posting it.
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 01:39 am (UTC)(link)
Though if you want to go with any of the "child goes to carer(s) other than those who raised it" and "child is sexualized very early" options, it's a good plan to also research extensively attachment disorders and the relevant neuropsych.

They actually both apply back in time very, very well and often make the past make a lot more sense. In the fostering/etc case, doing the research can also tell you how to avoid massive attachment ruptures, assuming you'd rather your society not be systematically damaging its children. >.> (At least if you assume things like inability to regulate emotion and arousal, etc, damage. Some cultures don't, and view/viewed their kids being violent, being hyper-sexual, or having truncated emotions as a plus.)

(Also known as: Liz II is the first monarch of England who DOESN'T show clear signs of attachment and developmental trauma issues in her personal life at LEAST, and the part where she was raised as a private citizen by highly involved, loving parents who never expected to become king and queen probably has more than a little to do with it.)
Edited 2015-12-04 01:56 (UTC)
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 02:03 am (UTC)(link)
The big terminology difference is that there's "attachment theory", which actually has a shit-load of neuropsych and research and so on behind it and explains SO MANY THINGS including why adopted kids have so many more behavioural problems despite also being honestly more likely to have involved, concerned, well-off parents. (tl;dr: adopted kids are massively more likely to have either not formed their first attachment, or to have had that attachment ruptured, because almost NO adoptees come to their adopted parents as totally new-born babies and attachment starts very early.)

The guy you want is Dr Bruce Perry, who was legitimately the first guy who went "actually that thing we keep saying about 'children are resilient so we don't have to care about trauma in childhood' is SO FUCKING WRONG it's horrifying"; laypeople books include The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog and Born To Love. (note: the first one shows its age, and is Wrong about autism a lot; the second is much newer and thus has updated that stuff a shit-ton.)

Good attachment is formed by being under the consistent care of a gentle, physically responsive adult (or sometimes older child - basically, caregiver) who provides all of a baby's (and child's) needs and responds to their emotional and physical state. Like feeding when hungry and rocking when upset and dealing with pain and all that stuff. The physical connection is actually required (there's an interesting bit in Boy Who Was Raised about "failure to thrive", which is something that used to kill swathes of children in orphanages and literally translates to "this child did not receive sufficient external signs of affection and attention" - it is in fact possible for human babies and young children to die from not being hugged enough, and it used to happen ALL THE TIME.)

His work is responsible for stuff like: we used to literally move kids from foster home to foster home as often as possible, on the basis that this way they would be prevented from getting to attached (ha ha) to the foster-parents and thus it wouldn't hurt so much when they had to leave. And then we kept getting severely fucked up foster-children! Because it turns out that's the worst thing you could possibly do, ever, and actually the more longterm care any kid can get from the same (caring, non-abusive) people, the better it is.

"Attachment THERAPY" is the abusive total bullshit that surfs in by stealing the wave. It actually has basically shit-fuck-all to do with the other stuff besides stealing the name, and most of what it does is guaranteed to rupture attachment and significantly increase trauma.

This confusion sadly catches many (unsurprisingly) uninformed caregivers on a regular basis.

I will stop updating this comment now I swear.
Edited 2015-12-04 02:10 (UTC)
recessional: a woman holds a baby and touches her nose to the baby's (personal; oh holy)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 03:05 am (UTC)(link)
Hee!

tl;dr: Basically, for our brains to develop properly, we apparently need to feel safe, connected, cared for and provided for. This is basically done by way of a specific carer providing for and responding to the baby's needs, both physical and emotional (ie responding to fear/distress/loneliness). The baby will then associated This Adult with The World Being Okay.

Ruptures and hideous distortions happen if an adult fails to do this in the first place (and the baby learns its needs will not be met), if an adult does it erratically and unreliably, if the adult does this but also regularly terrifies or harms the child (including inappropriate sexual conduct). Depending on when this happens, the fucked up tends to manifest in different ways - babies who are totally neglected (even if basically fed) usually die. Humans are desperately, OBSESSIVELY social animals, to the point where babies in orphanages in Eastern Europe who were basically just housed in rows of cribs would gravitate to EACH OTHER, and hold hands through the bars, and make up language to talk to each other.

Perry literally figures the boy in the titular story was saved by the fact that he was put in to live literally with dogs: dogs are also social creatures who show affection etc in ways recognizable by the human brain, so he managed basic attachment because of the dogs.

