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Direct Engagement

The article by Margaret Sanger was very interesting to read because it showed the power of birth control and how essential it is to women's liberation. I believe that her article does indeed link birth control and eugenics in a rather interesting way. She clearly advocates for the availability of birth control for women, and for men to share in the responsibility of considering birth control. I do not believe for a moment that Sanger's intention with this article was to communicate a selective breeding protocol by advocating birth control. Rather, she looks to birth control as a method to improve the quality of life for all women who choose it. Sanger clearly states "Even as no one can share the suffering of the over burdened mother, so no one can do this work for her. Others may help, but she and she alone can free herself". Being a mother takes enormous amount of energy and this energy has to come from some place. Sanger is advocating for the use of birth control to enable sexual freedom as well as the freedom to choose whether or not a woman puts her energy into being a mother. The consequences being that women who are not able to manage having a child, or do not whish to have a child may keep their choice and still be sexually free.

Sanger puts a strong emphasis on men to join in the responsibility of birth control and the decision to have a family. I believe that this is in direct response to the preconceived notion that women must bear the role of the family caretaker. This is not a negative role for women to fill, but women must have the choice of this lifestyle. If women are continually forced to play the role of family caretaker and creator without option, then they are being subjugated. The true dangers of viewing this article as promotion for eugenics are rather simple. First it would indicate that Sanger is promoting class segregation, and secondly it could be viewed as a minority suppressor. This does not seem to be the intention of Sanger within her article. I believe that she is advocating positive ideologies by providing women and subsequently men with sexual choice and freedom. "Woman must have her freedom- the fundamental freedom of choosing whether or not she shall be a mother and how many children she will have".

Direct Engagement

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Sorry this is kind of late, the assignment sheet said Thursday by noon would still get full credit.

Margaret Sanger was the mother of the birth control movement and is responsible for the freedom of choice of millions of women today. Sanger largely based her push for birth control on the notion that women ought be able to choose their own destiny and not be "involuntary motherhood slaves" (Sanger, 210). Sanger always held to the fundamental principle that birth control be "voluntary and educational" (Sanger, 215) and denied claims of sterilization stating that if there were sterilization of criminals, she herself would fall victim. The way that Sanger gets her named linked with eugenicists is that she advocated for certain "unfit" women to use birth control to delay pregnancy. For the most part her claims weren't based on genetic fitness as most other eugenicists did to promote their racially charged agenda, but rather Sanger's "guidelines" for birth control use focused on the readiness of a mother to have a healthy baby that can be raised in a stable home (Sanger, 215). Sanger never called for these guidelines to be mandated or for sterilization. Even Roberts who claimed that birth control was racially motivated makes claims such as Sanger "fram[ed] her campaign in eugenics terms" (Roberts, 73) but rarely gives explicit examples of these terms. When she does, they are either taken out of context or never used on a basis of racial control but rather health concerns. Linking Sanger with eugenics is unjustified.

Sanger, Roberts Engagement

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The problem with promoting birth control alongside eugenics is that such an agenda relies upon socially conditioned notions of normality, acceptability and legitimate personhood. For instance, how we determine who counts as fit or unfit (as Alexander Sanger points out, Margaret Sanger herself would hardly have passed as fit). By appealing to eugenicists, Sanger may have helped gain support for what she believed to be a cause promoting justice for (certain) women, but at the expense of further reducing or denying other people of their personhood. Forfeiting, even undermining, feminist ethics in the name of "justice" for women to gain favor with oppressive power structures compromises potential feminist movement and further reinforces hierarchical structures, accepted by society at large as natural. What the case of Margaret Sanger potentially illustrates is that in order for feminist movement to implement justice properly, feminist activists must consider who they're benefiting, and at whose expense. Margaret Sanger may have initiated open-mindedness about reproductive rights, but her progress was a deterrent for many - for one woman's emancipation can be another's oppression. Since feminist movement seeks justice for all women, how feminist agendas instigate change must not only consider who benefits, but also acknowledge who suffers. Since feminism opposes social hierarchies, feminist movement ought not rely on their own hierarchical priorities.

