Ballads were–and are–more than just entertainment. There’s a lot of cultural information packed in there too, in rhymed, easy to remember stories that told people who they were. Only some of these things apply to us here and now, but in making the distinction for ourselves, we see the shape of our particular culture and our times. We can see some of how we became who we are, and so the power of a ballad as a teacher remains.
Eppie Morrie has been on my mind a lot lately, a touchstone, particularly after the latest debacle in Texas. I think Wendy Davis and Eppie Morrie are kindred spirits. Both stood up for themselves in what looked like a hopeless situation and both won their battles. Both set an example for the women of their culture–Wendy Davis set an example *with* the women of her culture. Times have changed indeed!
Here’s the version of the ballad that I do:
Eppie Morrie was faced with the prospect of rape in quite a different way than we are today, but many of the basics are the same. While women aren’t generally abducted on horseback by some guy and all his friends, getting passed around at a drunken party by people you thought were your friends isn’t all that far off as far as your chances of getting away go. At least Eppie Morrie got a ring first. Faced with the prospect of being bound to this oaf for life, Eppie Morrie manages to fight him off for the entire night. In the morning, still a virgin, she demands to be given a horse and sent home.
The ballad raises (and lowers) the whole idea of abduction, forced marriage, and rape to a battle and a battle the woman can win at! It may not be everyday reality, but it sure does help to see the story playing out like that once in a while. There’s a reason we don’t hear much about this in real life. If a woman avoids a rape, she usually doesn’t say anything about it. It’s a guaranteed hassle and if anyone is going to pay for the attempted crime it’s usually her. Eppie Morrie’s ordeal at least took place pretty much in public, and within cultural boundaries.
You know, I’ll bet there were men up there in that gallery the night of that filibuster. In the news I saw a lot of women in blue shirts going into the Texas Senate this morning, indicating that they were in support of abortion restrictions, just as there were men wearing orange, the color of the “other” side. While this issue is being framed solely in terms of womens’ rights versus the rights of the unborn, with men as oppressors and certain death on both sides, there are a lot of nuances that can’t be heard for all the shouting. To look at the Texas Senate, we really haven’t come very far since Child collected his ballads. Or is it just that it’s damned hard to turn the clock back, and this whole debacle is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and chanting “La la la I can’t hear you!” Time will tell, I suppose, but I’m betting on the latter.