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Government Hypocrisy

The ideas outlined by Siegel and Hasday on the justifications for government non-involvement in marriage (that it is a private issue, and it's sanctity must not be broken) and birth control (that the government must control the birth habits of women to protect the children) expose a contradictory set of behaviors on the part of the United States Government; respecting privacy part of the time, and disrespecting it at other times. Obviously, there are problems with this approach; it is hypocritical, and establishes a disturbing precedent for governmental behavior. How can the contradictory behavior be justified?

The easiest and simplest answer is hypocrisy on the part of the government; it would not be the first contradictory series of actions the United States has taken, and it will not be the last. A more complex one, however, would be that involuntary birth control is a extension of a already existing system of the government, Child Services. After all, unfit parents have children taken away from them; why not go a further step and prevent the unfit from having children at all? Simply put, involuntary birth control is the logical and dystopian next step along the path of more efficient government.

Week 11: Reproductive Liberty

The contradictory state attitudes exist because the notion of liberty can be construed in different ways. Roberts emphasizes that the idea of liberty as understood by government as a negative rights rather than social justice (295). By adhering to negative liberty, "the government need not be concerned with social practices that create such vague injuries as the devaluation of Black mothers" according to Roberts (295). She then argues that the existing systems of power privileges more affluent classes of society. For instance, government can justify placing conditions on welfare regarding birth control because it still allows welfare mothers to make a choice; they don't have to take welfare. This still takes a negative liberty stance, of not hindering an individual's freedom. This ignoring of social justice in the name of negative liberty gives the impression that government is leaving women alone because it gives them a choice, like the nonintervention of cases of domestic violence.

The seemingly contradictory attitudes exist because liberty is such a complex idea. Liberty can be a way to quantify the amount of privacy one has, especially when looking at it in terms of negative liberty. It can be argued by some, like John Locke, as a negative right, that liberty is quantified by how little constraint is imposed on a person. Liberty as a positive is argued as giving beings rights and benefits so that they can reach their full potential. Marx argued that practically, one can't have one without the other, and that any distinction is specious. Giving one class liberty can take away liberty from another class. Liberty has come to be a very broad buzzword. It's hard for someone to argue that they're against liberty. This makes it easy for liberty to be used in apparently contradictory ways.

Blog 11

At first, these readings do seem to reveal an inherent contradiction within the rhetoric surrounding birth control. Discussions about marriage law frequently utilized the idea of the "private sphere" of the family as a place sacred and outside the realm of government interference. I've read a lot about the way this argument has been used and find it distinctly sexist. The "private sphere", defined as the home and family life, is historically overwhelmingly the place where women labor. By designating it outside the realm of legal interference, law leaves women largely unprotected. Yet this same idea, when applied to birth control, was useful rhetoric in the fight for decriminalizing birth control. The idea of privacy was central in making legal access to both contraceptives and abortion possible.

However, this "privacy" so lauded in rhetoric immediately disappears when the subject of black and impoverished women is considered. I have to think that the reason for the private sphere being held forth as outside interference, and ignored when interference is encouraged, is one and the same. Privacy is only utilized as an effective argument when it serves the interests of the ruling class - generally white, middle and upper class men. Thus privacy is held to be of importance when it shields such men from prosecution for beating or raping their wives, or allows them to seek higher class status by deciding to limit the number of children they have. However, when privacy does not serve the dominant class, it is quickly discarded in the name of important public policy with great social effects.

I think that Robert's distinction is important. She notes in her discussion on liberty that privacy in the discussion of birth control argues that reproductive choice is important enough that people should have the right to make it free from negative government intervention. She extends this idea by commenting that if a choice has such importance, it deserves positive interference allowing it to be accessible by all people.

blog 11 // sanger and roberts

There's a direct conflict approaching birth control, and I don't think there's any value in "choosing" a side. Margaret Sanger appealed to eugenics studies in order to launch birth control into reality. Without that sort of relationship with the eugenics movement, could it have happened? And when? While I'm definitely not saying that it's okay or excusable, it's entirely valid that the progress made was absolutely in part to her connection with eugenics. And, on that note, who was taking advantage of whom? Who directly benefited from Margaret Sanger's work and who was harmed? Can the answer to both questions be African American women?

And when the birth control/abortion movements translate into state regulation, the "benefit" of state intervention is that the state can maintain its power over marriage. As we can see from this and last week's readings, the state fluctuates between boasting privacy and boasting public institution. So we ask, how can the state be so contradictory in it's fundamental approach to marriage? I think that in these cases, the contradictions aren't a concern of the state. That, when it comes down to it, is apart of a feminist analysis. We can, firstly, acknowledge the contradictions, but then move past them into what's really at stake. One of the most important ways that the state deals with or values regulation, is the protection of marriage in it's historicized institution. Meaning, marriages are private so long as they operate the way that the state allows - procreation. So, the punishment of sex within marriage goes against the very foundation of marriage itself. And, just the same, women taking the procreation of marriage in their own control would be a threat to state power. Privacy is only a detail.

