Monday, April 12, 2010

Magdalene Laundries and other asylum musings...

(from The Magdalene Sisters)

Okay. So...

I have this weird fascination with institutionalization. I find myself looking at books like The History of Women in Asylums Since 1500...or some such title. This idea of putting someone in these institutions just because they didn't "fit" into society neatly is enough to infuriate me. Because without even trying, if I was born in certain times of history I would have been institutionalized.

Scary, scary thought that someone (your family, even friends) could put you into these asylums which were typically run by the government. Specifically, the Magdalene Laundries/Asylums of Ireland, England, Australia, even America at one point, are perfect examples of these institutions. Institutions that were run by both the state and the Catholic Church. Frightening.

So, what makes Magdalene Asylums so different from other asylums? Most of the time a woman was put into one because she was seen as "sexual" and did not fit into the neat idea of Motherhood (usually unwed mothers ended up there) or they were suspected of having sex. In some cases, women were put into these asylums as "preventive" in they might have unwed sex some day.
Or even just because they were already institutionalized through state-run orphanages or schools, they stuck girls and women in there if they didn't want to deal with them anymore.
They did this especially because they had to find "jobs" for these people when they got out of these, they decided to make it easier for themselves and put them into another institution where some of them stayed for the rest of their lives.
The Magdalene Laundries was a place where women were shamed, silenced, and beat (literally, in some cases) into submission. They were not paid to clean the church's laundry, the town's, cities', other institutions, hotels. But they were controlled to, not getting an education, or allowed any real social interactions with the outside world. Similar to getting out of jail (if they were able to get out), getting out the asylums was alienating...some of the women hadn't been into the real world for years, maybe even decades.

I'm currently reading this very well-written book about these Magdalene Asylums - Ireland's Magdalen Laundries and the Nation's Architecture of Containment by James M. Smith. This book, the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate, and the film The Magdalene Sisters are great starting points to learn about these asylums/laundries.
(probably more on this subject later...I haven't even touched on the sexual abuse rampant in these instutuions....crazzzzzy.)

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