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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 9. 9 May 1972

What Havi you Done for me Lately?

What [unclear: Havi] you Done for me Lately?

Myrna Lamb, an American feminist, wrote this play after learning of her daughter's suspected pregnancy.

As a result of a criticism which labelled her '"playlet" 'more diatribe than dialogue' she altered it to include the Soldier and Girl since it satisfied her sense of justice to represent the plight of the young male who is denied control of his life by his government in company with the young female who is similarly denied control of her life and her own body. The play was originally produced in a modest fashion at New York in 1970.

Time: whenever.

Place : a space, silent, encapsulated. A man lies with his head angled up and centre stage, feet obliquely toward audience. His couching, by all means psychiatric in flavour, should also be astronautic and should incline him acutely so that he almost looks as though he is about to be launched. An almost perpendicular slantboard comes to mind or a simple sliding pond or seesaw.

There is a simple desk or table angled away from the man, and a chair placed toward desk that will keep the occupants back toward man in authodox (approximate) psychiatric practice, but will give profile or three-quarter view to audience.

At rise man in business suit is situated as delineated. Woman in simple smock (suggestive of surgical smock) comes on upstage and crosses without looking at man. He does not see her. He sits silently. Sometime elapses. A soldier, in a green beret outfit, complete with M-1 rifle, comes to stage centre. He faces audience.

Man: Where am I? What have you done to me? Where am I? What have you done to me? Where am I? What have you done to me?

(Soldier stands at attention.)

Woman: (her voice dehumanized by amplification) Don't worry. Don't worry. We have not done that to you.

Man: That? What do you mean, "that"?

Woman: We have not taken anything.

Man: Oh. (Pause) But where am I? What have you done to me?

Woman: Are you in pain?

Man: Yes. I think I am in pain.

Woman: Don't you know?

Man: I haven't been able to consider it fully. The whole procedure. . . strange room—anesthetic—nurses? Sisters in some order?

Woman: Nurses. Sisters. In some order. Yes, that would cover it. Yes, anesthetic.

Man: Anesthetic.

Woman: Yes. We didn't want you thrashing about. Or suffering psychic stress. Yet.

(Soldier executes left turn and salute.)

Man: I am suffering abominable psychic stress now.

(Soldier stands at attention through next speeches.)

Woman: Yes, I know. But the physical procedure is at an end. You are in remarkably good health. Arteries. Heart. Intestinal tone. Very good. Good lungs too. Very good. I suppose that's due to the electronically conditioned air and the frequent sojourns to unspoiled garden spots of nature.

Man: What has that to do with it? Was I too healthy? Was that it? Did some secretsociety deity decide I should be given a handicap to even up the race?

Woman: Well, that is an interesting conjecture.

Man: It can't be! That I was considered too healthy? That's preposterous.

Woman: Yes, it is. You couldn't really have been too healthy.

Man: Then . . . what have you done? Was there a handicap?

(Left turn and salute by Soldier.)

Woman: To even up the race. I believe that was your phrase. I approve. Very compressed. Very' dense. The race that we run . . . the race of man, as we shorthandedly express it. . . and somewhere in my memory, a line about the race going to the swift. . . yes, and then the association with handicap ... a sporting chance for the less swift.

Man: Handicap . . . some kind of tumor . . . some kind of cancer . . .

(Young woman hereafter referred to as Girl crawls onstage.)

Is that it? What have you done to me?

Woman: No, no. Calm yourself. No cancer. No tumor. Not parasitic death, my friend. Parasitic life.

Man: I don't understand you. What have you done to me? Parasitic life? (Pause) Parasitic life. Pseudoscientific claptrap. Parasitic life. Witchdoctor mumbojumbo. Parasitic life. Wait a moment. There is a meaning to that phrase. It can't apply to me—not to me—not—

(Girl pulls on Soldier's leg. She is still in crawling position. Sold-dier stands at rigid attention throughout next speeches with no obvious awareness of Girl. She rises and approaches him, reaching out to him).

page break

Woman: Yes, it can apply to you. We have given you an impregnated uterus. Implanted. Abdominal cavity. Yours, Connections to major blood vessels were Drought in very quickly a matter of fact, it was destined for you. It has achieved its destiny.