Week 11

The state's views on public v private in relation to marital violence and reproductive rights are contradictory only in effect; when in fact they operate on the same belief system. I will use an example from Catharine MacKinnon again to explain this. Her view is that men are concerned with laws that protect against harm; that is harm to men (MacKinnon, Women's Lives, Men's Laws, 2005). So, in fact, the early days of the fight for birth control, which resulted in a eugenics movement, was easily justified by the state for interfering in private affairs. Birth control, which turned into eugenics, initially was aimed at reducing unwanted pregnancies and therefore poverty of families who were being pulled down by more children. However, it soon became the plan to save the race. As scientific support grew for this plan, it was easy for the state to involve itself in the interest of enhancing the human population and dissolving those who were degenerate. The loss of good, white people became a threat to the state, who of course were white males, and so had perfect reason to interfere with the private sphere. As Robert discusses the differences between liberty and equality; where liberty is the right to autonomy and equality is the opportunity to have that right. When the government finally intervened in Skinner v. Oklahoma, it was based on the human right to bear children. However, since the government controlled welfare benefits, even though the liberty to voluntarily have children was given, the social inequality did not allow all women to have that liberty. In this situation, the state could interfere because there was a threat of real harm. Also, as the eugenics movement gained more scientific backing, the church lessened their argument that birth control was interfering with god's will. The idea of god's will is also prevalent in marital abuse theories where the concept of man ruling over his wife is justified because of it being god's will (Hasday pp 1405, 2000.). In the end, the state will interfere in private affairs if there is risk of 'tangible' harm (295). Similar to MacKinnon's idea of 'real' harm, this includes things that could impede on men's well-being. Since birth control could decrease more births, specifically unwanted racial births, it could control the outcome of the population. Also, since men abusing their wives does not create any 'tangible' harm, harm to men that is, it remains a private domain where the state must not interfere.

Birth Control: Sanger and Roberts

The history of birth control does have a contradictory past. In the Siegel and Hasday articles we read last week, we saw a history outlined in their articles dating back to the early nineteenth century. Women were claimed, under law, as being a part of a man therefore his property. Even when women were given the right to vote in 1920 and society appeared to be growing from it's traditional roots, women were still encouraged to stay with their abusers. The government urged the continuation and insulation of the family unit, to keep it as one cohesive piece to ensure the American ideal of a family unit. This was done by the loose legal repercussions for perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other sexually violent crimes. In terms of birth control, the government took a great interest and regulatory measures to ensure that a woman's uterus was in their hands and not in her own. These two contradictory state attitudes co-exist because of the government's obsession with the American ideal of a family unit. Not all women should be having children, Dorothy Roberts argues, only white women of certain socioeconomic classes. African American women up until 1989, referenced in her article, were urged to go on birth control and many endured arrests, sterilization, and other violent acts by government officials. Roberts argues that African American women having children does not 'mesh' with the American ideal of a white family. In terms of marital rape and domestic violence, the government will not interfere in order to blatantly ignore it. If a crime is not acknowledged by the government, Siegel discusses, then a perpetrator cannot be held accountable, therefore ensuring the continued belief marriage life is in the private sector and controlled by the patriarchal figure in the household.

In Roberts article, she discusses Sanger's relationship with the eugenics movement and the great contradiction and racism felt by African American women. Sanger believed that birth control was the only way that women could have true freedom (freedom from unwanted pregnancies.) If this was going to be achieved, believed in, and distributed at the rise of Eugenics, then Sanger must make the argument that birth control could better the Eugenics movement if distributed to the races that weigh America down. This helped in the widespread of birth control in America, but left a harsh mark on the African American population as being "unfit" to breed. This relationship that Sanger built, as argued by Roberts, is seen as a triumph for the white birth control movement, but the cause of much racial controversy surrounding birth control today.

Week 11 Blog Assignment

This week, we begin looking at reproductive rights through readings by Margaret Sanger, a pivotal figure in the campaign for developing effective birth control, and Dorothy Roberts, whose book Killing the Black Body describes in detail the racist foundations of the birth control movement and subsequent US government campaigns to control black women's reproduction.
In this week's blog post, I would like to consider connections between last week's readings on marital abuse and this week's readings on reproduction. Siegel and Hasday identify a number of strains of thought that have been used to justify governmental noninterference in marital relationships, and they outline the arguments that 19th and 20th-century feminists used to establish legal recourse for victims of domestic abuse. Yet the history of birth control is a history of government interference in intimate decision-making. So how can these two contradictory state attitudes co-exist? What evidence do Sanger and Roberts provide that might help to explain these simultaneous and apparently contradictory attitudes? It may be helpful to review our readings and discussions from the unit on marriage law.
Suggested Length: 200 words