Direct Engagement

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In most feminist circles, Margaret Sanger is still championed as the pioneer of birth control, and the first hero of women's reproductive rights. It is hard to deny her massive contribution to the movement, or wonder what birth control would be like today were it not for her efforts. However, her underlying eugenic agenda in promoting birth control has cast a shadow on her achievements and has led to her being somewhat discredited among certain feminist groups, specifically those of color. The American Birth Control League focused in on communities of color in hopes of substantially curbing reproductive rates in these areas. Public promotion in these areas endorsed birth control as an affordable way to control family size, and often painted it as a way for lower class minority families to partake in a new, cutting-edge, high class movement. However, internal documents and project scopes directed at sponsors and other upper-class affiliates claimed the aim of the campaign was to work towards "sterilization of the insane and feebleminded and the encouragement of this operation upon those afflicted with inherited or transmissible diseases," (Roberts, 73). Placing birth control clinics in predominantly black communities through programs like The Negro Project clearly facilitated this goal. It was Margaret Sanger's selective view of women's reproductive rights that have tainted her image as a feminist activist as well as the overarching goals of the reproductive rights movement as a whole.

Direct Engagement

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There are many consequences regarding birth control with eugenics, but I would say more from a social standpoint we find the consequences. The downfall of eugenics occurred when "reformers began to use it as a program of social control,
promoting government intervention and coercion in human reproduction (211)". I think more so than anything else, the idea that people would think that this was a tool to "breed selectively" would deter them away from the use of birth control. Although, since Sanger's breakthrough, our society has changed a lot, but there is still some misinformation that birth control is trying to glorify a white race. I think that this goes completely against what Sanger stood for, as she was trying to help women and eliminate some of the patriarchal ideas and wanted the most out of her childbearing. In fact, Eugenics at that time was not only "scientific" but also much more respect-able than birth control (213). This I think is the key because if they spread the idea of eugenics, then it would be easier to advocate birth control eventually, and the women of this time were looking for that kind of support. Even though Sanger's views were a bit controversial, because she did advocate her goal of "the elimination of the unfit", she expressed that this was merely a voluntary practice, she was not trying to push this on others and create a whole new race, but rather "She asserted that a woman is best judge of whether and when to bring a child into the world." She was concerned about the well being of the women, and for women's rights most of all, so I agree with Alex Sanger when he stated that there was no motivation to eliminate these women. I really liked the last paragraph where he stated, "She wanted every child
to have the chance that hers did--poverty combined with having too many
children were the root causes of racial degeneration, not heredity or ethnicity
or race. Her emphasis on childbearing served to reinforce the notion that
the fertility of the poor, and by extension that of the black race, was a proper
subject of social and governmental control. The dangers inherent in this view
are still with us." I think that this argument was a matter of each individual woman's choice more so than anything else.

Direct Engagement

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Margaret Sanger wanted to give women autonomy over their own capacity to be a mother. Women were being so bogged down with children in the early twentieth century that their health suffered as a result. For an average woman, having the responsibility of caring for ten or more children meant having very little financial resources to give herself and her children the care they needed to live to past middle adulthood. The only trouble is that when she first went about giving information on birth control to women she ended up in jail.
The government, a very patriarchal, christian-conservative and sexist institution at the time, banned the use of birth control because it was guided by the teachings of the christian (read: catholic) church which taught that marriage was essentially an institution where a man protected and earned money for his wife and in turn had the right to have sex with his wife whenever and however he wanted. If a child was conceived, it would only mean more work for the mother, the man would be able to get reprieve from the hassles of the house when he went to work each day. To get back to the point, Sanger knew she had to approach the topic of birth control in a different way, and it is highly unfortunate that the new way had devastating impacts on minority women at the time.
The racist movement of eugenics was taking hold in the United States the same time Margaret Sanger was finding no luck in getting birth control to women. Sanger decided to jump on the eugenics bandwagon so that people would finally except birth control. For the white men of the country, birth control was seen as a way to reduce the population of the poor, African-American, Native American, southern and eastern European and Latino races so that "strong, intelligent white people" could dominate the planet. What started our for Sanger as a movement to promote voluntary motherhood had brutally changed to a movement for population control by the 1940's. Birth control, coupled with the eugenics movement, had more scientific credibility and refuted the notion that it would raise levels of sexual promiscuity- instead it would raise the population levels of white supremacists.
The new birth control movement had horrendous consequences for our society. Doctors who were paid by the government performed hysterectomies on black women and children without their consent. It was Margaret Sanger's own idea that black doctors and nurses would run the clinics where these hysterectomies were being performed so that the patients wouldn't think it was a "plan for extermination". Institutionalized individuals were also subject to systematic sterilizations just for being poor, mentally handicapped or for committing minor crimes.
What started out as being a respectable feminist movement to liberate women of all races, classes and creeds ended up being a disastrous movement of systematic extermination of minorities from our nation. Not only that, but white women were again subject to extreme sexism by being viewed by white men as only responsible for bring more white children into society. It was almost impossible for a white woman to get a hysterectomy for fear that insufficient amounts of white babies were being produced. Margaret Sanger may have started out with good intentions, but she let her need for power to get out of control.

