Suttee column

I’ve read and enjoyed and been enriched by The Straight Dope for over 10 years but I have to say that I am appalled at the closing comment in the article about the Indian practice of suttee. Completely ignoring the complex issue of who (on either side) is right or wrong, comparing the fiery self-sacrifice of an Indian widow to the American abortion situation is at best insensitive and, at worst, flat out ignorant. We expect better than that from you, Cecil!

As soon as I read the article - I knew someone would take offense to the last line of it.

As insensitive this might be to C J Strolin, I congradulate Cecil on daring to point out an ironic twist between East and West. Good to see the old Cecil back…

Eh, to some it’d also be “daring” for me to jump out of a 40 story building, but I haven’t attempted it. Well, not yet.

I don’t mind the comparison at all, and consider it a simple joke, but… You have to admit, it could be taken a couple of different ways.

I didn’t take offense to it, but it did strike me as a bit out of place.

reads a bit anti-choice, and the phrasing is a bit disturbing. I had no way of knowing Cecil’s leanings either way, and am not sure whether this tells me something about him or something about myself. Has he made similar comments in the past that I’ve missed

There is a hindi myth behind the practice of Suttee. It involves a woman named Sati, the God Shiva and a father who disapproved of the marriage between Sati and Shiva. Sati was so distraught that she straightway went into a meditative stance and burned herself up. Shiva was so angry at what happened (and why) he turned Sati’s fathers’ head into a goat’s head.

Quite different from the way it’s practiced today, either by women who see themselves as penniless and oppressed if they live on or by greedy family members who know they can get away with murder.

The odd commonality–and let’s set aside questions of right or wrong here–is that when a woman in either hemisphere exercises her right to choose, somebody (or something) winds up dead.


How does it read anti-choice? Did Cecil state anything that wasn’t factual (i.e. something that is more his opinion)?

The phrase seems more anti-woman to me. Women cause death. Give a woman a chance to exercise free will and someone dies. Yeah, I know it’s a joke. Cecil was trying to push buttons, and if you let your buttons get pushed, he’s won. But jeez, that still kinda stung.

There are several pages in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days that describe a recent widow being led to suttee—in that case it was not voluntary, and she was doped up on a whole lot of pot. I have no idea what Verne’s sources were (and keep in mind it was written >100 years ago), but I thought I’d mention it.

If there is a choice, then it does not always lead to death, whether it be Suttee or abortion. A woman can choose to not kill herself. She can choose not to have an abortion. That is choice. I am upset not by the “offensiveness” of your words about women’s choice leading to death but by the wrongness of such a statement. How does a women not immolating herself represent a choice of death?

I think you all missed the point of The Great Cecil’s statement.

The question asked presumed that the act of Sutee was hopelessly barbarous. Cecil presented the facts, and then offered another case which could (from the outside) be considered equally barbaric.
From the outside looking in, this practice of the Rajputs looks heinous.

What do they think of abortion?

You can’t evaluate an entire culture by one observation. Cecil just stated that some people in India support sutee, and some(most) people in America support abortion.

We do what we do, they do what they do.

[sub]FTR - I’m personally uncomfortable with abortion, but I STRONGLY support a woman’s right to choose for herself.[/sub]

Bravo, Cecil, I love seeing the pro-choice crowd loose their cool when an adverse comparison is made.

Why don’t we ask the children if they would chose to die because they were inconveniencing someone? 'Twould be no worse than Indian widows forced to climb the pyre because their families and in-laws didn’t want them.

Lest anyone think India is so barbaric for a few suttees in a century, how many hundreds of unborn children die a month stateside?
Mr. Stefano.

Cecil’s implication that abortion equals death is silly. Are there some circumstances in which the fetus can be said to have died due to an abortion? Probably - any abortion occurring after the age of viability can be argued to involve death. But most abortions take place in the early weeks of a pregnancy, before the blastocyst/embryo can undergo anything approaching suffering or death. And if you think an aborting a eight-week-old, 1/3-inch long, two-ounce embryo is an act of killing, I’d be interested to know the last time you attended a funeral for a miscarriage (as opposed to a stillbirth).

I don’t really care if Cecil is pro-choice or pro-life. Unless he wants to produce a factual statement on it then he shouldn’t make off hand remarks about it.

I found the statement extremely sexist and very subjective. I’m reasonably sure that the choices that we men have made have caused an awful lot of deaths. And I happen to know of a few dozen choices that were made today by women that only resulted in the death of one cockroach.

