At some time or another, all children are taught not to tattle on others, be it siblings, classmates, or playmates. As parents and teachers, we discourage our young people from ever telling on each other, not even to get even with those we don’t like. Someone who betrays by tattling is known as a tattletale, a talebearer, a snitch, a grass (British), a blabbermouth, an informer, a traitor.
Still, humanity has a long tradition of encouraging tattling for a variety of reasons. In the 1500s, Spanish citizens were encouraged to betray those they suspected of heresy against the Catholic Church. If found to have committed a transgression themselves, a person could get a lighter sentence by turning in others for questioning and possible torture. Spaniards were told to be especially vigilant in reporting relapsed heretics and Jews.
In 1933, as the Nazi party was coming to power, a law was enacted instructing Germans to turn in anyone who spoke against the party, its leaders, or the government in general, the Malicious Practices Act. As part of Hitler’s “Final Solution” Germans, and later citizens of invaded countries, were encouraged to turn in those known to be or suspected of being Jewish and those who were suspected of aiding or hiding Jews so that they could be destroyed.
Early American colonists tended to be superstitious regarding women in general, but healers and midwives in particular, suspecting them of being witches. This resulted in witch trials and burnings in several colonies.
Then in the 1950s, we had Senator Joe McCarthy and his well-documented “witch hunts” for suspected communists. Again, suspects could often get preferential treatment by turning in others. This historic episode of tattling ruined the lives of thousands of ordinary Americans, not to mention causing many people in the entertainment industry and elsewhere to be blacklisted and unable to find jobs.
So now the State of Texas is encouraging tattling. In an attempt to limit challenges to stringent new anti-abortion legislation, the state is essentially encouraging ordinary citizens to be bounty hunters. According to The Associated Press: “[The Texas law] allows any private citizen to sue Texas abortion providers who violate [it], as well as anyone who ‘aids or abets’ a woman getting the procedure …. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. The person bringing the lawsuit — who does not have to have a connection to the woman getting an abortion — is entitled to at least $10,000 in damages if they prevail in court” (September 2, 2021).
This really is not about abortion per se — it is about encouraging our fellow citizens to essentially take the law into their own hands and play vigilante. Such legislation is providing a steep and slippery slope that takes an already emotional and personal issue into the arena of public retaliation. It opens up a Pandora’s box of opportunities to be passive-aggressive towards others as a means of getting even for whatever reason.
If we look at the history of the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, Nazism, and Senator McCarthy’s activities and believe them to be inhuman and wrong, then the collective “WE” of our country needs to support the removal of this pro-snitching law. After all — that’s how we raise our children.
— Ruth Anne Wilson Jones, Hamilton
Valley Women's Voices is a Sunday feature in the Ravalli Republic. Send submissions to OnMyMindMFT@gmail.com