Man: I don't believe it. I can't believe this nightmare.

Woman: Well, that is how many people feel upon learning these things. Of course, most of those people have been considered female. That made a difference, supposedly. We've managed to attach a bit of ovary to the uterus. I don't think it will do any real good, but I will give you a course of hormonal and glandular products to maintain the pregnancy.

Man: Maintain the pregnancy, indeed! How dare you make that statement to me!

(Using outreaching arm of Girl and foot leverage, Soldier flips her over and throws her to floor.)

Woman: I dare. There is a human life involved, after all.

Man: There is a human life involved? You insane creatures, I'm fully aware that there is a human life involved. My human life. My human life that you have decided to play with for your own despicable purposes, whatever they are.

Woman: Do you think you are in the proper frame of mind to judge? My purposes?

(Soldier does pushups with sexual-soldier connotations over outstretched body of Girl)

Your ultimate acceptance of what you now so vociferously reject? The relative importance of your mature and realized life and the incipient potential of the life you carry within you? Your life is certainty involved. But perhaps your life is subsidiary to the life of this barely begun creature which you would seek to deny representation.

Man: Why should I give this . . . this thing representation?

(Soldier rises and kicks Girl aside. Walk to rifle Walks around Girl, pacing, right shoulder arms.)

It is nothing to me. I am not responsible for it or where it is nor do I wish to be. I have a life, an important life. I have work, important work, work, I might add, that has more than incidental benefit to the entire population of this world—and this — this mushroom which you have visited upon me — in your madness — has no rights, no life, no importance to anyone, certainly not to the world. It has nothing. It has no existence. A little group of cells. A tumor. A parasite. This has been foisted upon me and then I am told that I owe it primary rights to life, that my rights are subsidiary! That is insanity! I do not want this thing in my body. It does not belong there. I want it removed. Immediately. Safely.

Woman: Yes, I understand how you feel. But how would it be if every pregnancy brought brought about in error or ignorance or through some evil or malicious or even well-meaning design were terminated because of the reluctance or the repugnance of the host? Surely the population of the world would be so effectively decimated as to render wholly redundant the mechanisms of lebensraum, of national politics, of hunger as a method, of greed as a motive, of war itself as a method.

(Soldier lunges and stabs at the invisible enemy, accompanying movements with the appropriate battle grunts and cries. There is hatred and despair in the sounds.)

Surely if all the unwilling human beings who found motherhood forced upon them through poverty or chance or misstep were to be given the right to choose their lives above all else, the outpouring of acceptance and joy upon the wanted progeny of desired and deliberate pregnancies would eliminate forever those qualities of aggression and deprivation that are so necessary to the progress of society. After all you must realize there are so many women who find themselves pregnant and unmarried, pregnant and unprepared, with work that cannot bear interruption, with no desire to memorialize a casual sexual episode with issue. So many human beings whose incidental fertility victimizes them superfluously in incidents of rape and incestuous attack.

(Following the lunges, stabs, and grunts, Soldier slams the rifle against the stage in vertical butt strokes.)

So many creatures confounded by sexual desire or a compelling need for warmth and attention who find themselves penniless, ill, pitifully young and pregnant too.

(Finally Soldier simply stands, lifts rifle to shoulder.)

And so many women who with the approval of society, church and medicine have already produced more children than they can afford economically, psychically, physically. Surely you can see the overwhelming nature of the problem posed by the individuals desire to prevail as articulated by you at this moment. If one plea is valid, then they might all be. So you must learn to accept society's interest in the preservation of the foetus, within you, within all in your condition.

Man: Do you know that I want to kill you? That is all I feel. The desire to kill you.

(Soldier points rifle at Girl's head.)

Woman: A common reaction. The impregnated often feel the desire to visit violence upon the impregnator. Or the maintainers of the pregnancy.

Man: You are talking about women.

(Soldier spreads Girl's legs with butt of rifle. Nudges her body with rifle.)