Attachment's biggest influence is in emotional regulation and the ability to form relationships and function within them. A family my family knows adopted a child at two who had an attachment disorder due to early neglect by a mother who was an addict; she was then put in a stable foster-home until her adoption, all of which ameliorated a lot of it, but she still has a lot of socially oriented problems. One of the manifestations when she was little is that she was Darling And Adorable And Sweet . . . to strangers. On the other hand, if she knew you consistently for more than a few weeks and parsed you as a caregiver, she turned into a nightmare child. (And I mean kicking-screaming-biting-jumping-out-of-the-car-and-running-away.) She did not fundamentally know how to be comfortable and trustful of people, and basically kept testing relationships to destruction (or trying to).

There are other examples, but yeah. Behavioural problems HO.

This is also why (when operating properly, nowadays*) child protection agencies try their hardest not to remove children from parents' care, to continue contact with parents if they do remove them, to then coach the parents to the point where they can return them to parental care, or if none of that is possible (and if possible for the interim), place the children with family for fosterage instead of with strangers. This is because the act of taking a child away from the person they've bonded to will hurt them. End of story. It will do them harm. It will be a trauma, it will terrify them, and it will leave a mark.

So the harm of leaving them there has to be worse than the harm of taking them away, and to minimize harm you want if AT ALL POSSIBLE to get them back or to place them with someone they've already got some kind of attachment to.

Older kids also suffer, and it tends to give them problems with whatever developmental stage they're at when they're separated from the caregiver (assuming they had one till then) or when the relationship goes bad (if, say, a parent suddenly takes up drinking or develops a mental illness or whatever).

The general affect of attachment problems is anti-social behaviour: inability to control emotional responses, selfish behaviour, poor emotional regulation, violent behaviour, manipulation, inability to measure future gains against current feelings (ie: do not steal X from your coworker because if you do you will be caught, X will be angry, and you will suffer consequences loses out, as a thought process, to, but I WANT X), etc. Kids with attachment problems are also at WAY HIGHER RISK of developing ADHD, depression, etc, etc.

(You can see significant amounts of this in refugee or war-torn populations, and in poverty. =\)

We as a society (*waves hand* sort of, more or less) have reached a level of quality of life, longevity and lack of violence that at this point smaller amounts of attachment disorders start standing out. Four hundred years ago, enough men died by violence to actually match the number of women who died in childbirth. In even the American South in the mid-1800s, people regularly shot each other over insults. (Or beat each other to death, or whatever). Like this was not considered unusual or indications that they were incurably violent or criminal - it's just that's what you did sometimes, if you had a hot temper. Marital violence was considered normal, let alone emotional violence that at least some of us now consider hideous.

So looking backwards, in terms of historical childrearing, one has to sort of look at the general quality of life. When your chances of literally starving to death are high, you're more concerned with getting food in your child's mouth than whether they'll be psychologically capable of having fulfilling, non-toxic relationships at 30. When your entire society is based around a warrior ideal, the fact that all your young men turn out kind of violent and prone to punching each other isn't a negative, it's a plus. Etc, etc.

But by our standards, those people will be fucked up, not because of some nebulous weirdness, but because of neurological development things we know quite a bit about, these days.

I maintain that a lot of the really O.O-making stuff of history makes a lot more sense if you keep in mind that by our standards, the population would have HIDEOUSLY high levels of developmental trauma, attachment trauma, foetal alcohol effect, PTSD, C-PTSD, borderline personality disorder (a very, very common response to emotional and physical abuse), etc. At that point, the level of violence, the level of families seeming to turn around and slaughter each other at the drop of a hat, and some downright ABSURD (and usually violent) behaviours and actions start making total sense.

ETA: BORDERLINE PERSONALITY, self, not bipolar. I have fixed that. I am not sure why my fingers decided to mistype that one, but it is a very important difference!

*go back more than fifteen years, roughly, and it's a whole different world. *facehands* and do not talk to me about the eighties it makes me terrified.
Edited 2015-12-04 03:20 (UTC)
mecurtin: Daniel agrees reading is fundamental (reading)

[personal profile] mecurtin 2015-12-04 02:49 am (UTC)(link)
A couple of years ago Mr Dr Science & I read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for the first time. We had heard of the character "Topsy", and that she was (racist, stereotypical) comic relief. To our surprise, she's actually a nearly-clinical depiction of attachment disorder -- Cliff's Notes gives a good summary.

Harriet Beecher Stowe clearly had seen attachment disorder and recognized where it came from -- though her readers, for the most part, *really* didn't want to. But it's at least one data point that says attachment disorder isn't a modern "invention", it happened in the past and could be perceived as a problem by people who cared to look.
recessional: a small orange kitten looks very startled and has no irises (personal; omgwtfbbq)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 03:12 am (UTC)(link)
Harriet Beecher Stowe clearly had seen attachment disorder and recognized where it came from

I RECENTLY HAD A MOMENT OF THIS TYPE WITH KING LEAR. I watched a good production of it and went "oh my god it's Alzheimers. Everything Lear does in this entire play (and the way everyone who knew him before, ie Kent and Gloucester, are like "wait what the shit why are you suddenly doing this?) makes perfect sense and it is a damn near clinical portrait, oh my god."

