The Story of Jane - Chapters 10-18

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Something that has really stood out for me about the various political groups we studied this quarter is how differently each pursues the idea of revolution. In the Videofreex clip that we saw of Fred Hampton and other Black Panther Party members, Hampton took interest in pointing out the differences between the BPP, SDS, the Weathermen, and of course, the Yippies. He was quick to point out that although they all consider themselves revolutionary groups (radical), they do not take the measures necessary for "the revolution" to take root. What he meant by that was they are not raising consciousness on a daily basis, on a grassroots level. They are not usually taking action among the people, but instead taking action in a spontaneous, and, what he thought, meaningless, manner. Those groups were writing about the revolution and reading about the revolution, but not acting the revolution. The groups, especially SDS, were also divided in a hierarchical and often misogynistic way (SDS and other political groups were often dominated by men, as stated in an observation of Kris, a member of Jane) that contradicted the proposed socialist/revolutionary/consciousness raising intent. Several women in Jane, especially the younger members that we learn about in Chapter 18, had been reading about feminism, had been reading about radical revolution, in college or by other means, but were sick of that. They wanted something tangible. For example - "Gail was looking for something concrete to do because she felt 'detached from real action, which you definitely feel if you're a college student'" (189).

What I found in reading The Story of Jane was the oscillating similarities between Jane and other "movement" groups; on the one hand, with its very individualized consciousness raising efforts on a local level, Jane took a similar stance on revolution as the BPP. The women became teachers and mothers (some literally), but most importantly perhaps, they were tapping into a sense of community. The impossibility of community before was due to the way these women thought of themselves in relation to men as well as in relation to other women. But on the other hand, one of the major problems with the group was that a hierarchical structure, more akin to "concentric circles" (161), began to pose an obstacle to Jane's ability to call itself a democratic enterprise.

One of the most transcendent moments was the description of how Deborah became more socially and politically aware - through her students. It seems that the paranoia surrounding the intellectual and emotional closeness she shared with her students (and the reversal or transmutation of the student/teacher roles) paralleled the paranoia that "outsiders" must have experienced when they heard of women getting together to talk about themselves and their bodies! Just as Deborah "no longer thought of herself as the authority who had all the answers and her students as the empty vessels she filled with knowledge" (104), the women of Jane did not think (or may have struggled not to think) of themselves as saviors, imparting wisdom on the downtrodden in an authoritative manner (or in a colonialist manner). The women of Jane wanted their counselees to "understand that they were active participants, not passive receivers of a service...We're not doing something to you, but with you" (107-108). Perhaps they hoped that not only would the counselee's active participation in the service put her at ease about the procedure, but also would help her to understand that she could take an active role in the larger picture, in her relationships with men and in her ability/ desire to be self-sufficient, self-determined. Jane wanted these women to feel that anything involving a woman's body, whether it be a medical procedure or a sexual act, should not be done to the woman, but the woman should consent to it and take pleasure in being involved, in mind, body, and spirit. Women harnessing subjecthood and control for themselves were key tropes in the feminism of Jane.

I also found the issue of money interesting. Of course the men who were performing abortions on women were mainly doing it for the money, and knew they could make top dollar on an enterprise founded on the desperation of women. But what is interesting is that members of Jane took an opposite stance on the subject of women paying for their abortions. Money in most cases of back alley or underground abortions was just another way (perhaps a more seedy/dirty way) to construct a controlling barrier between "patient and practitioner." Setting high prices on the streets was the same as hospitals turning away patients who don't have insurance. In one of her reflections on Jane, Deborah cites that she "understood that the drapes, the uniforms, the barriers that the medical profession erected between patient and practitioner, were not a function of the woman's needs or the needs of the situation, but were about appearances and status..." (130). Instead for Jane, paying was a way for women to own what they were doing. This idea was another function of the belief that the service should not be a charity, but "an act of responsibility" (131). Something that illustrated this belief was that in several cases, women who had had abortions with Jane, or even through other means, decided to join the group - as an act of "paying it forward" in the case of those who went to Jane, or an act of redemption or revenge, in the case of those who had traumatic abortion experiences.

Some questions that I mulled over while reading The Story of Jane:

What does it mean to "act" the revolution?

How are the actions of Jane and of the BPP more or less effective than say, the Weathermen or other factions of SDS?

Does it mean anything to point out that the former groups had a membership of women and African Americans (Jane's members though were generally middle class white women)?

In a radical political group, or in any intentionally democratic group, how can you prevent issues of power and formation of hierarchical structures?

Is this what really leads to the demise of radical groups?

What was the most "revolutionary" aspect of Jane? Was it the counseling/educative effort, or the fact that women were performing abortions?

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