Pregnancy, motherhood is natural to a woman. It is her portion in life. It is beneficial to her is the basic creative drive that man seeks to emulate with all his art and [unclear: music and] literature. It is natural for a woman to create life. It is not natural for [unclear: me]

(Soldier kicks and rolls Girl's body in sharp rhythm corresponding with beginning of Woman's sentences in next speech so that Girl, in [unclear: three] movements, is turned from her back to her stomach to her back [unclear: again] Soldier then turns away Freezes.)

Woman: The dogma of beneficial motherhood has been handed down by men. If a woman spews out children, she will be sufficiently exhausted by the process never to attempt art, music, literature or politics. If she knows that that is all that is expected of her, if she feels that the fertility, impregnation, birth cycle validates her credentials as a female human being, she will be driven to this misuse of nature as a standard of her worth, as a measure of the comparative worthlessness of those who breed less successfully. That will occupy her sufficiently to keep her from competing successfully with male human beings on any other human basis.

Man: You cannot dismiss natural as an inappropriate term. My body cannot naturally accomodate a developing foetus. My body cannot naturally expel it at the proper moment.

Woman: Females cannot always naturally expel the infant at term.

(Soldier turns, rests butt of rifle on Girl's stomach, and presses Girl pants.)

The pelvic is a variable. Very often, the blood or milk of a natural mother is [unclear: pure-venom] child. Nature is not necessarily natural or beneficial. We know that. We alter many of its processes in order to proceed with the exigencies of our civilizations. Many newly pregnant women recognize that the situation of egress is insufficient in their cases. In your case, there is a gross insufficiency. The caesarian procedure is indicated.

Man: But that is dangerous, terribly dangerous even to contemplate. I tell you I am terrified almost to the point of death.

Woman: Other have experienced the same sense of terror. Their kidneys are weak, or they have a rheumatic heart, or there is diabetes in the family. As I have told you, you are quite healthy. And you will have excellent care. You will share with others a lowered resistance to infection. But you will not go into labour and you will not risk a freak occurrence in which strong labour produce a suction through the large blood vessels that bring particles of placental [unclear: detr] and hair and ultimate suffocation to the labouring woman's lungs. . .

Man: Your comparisons are obscene. My body isn't suitable carrying a child. There isn't room.

(Soldier slams rifle between Girl's legs. Hard.)

Woman: Many female bodies are as unsuitable for childbearing as yours is.

(Soldier stands at attention again.)

Modern science has interceded with remedies. Your internal circumstances will be crowded. Not abnormal. Your intestines will be pushed to one side. Your ureters will be squeezed out of shape Not abnormal. Your kidneys and bladder will be hard pressed. All within the realm of normality. Your skin will stretch, probably scar in some areas. Still not abnormal.

Man: But I am a man.

Woman: Yes, to a degree. That is a trifle abnormal. But not insurmountable.

Man: But why should anyone want to surmount the fact of my being a man? Do you hate all men? Or just me? And why me?

(Soldier executes present arms manoeuvre.)

Woman: At one time I hated all men.

Man: I thought so.

Woman: I also hated you most particularly. I am not ashamed of it. (She turns toward him.) You may guess the reason.

Man: I recognize you of course.

(Soldier comes violently to attention and slams rifle against stage, vertical butt.)

Woman: And you understand a little more.

Man: But that was so long ago. So — so trivial in the light of our lives — your life — mine — so trivial! Surely your career, your honours, the esteem in which you are held ... surely all of this has long since eclipsed that — that mere episode. Surely you didn't spend all those years — training — research — dedication — to learn how to do this . . . . to me!

(Soldier adopts caricature of at ease position.)

Woman: Surely? No, I cannot apply that word to any element of my life. Trauma is insiduous. My motives were not always accessible to me. That mere episode. First Then certain choices. Yes. Certain directions. Then, witnessing the suffering of others which reinforced memories of suffering. Then your further iniquities, educated, mature, authoritative iniquities in your role of lawmaker that reinforced my identification of you as the . . . enemy. All those years to learn how to do this to you.

Man: You really intend to go through with this, then?

page 14

Woman: (silence.. . books him .... even through him)

Man: What will become of me? I'll have to disappear. They'll think I've died. Absecond. My work. Believe me, lives, nations, hang in the balance. The fate the world may be affected by my disappearance at the moment. I am not stating the case too strongly !