*ahem* Which is to say, yes: there are an awful lot of things we sometimes consider "new" somehow which, if you look, attentive and intelligent observers of the past clearly saw in human behaviour (and often could even guess why) without being able to systematize them the way we have, or guess at exactly what the mechanism is. A personal example is also my paternal family, which has actually pretty detailed family stories going back a century or two . . . which, if you know what ADHD looks like, also tells you that one particular line has not had a generation without someone with the disorder from time immemorial. Just at the time, they were "wild" boys and "bad" boys, and the solution was to try and beat it out of them (which never worked: they were "wild" and "bad" till they died. Some of them were surprisingly gentle husbands, though, as long as you found them something Exciting to do to earn the money.)

And "failure to thrive" as a cause of death honestly litters the history of orphanages: it's given to children who are in fact being fed enough and given clothes and there's no obvious reason for them to be sick - no fever, no symptoms, no nothing - they just . . . waste away and go listless and catatonic and die. And it happens in situations where for whatever reason the children are not given actual emotional care.

And damn it I had another few examples but I am SUPER TIRED and can't remember them. But yeah. It doesn't have to be mom, or dad, but human babies reeeeally need a stable, responsive, dedicated caregiver who does not hurt or frighten or sexually abuse them (and there is actually increasing evidence that we don't stop developing until the age of 20, so best if they have that caregiver a LONG TIME).
Edited 2015-12-04 03:18 (UTC)
nicki: (Default)

[personal profile] nicki 2015-12-04 03:59 am (UTC)(link)
Any of us ape types, really, need the attachment. The Rhesus monkey studies are really, really pitiful to read. Those poor baby monkeys.
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 04:14 am (UTC)(link)
Yes. Actually most mammals do, and most birds. Reptiles are hit and miss, but by the time you're into us warm-bloods, and ESPECIALLY social warm-bloods (but even many of the solitaries), clearly there was such an intense evolutionary advantage to bonding-like-fuck to a parent that it wired into all of us. Even kittens separated too young will either bond HARDCORE to a human caregiver, or they will . . .actually suffer weird behavioural problems and quirks and not seem to have any idea how to be a cat.

And yes, those studies are just heart-destroying. And to me they also make evolutionary sense, because it's implanting a drive to stay close and bound to your best protection and meal-ticket: while babies might be able to find food that's NOT attached to a warm and furry mommy, that's also a good way to find poison and rot and all kinds of things and definitely a good way to get eaten. So what do you want? You want mommy, who knows what is and isn't poison (and produces the best not-poison!), so screw wiring the babies to find food, wire the babies to find MOMMY.

(Or daddy. Or The Pack. Or whatever.)
mecurtin: Doctor Science (Default)

[personal profile] mecurtin 2015-12-04 05:14 pm (UTC)(link)
I watched a good production of it and went "oh my god it's Alzheimers. Everything Lear does in this entire play (and the way everyone who knew him before, ie Kent and Gloucester, are like "wait what the shit why are you suddenly doing this?) makes perfect sense and it is a damn near clinical portrait, oh my god."

Huh, I never thought of that -- I've been too focused on the fact that Lear's treatment of his children is CLEARLY abuse -- which Jane Smiley shows in her fanfic A Thousand Acres. But that book (and the movie based on it) are also about Alzheimer's, now that I refresh my memory. "Descent into senility", after all.
lady_ganesh: A Clue card featuring Miss Scarlett. (Default)

[personal profile] lady_ganesh 2015-12-13 01:40 am (UTC)(link)
Heathcliff has some of this too.
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[personal profile] loligo 2015-12-04 04:42 am (UTC)(link)
The Harvard Center on the Developing Child has a fantastic resource page. The brief topic summaries are up top -- scroll way down for the detailed working papers, such as "The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain".
recessional: two white rats and a tiny teddy bear (personal; rat-pile = argument invalid)

[personal profile] recessional 2015-12-04 05:15 am (UTC)(link)
Oh awesome, yay excellent linkage. *gives you internet cookie of thanks?*
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[personal profile] princessofgeeks 2015-12-04 02:06 am (UTC)(link)
This is amazing; thank you.
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[personal profile] trobadora 2015-12-04 02:12 am (UTC)(link)
What a great post - thank you!