Direct Engagement

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"Birth control is a woman's problem. The quicker she accepts it as hers and hers alone, the quicker will society respect motherhood" (Sanger 139). As Margaret Sanger said, birth control is a woman's problem and she must find a way to control it, a woman's freedom was not based on choosing a husband it was in having control over their bodies. While a woman was forced to raise her children she was controlled because she did not have a decision and she was enslaved by her motherhood. Men claimed that it was their bearing too but women must accept the conditions the government and religion impose upon them. Sanger fought for reproductive rights because she saw how women suffer by this lack of control over their bodies but at the same time it was hard to express her opinion about the subject since it was intended to a more eugenic audience. By linking the promotion of birth control with eugenics her audience becomes now that of power. There is a risk because now her audience is going to have more control over the subject leaving most women again powerless. But it was a start; at least it got the general public thinking and opened their curiosity.

Direct Engagement

Margaret Sanger fought for the rights of woman to use birth control freely without discrimination, thus giving woman reproductive rights. It was an amazing break through because previously during the 1800's, woman were denied these privileges to use birth control. I don't believe Sanger fought just for the use of birth control; she related birth control with many other issues to help stimulate the feminist movement. For an example, in the reading, Margaret Sanger claimed, "that birth control would improve marriages, family life, and one's sex life." She made a list of conditions that advised people how or when to use birth control; woman should not have children until they have finished adolescent, a new couple shouldn't have kids until two years into their marriage so they can have time to mature, etc. She tried to make it clear that birth control had a lot more meaning and depth to it than just a way to prevent children from being born. Lastly, Sanger spoke about how she thinks woman are the best judges to decide whether they are ready to have children or not. With letting the woman decide when she's ready to have children, Sanger then determined that the children would be healthier and better cared for than if the woman didn't have a choice. Through Sanger's actions I believe she is teaching us not to be narrow minded when it comes to issues involving feminism. The more evidence and information we can give about an issue, the more respect it will get in return.

Direct Engagement

Margaret Sanger made a highly controversial decision in using eugenics to promote birth control. Correlating the issues had dangerous consequences, and there is much argument surrounding her intentions behind the linking. Roberts states, "But this was a warped conception of women's liberation, for it was an exclusive liberation in the service of racist social ends" (76). While Sanger may be using this loophole to see her ultimate goal of widely available contraception come to fruition, it compromises social groups outside white upper-class. For the white upper-class were promoting themselves as the ideal race. This link of eugenics and birth control may have been an influential jumpstart to the necessary availability of contraception however, the women's movement is convoluted with the support of an oppression. The fundamental idea behind Feminism, as the movement toward the end of sexism, exploitation, and oppression directly conflicts with eugenics. Consequently, portions of minority groups, men and women alike, viewed the promotion of birth control as an effort of white supremacists to eradicate their race. Perhaps Sanger was manipulating the system by making birth control an issue the patriarchy could support, which was a political move and in hindsight, sacrificed her reputation for the cause. Sanger still has the linking of birth control with eugenics associated with her, and it has kept her from the being considered a hero in many spaces.