(Soldier squats, staring out at audience.)

Woman: I recognize that. However, those arguments are not field valid—here.

Man: Why not? They are valid arguments anywhere. Here or anywhere.

Woman: I think your are rather confused.

Man: Wouldn't you be under these circumstances? (Realizes.)

(During speech that follows Soldier and Girl circle counter-directionally in blind panic, looking to see where the danger is coming from as Soldier aims rifle fruitlessly in several directions.)

Woman; Yes. Would be and was. So were many others. Couldn't approach friends or relatives. Seemed to run around in circles. Time running out. Tried things.

Shots. Rubber tubes. Tricky. Caustic agents. Quinine. Wire Coat hanger. Patent medicine. Cheap abortionist. Through false and real alarms, through the successful routines and the dismal failures, our minds resided in one—swollenpelvic—organ. Our work suffered. Our futures hung from a gallows. Guilt and humiliation and ridicule and shame assailed us. Our bodies. Our individual unique familiar bodies, suddenly invaded by strange unwelcome parasites, and we were denied the right to rid our own bodies of these invaders by a society dominated by righteous male chauvinists of both sexes who identified with the little clumps of cells and gave them precedence over the former owners of the host bodies.

(Girl drops to ground, her face hidden in her arms. Soldier simply stands.)

Man: Yes. I understand. I never thought of it in that way before . . . Naturally . . .

Woman: Naturally. And yet, you were my partner in crime, you had sex with me and I had sex with you when we were both students . . .

Man: Did you consider it a crime?

Woman: Not at the time. Did you?

Man: I never did.

Woman: When did the act between two consenting adults become a crime—in your mind?

Man: I tell you—never.

Woman: Not your crime?

Man: Not anyone's crime. . .

Woman: So you committed no crime. You did not merit nor did you receive punishment.

Man: Of course not.

Woman: Of course not. You continued with your studies, law wasn't it?

(Soldier pushes Girl all the way down with rifle. He gets up and kisses rifle.)

You maintained your averages, your contacts. You pleased your family, pursued your life plan. You prospered. Through all of this, you undoubtedly had the opportunity to commit many more non-crimes of an interestingly varied nature, did you not?

Man: Non-crimes? Your terminology defeats me. Yes. Yes to all of your contentions. I led a normal life, with some problems and many satisfactions. I have been a committed man, as you know, and have done some good in the world . . .

(Soldier kisses own arms.)

Woman: Yes I know. Well, the non-crime that you and I shared had different results for me. Do you remember?

Man: I do remember . . . now. But I wasn't in a position then . . . I wasn't sure. I recognize my error, my thoughtlessness now . . . but I was very young, I had so much at stake . . .

Woman: And I? Everything stopped for me. My share of the non-crime had become quite criminal in the eyes of the world.

(There is a shot offstage. Soldier cries out. He is wounded in the belly. He falls. The Girl falls and cries out simultaneously.)

Wherever I went for help. I found people who condemned me and felt that my punishment was justified, or people who were sympathetic and quite helpless. I had no money, no resources. My parents were the last persons on earth I could turn to, after you. I dropped out of sight; for a while I hid like an animal. I finally went to a public institution recommended by a touch-me-not charity. I suffered a labor complicated by an insufficient pelvic span and a lack of dilation. I spent three days in company with other women who were carried in and out of the labour room screaming curses and for their mothers.

(Soldier and Girl lying head to head on their backs. They at wounded and they cry out inarticulately for help as the amplified voice overpowers their cries. Their downstage arms reach up and their hands clasp.)

My body was jostled, invaded, exposed as a crooning old man halfheartedly swept the filthy floor. Many of my fellow unfortunates would come fresh from their battles to witness the spectacle of my greater misfortune. Three days and that cursed burden could not be released from the prison of my body nor I from it.

(The Girl screams. She begins to pant loudly as though she can not catch her breath. The Soldier moans.)