I have read a total of one fantasy novel where the strong warrior woman is a single mother who drags her kids along on quest with her, whining and bickering all the way.

Do you remember which book that was? Because that sounds like something I'd like to read.
trobadora: (Default)

[personal profile] trobadora 2015-12-04 06:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I'm putting that on my list. :)
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[personal profile] lizcommotion 2015-12-16 07:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I was just going to ask if that was the book, because if it wasn't I was going to rec it.
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[personal profile] torachan 2015-12-04 02:17 am (UTC)(link)
This was an interesting read. Thanks for posting!
nicki: (Default)

[personal profile] nicki 2015-12-04 03:43 am (UTC)(link)
Both my grandmothers spent time being raised in convents (different convents, different countries) by their aunts who were nuns. For one, my g-grandmother died and my g-grandfather sent my g'ma and her sister to the convent with my g-grandmother's next 2 oldest sisters basically for their tweens and early teens, but this was also in the mid-west during the dustbowl and the convent was of the self-supporting type. For the other, I get the feeling there were issues around the birth of her younger brother, and, um high-spirited-ness. Her aunt was a sister-superior in Brittany. So that was happening not that long ago.
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[personal profile] shipwreck_light 2015-12-04 03:51 am (UTC)(link)
This is fucking awesome and you should feel fucking awesome. Thank you!
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[personal profile] rushthatspeaks 2015-12-04 05:11 am (UTC)(link)
This is a wonderful post.

Surgical abortion has a long and complex history, but it's been around as long as we have had surgery. Today it's one of the least risky operations a person can have, and it had better historical outcomes than one might think-- certainly there was a far better chance of surviving it than of surviving a Caesarian, which has been around just as long.

It also doesn't need to be complicated surgery. Gisella Perl, the Angel of Auschwitz, performed abortions on women who wanted their pregnancies concealed from Mengele with her bare hands, and didn't lose any to bleeding that we know of. Of course, that was at a pitch of desperation rarely seen throughout recorded history (thankfully), but it does show how much more knowledge has to do with this procedure than do instruments and modern antiseptic environments.
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[personal profile] brownbetty 2015-12-05 07:06 pm (UTC)(link)
When you say, with her bare hands, do you mean "without instruments"???
rushthatspeaks: (Default)

[personal profile] rushthatspeaks 2015-12-05 10:22 pm (UTC)(link)
I mean that the way she describes it is that she was literally doing what we would call a surgical abortion, a D&C, with her fingers, because that was what she had. And this turns out to be possible and doesn't kill the patient, though no one was remotely happy about it.
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[personal profile] conuly 2015-12-18 12:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Holy fuck, that's... wow.
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[personal profile] tassosss 2015-12-04 05:23 am (UTC)(link)
This is a wonderful resource! Thank you for putting it together.
slashmarks: (Default)

[personal profile] slashmarks 2015-12-04 06:35 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for writing this! I'd definitely be interested in any sources you remember about pretty much any of it, but especially the stuff about varying sexual relationships and family arrangements.

(Re: up thread, I'd be pretty cautious about attributing violent behavior in the past to early trauma. People in *our* culture love to jump to conclusions about violence being caused by abnormal psychology, but that's mostly because violence is a massive, massive taboo, and everything about it seems easier to understand if it's something done by Other People. Which pretty much ignores that just about every experiment has shown that totally normal people will resort to violence under social pressure, or desperation, unless they've specifically prepared themselves not to.

There aren't actual statistics suggesting abuse victims/people with early trauma are more likely to be violent, just that a few rare disorders related to trauma sometimes involve violent gestures that are more likely to be directed at themselves than other people. In general, survivors are more likely to be victims of violence later. There IS a lot of risk in perpetuating views of crazy people or survivors as broken/violent/dangerous. And a lot of complete bullshit has been said about people with borderline personality disorder, because it's a disorder often diagnosed by professionals because they dislike specific patients and want to "punish" them, or assume they're incurable/malicious because they don't like them.)
Edited 2015-12-04 06:36 (UTC)
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[personal profile] elf 2015-12-04 08:38 am (UTC)(link)
Nuclear families that consist of just a parent or a couple parents and their bio kids are deeply weird.

I tend to lump that in with the rest of the toxic nuclear waste of the 20th century. It's a very recent meme, very localized in certain spots globally (those with a particular style of tech and government), and it's done a ridiculous amount of harm to the communities and economies infected by it, in addition to the number of lives it's cost.

Erm. I may have *opinions* on this topic.

Regarding "eating last"--my husband's mother was the 7th daughter. (Not 7th child; 7th daughter.) Men got meat; boys got gravy; girls got bread. Maybe with soup.

