A mass extinction began in Europe during the early 16th century. The female population began to wither away. Women were targeted. Women were being drowned to their deaths. It was the practice of ducking that did them in. Once a woman was accused of being a witch, she was led to a pond, a lake, to any body of water in order for the men to decide her verdict. It was at this pond, this lake, this any body of water where the ducking, the ordeal of water as it is defined, was performed. For a ducking the woman’s hands and feet were tied to a chair, then her whole body was dipped into the body of water. If she floated it was proof that God’s creature—the water—rejected her, which deemed her a witch, which quickly lead to her execution. If she drowned, then she was innocent, God’s creature holding her tight like a beloved, not letting her go. Either way, ducking was a death sentence. As in, either way, another ducking meant another woman died. Yes, a mass extinction.
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How do you know she is a witch?
She looks like one.
What makes you think she is a witch?
She turned me into a newt.
I got better.
Burn her anyway!
There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
What do you do with witches?
And what do you burn apart from witches?
So, why do witches burn?
Cause they’re made of wood?
How do we tell whether she is made of wood?
Build a bridge out of her.
But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Does wood sink in water?
Throw her into the pond!
What also floats in water?
If she weighs the same as a duck. She’s made of wood.
Burn her! Burn her!
—From “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
The Greeks and the Romans used speculums.
A speculum was found in Pompeii.
Which means we have been curious about the inner workings of our bodies since the 8th century BC. What goes on in there? What magic? What mysteries?
The speculum is a tool used for investigating body cavities.
It looks like the beak of a duck.
Speculum: (in ornithology) a lustrous or specially colored area on the wings of certain birds.
Male Mallards’ heads are iridescent-green. Their bills are bright yellow.
Female Mallards are toned down, a mottled brown, with orange-and-brown bills.
Male and female Mallards have one thing in common:
a patch in the wing, a lustrous white bordered with blue.
Which is to say a speculum.
The medical professional who inserts a speculum is known as the operator.
The cylindrical part of a speculum is referred to as the blades.
Those darling ducks, those birds who bob in water, those well-known locals that are forever found in any pond in any town snapping after bread crumbs, yes, the males of those little duckies are the rapists of the bird world. It’s usually 1 against 4, a group of males ganging up on a female. They attack her, force her to be a part of procreation, to keep the species alive. Her fate decided for her. One could call it a ducking. Regardless if she is injured, regardless if she dies, here is her purpose: to withstand the abuse so the cycle can continue. How she will give birth to the next generation of the rapists of the bird world.
1 in 4 women are raped. This is not a speculation.
On June 21, 2010, David W. Freeman reports on the Rape-aXe condom:
“A South African doctor has created a female condom that puts teeth in the fight against rape.
The anti-rape condom, called ‘Rape-aXe,’ features rows of jagged hooks designed to attach to a man’s penis during penetration. Once attached, the condom can only be removed by a doctor – hopefully when authorities can arrest him, Dr. Sonnet Ehlers, the condom’s designer, told CNN.
‘It hurts, he cannot pee and walk when it’s on,’ she said. ‘If he tries to remove it, it will clasp even tighter….’
Ehlers said she sold her house and car to launch the project.”
The McPherson Speculum is used by veterinarians. It’s intended for oral use, to keep an animal’s mouth open, to avoid the possibility of biting injuries.
Latin for “toothed vagina,” the vagina dentata folk tale warns men about the set of chompers in the vagina, the teeth that implicate there could be injury or castration for the men who enter a woman’s body. I do not know if this folk tale, this myth deems every woman a witch. Perhaps she is just tricky, smart in knowing how to keep herself safe.
Ducks have beaks. There are no teeth. And yet when the male Mallards release their toothless beaks from the conquered female’s neck, there are bite marks left behind.
1 in 4 women’s bodies are considered a piece of evidence. The facts of him imprinted on her skin, and the undeniable DNA lingers, clings to her body cavity.
I had a girlfriend once who kept every speculum an operator used on her during annual pap smears. She had a collection of speculums from over the years. The accumulation of those beak-like instruments were displayed on her mantle. She did this because she used to be disgusted by her body, specifically the fact of her vagina. The fact of what it meant to be a woman, and the risks that went with that gender. Accused of being promiscuous when she sought out her desire. Accused of being frigid when she shielded her body from others. A slut if she said yes. A prude if she said no. Either way, a mass extinction of pleasure.
We all know about the scarlet letter.
While there are many medical uses for a speculum, she saved them for a non-medical reason: to be able to pry herself open when she needed to see her vulva, her vagina more clearly. To see the source of all those accusations. To see why society felt justified in putting her desires on trial. She would insert the speculum, operate it herself, hold a mirror up to her opened vagina, and look inside in order to re-claim herself, to take her body back. An empowering reflection.
She had recently become a 1 in 4.
“Speculum” comes from the Latin word spec: to mirror, to reflect.
She searches the mirror.
And society tells her she is less-than. That she deserved it. Too promiscuous.
And in the 16th century, society declared rebellious women were witches.
If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
Women are expected to give themselves over to men.
Women who do not give themselves over to men are denied social acceptance.
Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.
A modern-day ducking.
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”–Simone De Beauvoir
A man had claimed her. She tore herself away from him, and now she needed reclamation.
She wanted to see survival.
So she looked inside.
And what she saw was something like beauty, a vagina thriving, alive.
The rebellious act of looking, of becoming her own kind of woman.
Society continued its ducking, but she no longer drowned.
She learned how to untie herself.
Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago, and is currently a student with the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. She has been published in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt, as well as Pushcart Prize nomination and an honorable mention for Best of the Net 2012. Clammer is a columnist for The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, as well as the Managing Editor, Nonfiction Editor and workshop instructor for the journal. She is also the Nonfiction Editor for The Dying Goose. Her first collection of essays, There is Nothing Else to See Here, will be published by The Lit Pub in Fall 2014. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.