Question 1

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This is the first time I have written on here, so I hope I am doing this right?

Whereas I have always had the understanding that Margaret Sanger was the pioneer of birth control with complete intentions to better the life of women, some people appear to have other views. There is the belief that Sanger was in favor of eugenics; the idea of breeding selectively with hopes to improve the human species. Some believe her Planned Parenthood organization was put in play to restrict certain races and classes within society from reproducing. Margaret Sanger is accused of having the desire to control reproduction by introducing birth control. Multiple people are considered to be "unfit" to reproduce, or at least less fit than others to have children. By trying to have control of who can and cannot reproduce, sometimes it seemed that abortions or birth control was almost forced upon people to make them unable to procreate. Having any intentions of trying to contain "inferior" people is completely ridiculous in my opinion. Because this weeding out occurred as a possibility, obviously controversy has tagged along with it. In reality, I don't believe Margaret Sanger was trying to eliminate other races but rather give women liberation. She was trying to help women and give them sexual freedom.

Direct Engagement

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Birth Control was initially created to liberate women and give them reproductive rights and the rights to their own bodies. This was a right they had been denied for much of the 19th century, and it was unfair. This was the whole idea of birth control and it was something that was greatly needed. However, as birth control became more widespread, it became used as a tool of social control and was becoming linked with eugenics. That is it was being forced upon women who society wanted to cleanse themselves of. Many black women, immigrants, etc. were being practically forced to take it in order to improve society and regulate their reproduction. Basically, they would do their best to inhibit the reproduction of anybody they didn't feel was improving the quality of society. Another example would be people who are not intelligent, inferior in any way. Those people would be encouraged to use birth control in order to not taint society. This is how birth control became a 'social tool' and was very much associated with eugenics at times. I believe that birth control is completely necessary and needed to evolve. However, this apparent 'dark side' of birth control is astonishing and is not what birth control is mean to be. Birth control is meant to be a way to liberate women and give them reproductive freedom and control of their own bodies, not control society. In addition, Theodore Roosevelt stated, "Willful sterility is, from the standpoint of the nation, from the standpoint of the human race, the one sin for which there is no atonement." This is not expressing reproductive freedom and it is hard to believe that our own president would say that nationally. This just shows how much things have changed and what advancements the feminism movement truly has made.

Direct Engagement Question 1: 2/2-2/4

If you are in group A, answer the following question in your 200-250 word entry post. If you are in group B or C, choose one entry from group A and post a 100+ word comment. If you are in group D remember to post your "this is a feminist issue because..." example.

NOTE: Because we are shifting the schedule a little this week, you are not required to post your entry by Sunday evening. Instead, make sure that your entry is posted by Wednesday at noon. Comments must be posted by Thursday at noon to receive full credit.

In "The Dark Side of Birth Control," Dorothy Roberts writes:

Sanger's shifting alliances reveal how critical political objectives are to determining the nature of reproductive technologies--whether they will be used for women's emancipation or oppression. As the movement veered from its radical, feminist origins toward a eugenic agenda, birth control became a tool to regulate the poor, immigrants, and Black Americans (58-59).
In "Musings: Eugenics, Race, and Margaret Sanger Revisited: Reproductive Freedom for All?," Alex Sanger, the grandson of Margaret Sanger, writes:

My grandmother's entire career shows that she was motivated by a desire to save the women she took care of as a nurse--the poor, the uneducated, the immigrant. There was no motivation to eliminate them....Her emphasis on childbearing served to reinforce the notion that the fertility of the poor, and by extension that of the black race, was a proper subject of social and governmental control. The dangers inherent in this view are still with us (217).

Answer at least one of the following questions: make sure to draw upon the readings

  • What were the dangerous consequences of linking the promotion of birth control with eugenics?
  • How (and in what specific ways) did birth control became a tool of social control?
  • Finally,what can/should we learn from the case of Margaret Sanger as we think critically about feminist movements and their attempts to develop and implement agendas for reproductive rights/justice?

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