Husband's mother was, of course, the runt of the family... at 5'11". Husband was born at 10 lbs and change, as appropriate for such a stunted mother. (We should all be grateful that northern Sweden was short on food for most of its history, or they'd all be nine feet tall and the vikings would own half the planet.) (I had the most hellish time convincing husband that no, our 7 lb 15 oz baby was perfectly healthy and of a reasonable size thankyouverymuch.)
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[personal profile] elanya 2015-12-04 12:23 pm (UTC)(link)
This is really cool, thank you for compiling it! A lot of this is stuff I knew already (I'm pretty sure I've read that article about neglect for a class back in the day, or a similar one) but it is super useful to have collected as a resource for thinking about worldbuilding.
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[personal profile] thady 2015-12-04 12:42 pm (UTC)(link)
This is really fascinating! Thank you for the write-up.
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[personal profile] schneefink 2015-12-04 02:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Very interesting, thank you!
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[personal profile] espresso_addict 2015-12-04 02:18 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you, this is fascinating!
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[personal profile] neotoma 2015-12-04 02:40 pm (UTC)(link)
I have a copy of John Boswells' "The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance", which at least is full of footnotes, and interesting ones at that.

There's a lot of evidence about how exposing children wasn't necessarily infanticide, including the a common narrative in plays of the recovery of as an adult of a child exposed in infancy, and the nuances of the word alumna/alumnus.

Also fosterage as method of building fictive family relationships, especially by lower-status people raising higher-status people's children. Suddenly Bjorn AverageFarmer'sSon is foster-brother to Aud SomeChieftain'sDaughter, and in that culture, he's treated as if they are blood family, because that's the way the culture rolls, and that helps him make a better marriage, get introduced to people in the chieftain and elite families, and maybe even argue better in lawsuits.
Edited 2015-12-04 14:41 (UTC)
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[personal profile] oracne 2015-12-04 03:21 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you for this post.
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[personal profile] genarti 2015-12-04 07:49 pm (UTC)(link)
Ooooh, thank you! This is seriously awesome. I knew a bunch of it, but not all, and having it all in one post like this is fantastic.
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[personal profile] deird1 2015-12-04 10:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Awesome resource! *adds to mems*
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[personal profile] butterflykiki 2015-12-05 06:34 am (UTC)(link)
RE: Post-menopausal women going on quests...

Have you read "Paladin of Souls" by Lois McMasters Bujold?
http://www.amazon.com/Paladin-Souls-Chalion-McMaster-Bujold/dp/0380818612

Her heroine is 40ish, a mother and grandmother, a long-time widow, just buried her own mother, and has a reputation for insanity (due to a couple decades of clinical depression caused by horrible life events and a curse). She goes on a pilgrimage to get away from all the well-meaning people who want her to be cared for and locked in a safe tower, and finds Adventure! Spirtuality! Skills! Also, sex. It is awesome and one of my favorites, and includes a romance that feels real but is not the main focus.

Other stories:
I wish I could remember the one short story I read, that had a female warrior hiking through a storm with her newborn tucked in her cloak, trying to figure out how to get rid of the kid without killing it, because she didn't have the resources to support herself as a sell-sword and raise a kid at the same time. She hadn't named it yet because wasn't going to keep it. (Then, you know, there was a cult and a thief and a demon and some problems, and by the end she was all "screw it, I'm keeping and naming the kid" but was still a sword-wielding badass.) It was one of the Friesner "Chicks in Chainmail" series, although God(dess) knows which one. :>
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[personal profile] lizcommotion 2015-12-16 07:15 pm (UTC)(link)
*adds to list of books to read and the second one to look out for*
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[personal profile] sophia_sol 2015-12-08 12:23 am (UTC)(link)
What a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing all this.
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[personal profile] msilverstar 2015-12-13 08:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Fascinating post and the comments are great too!
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[personal profile] lizcommotion 2015-12-16 07:16 pm (UTC)(link)
This is great, thanks for writing/sharing!
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[personal profile] sholio 2015-12-18 07:15 am (UTC)(link)
This is really fascinating stuff - thank you for taking the time to write it all out! Very useful.
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[personal profile] luzula 2016-01-10 09:22 am (UTC)(link)
What an interesting post. Thanks! Also, I'm adding you to my reading list--many of your other posts are interesting, too.
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[personal profile] slashmarks 2017-09-22 01:12 am (UTC)(link)
Hey, coming back to this to mention that I found the comments about fertility rate in relation to status of women really interesting, and wondered if you had any sources for more information about low fertility rates in the ancient world or the connection between them? I've found myself wanting to talk about it in academic contexts but I'm having trouble finding them myself.