Finally there was a last-ditch high forceps, a great tearing mess, and the emergence of a creature that I fully expected to see turned purple with my own terrible hatred and ripped to shreds by the trial of its birth. What I saw, instead, was a human being, suddenly bearing very little relationship to me except our common helplessness, our common trial. I saw it was a female, and I wept for it. I wept and retched until my tired fundus gave way and there was a magnificent hemorrhage that pinned me to that narrow bed with pain I shall never forget, with pain that caused me to concentrate only on the next breath which seemed a great distance from the one before. Some kind fellow-sufferer and my own youth saved me. I awoke to tubes spouting blood from insecure joins. The splattered white coats of the attendants made it a butcher shop to remember. I never held that baby.

(The arms drop. They lie still to end of speech.)

For some days I was too ill. And then the institution policy decreed it unwise. There was a family waiting to claim that female creature, a family that could bestow respectability and security and approval and love. I emerged from that place a very resolved and disciplined machine. As you know. I worked. I studied I clawed. I schemed. I made my way to the top of my profession and I never allowed a human being to touch me in intimacy again.

Man: It was—it was criminal of me to have been the author of so much suffering . . .

(Soldier sits up.)

to have been so irresponsible . . . but I was stupidly young. I never could have imagined such things. Believe me.

Woman: Yes you say you were young. Stupidly young. But what was your excuse when you were no longer young and stupid?

Man: I'm sorry. I'm tired. I don't understand you.

Woman: Your daughter and mine grew to womanhood. And she and all her sisters were not spared the possibility of my experience and those of my generation.

(Girl sits up. Girl and Soldier face each other. Soldier stands and becomes speech maker, rifle arm behind his back, other hand "sincerely" across his heart.)

Because there you were. Again. This time, not perpetrating unwilling motherhood upon a single individual, but condemning countless human females to the horrors of being unwilling hosts to parasitic life. You, for pure expediency, making capital of the rolling sounds of immorality and promiscuity which you promised accession upon relaxation of the abortion laws. Wholesale slaughter, you said, do you remember? Wholesale slaughter of innocent creatures who had no protection but the law from the untimely eviction from the mother's sinning wombs.

(Girl crouches at his feet, in attitude of supplication. She rests her head on his boot-tops and lies still.)

You murdered. You destroyed the lives of young women who fell prey to illegal abortion or suicide or unattended birth. You killed the careers and useful productivity of others. You killed the spirit, the full realization of all potential of many women who were forced to live on in half-life. You killed their ability to produce children in ideal circumstances. You killed love and self-respect and the proud knowledge that one is the master of one's fate, one's physical body being the corporeal representation of it. You killed. And you were so damned self-righteous about it.

Man: I cannot defend myself.

(Girl crawls off to stage right.)

Woman: I know.

Man: But, I beg you, is there no appeal from this sentence?

(Soldier cradles rifle.)

page 15

Woman: As it happens, there is. We have a board before whom these cases arc heard. Your case is being heard at this moment, and their decision will be the final one. The board is composed of many women, all of whom have suffered in some way from the laws which you so ardently supported. There is a mother who lost her daughter to quack abortionists. There is a woman who was forced to undergo sexual intercourse on the examining table by the aborting physician. There is a woman who unwittingly took a fetus-deforming drug administered by her physician for routine nausea, and a woman who caught German measles from her young niece at a crucial point in her pregnancy, both of whom were denied the right to abortion, but granted the privilege of rearing hopelessly defective children. There is an older woman who spent a good part of her childrearing years in a mental institution when she was forced to bear a late and unwanted child. There are others. You won't have too long to wait, now. For the verdict.

Man: I promise you, that if I am spared, that I will be able to do much to undo the harm I have ignorantly done. This experience has taught me in a way that no other learning process could . . . I am in a position to . . . For the first time I can truly . . . identify . . . it would be to the advantage of all.

(Soldier leaves rifle and stands as a human being, without pose.)

Woman: That is being taken into account.

(Someone brings report or Woman goes to side of stage where she emerges with it from a cubicle.)

Man: Is that the decision?

Woman: Yes. The board has decided that out of compassion for the potential child—

Man: No, they can't!

(Soldier turns to audience.)

Woman: Out of compassion for the potential child, and regarding the qualities of personality and not sex that make you a potentially unfit mother, that the pregnancy is to be terminated.