I don’t mind Cecil’s jokes, but he should keep his moral statements out of them. Some of us happen to think that women are pretty good people, not the subjects of ridicule. Archie Bunker is dead already.


I have been a devoted follower of your programme, columns and newsletter for several years. Most of the time I find your columns delightful and informative. Sometimes they are less so but I have never felt the need to comment on them. I do, however, feel I have to comment on this Suttee column.
Your insinuation that women’s choices kill is insulting.
I CHOSE the following things of my own free will and I hope you will see that these choices did not result in the death of anyone or anything.

  • to forgo furthering my education until my children were grown.
  • to follow my own personal truths even if they were not accepted by my family and friends .Sometimes this came at great personal cost, but all involved survived and respected my decisions.
    -to marry at a young age
    -to bear 3 children and devote my life to them until they are able to care for themselves
    -to support the right of all sentient beings to choose their own path even if I do not understand it.

I have come under fire for ALL of these decisions. I have been told that I am wasting the best years of my life, that I am an irresponsible mother because I do not have a higher education (to set an example for them) that I have caused tremendous harm to the environment by increasing the surface population, that I have caused untold psychological damage to my children for not providing every single whim they dream up due to lack of funds, and have been called very nasty things for my religious and social beliefs.

As for the Abortion- Suttee comparison: Get real. If these women are indeed excercising choice born of free will then fine. I do not understand it, I would not ( I believe) do this, but maybe they would. If they are being thrown on the pyres then of course this is murder.
I feel the same way about Abortion. I would not have an abortion but I would not stop someone who was determined. Abortion has been going on for centuries. Whatever the spiritual repercussions are for these types of acts, they will be enforced whether the abortion (or suttee) is legal or not.
Please take care to choose your words more carefully Cecil. Don’t insult us with off hand, sexist and degrading generalization.


I, for one, thought Cecil’s comment was witty, insightful, and probably offensive to some people (as evidenced by this thread). That’s the Cecil we’ve been reading all along, folks! If you’ve managed to read through all these columns without being offended by something Cecil said, then you probably don’t have an opinion on anything.

Although, admittedly, The Master’s line probably would have been better phrased, “The debate over a woman’s right to choose X in both cultures is a life-or-death situation.” But that just doesn’t flow like the other one.:rolleyes:


Regarding your closing comment in the latest column, the Suttee column which ended, “The odd commonality–and let’s set aside questions of right or wrong here–is that when a woman in either hemisphere exercises her right to choose, somebody (or something) winds up dead” could you elaborate on you meaning, please. After being a long time reader of the Cecil Adams column, this one seemed to end on an unusual note and to me read much darker than just an annoyance with cats and cockroaches.

Chip in Augusta

Cecil absolutely has to have been joking. To explain this, I will be blunt. The posters on this forum who support the… harsher… interpretation of the closer all seem to do so simply because they like to rile people. I consider this an extremely juvenile point of view, and do not care to place Cecil among this crowd. But, of course, I may be totally wrong.

What struck me about it didn’t have anything to do with abortion, or even ritual burnings. It was that the message seemed directly phrased against women in general.

More, there are distinct differences between situations. Abortion goes against the grain, however, I’m lead to believe that despite the passed laws, not incinerating oneself in a hellish blaze of death is going against the grain. Therefore, the latter choice would be to not commit self-cremation. Granted, I’m using shaky logic at best, but let’s face it–the two concepts just aren’t similar enough to do anything else.

I enjoy wit. I enjoy insight. I do not mind it when facts are offensive–in fact, I believe that it should be impossible for a fact to be offensive. However, I do not enjoy offense simply because it upsets people. That is merely silly and pointless. If you truly want a reaction from another person, it might be better to go for a, “Why, you’re right! And brilliant!” than a, “You affront to all that is good and holy in the world!” (This has been a dramatization.)

Of course, despite the fact that I’ve rambled on and on, I don’t really feel strongly about this issue–I just felt like commenting. I don’t think it should be taken too seriously, folks. In fact, I don’t think it should be taken seriously at all.

I thought it was a pretty clever comparison. While reading the article, it would be easy for the reader to get a pretty warped opinion of the Indian culture. I thought the comparison of sutee to abortions in the US was a neat reality check. Unfortunately, most people do not like reality checks…

It was an idiotic comparison. Seriously, it made me TRULY mad. And the others in this column are making me mad too…makes me know why I prefer Snopes over this.