Margaret Sanger-The Pill; Direct Engagement: Group C

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Wow! Just got done viewing the documentary The Pill and I found it quite interesting and enlightening. I love the journey the feminist movement takes from women's suffrage to the more recent feminist revolution in the 1960s. I did have one thought that puzzled me during the documentary that was not addressed. When birth control was first approved by the FDA were doctors more than willing to prescribe it? That is the way the film portrayed it. I wonder if there was any backlash from the doctors, considering at this point in time they were all male? Were there any catholic doctors that were morally opposed to birth control? A more recent example of this dilemma concerns the Plan B contraceptive pill that is now available. In S. Dakota, where I am from, I am aware that doctors are aloud deny the pill if they are personally and morally opposed to it's function.

Also, I thought it was interesting people were concerned about female promiscuity when the pill was released but no one gave a thought to male promiscuity when the condom was introduced- such a double standard!!

Moving on to the questions for this week...

I think it was very problematic for birth control to be linked to eugenics. First and foremost, I think it is never a good idea to attach your revolution to an extremist practice. By nature, I think a lot of people are opposed to change and even more so an extreme change. The idea of eugenics is controversial today so I can only imagine it was even more controversial and extreme then.

I think the documentary does a great job of displaying how the pill became a crucial tool for social change. The pill gave women control reproductively and sexually. The pill instigated an entire revolution.

Margaret Sanger can teach us a lot about feminism and change. Just by reading Sanger's excerpt one can assume she was pretty radical for the 1920's. She said, "Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that within her which struggle for expression. Her eyes must be less upon what is and more clearly upon what should be." I think Sanger is saying that no matter how far you have to reach a goal or an ideal that it should not deter you from starting the fight. I think Sanger was ambitious and motivated to bring these issues to the table in such an early time and that it is a lesson feminists should remember. No matter how out of reach or how hard or extreme the issue is...one must set their eyes upon what SHOULD BE.

3 Comments

In answer to your first question about doctors prescribing the pills I think it's safe to say that there were those who wouldn't prescribe it but overwhelmingly did simply because it's a business and that's their job.

Going off your response, it's good that you pointed out how contentious the issue of Eugenics was in relation to birth control because while it seems extreme now Eugenics was very much an in vogue science. Our very own University of Minnesota had its own research center dedicated to the study of Eugenics. Science was just figuring out genes and how it relates to reproduction, so it stands to reason how the two can be related. Eugenics and birth control both offer an avenue to social control in a way that was never thought possible before. We know now that Eugenics is a faulty science--for instance scientists and society believed that low intelligence, sexual "deviance," criminal behavior, etc were all transmutable via genes and reproduction. These we know now are not traits in the human genome.

The pill was a break through in reproductive science and any new science can open up avenues that were not originally intended. It most definitely gave women another avenue of agency that previously was not available to them before and that's something to be celebrated certainly, but it can't be denied that the government and society had a vested interest in who was having kids and how many. Though Sanger was deeply concerned with the plight of women having no control over their sexuality there were others that weren't that noble. It absolutely was a huge catalyst for the women's movement, but it had its limits.

There were still a multitude of societal factors and pressures that were in place to keep women subordinate and unequal to men. I think that's why the statement you quoted Sanger on becomes so crucial. I think you were right on the money saying that "one must set their eyes upon what SHOULD be." I think the pill gave women a chance to start asking themselves these hard questions. It stimulated the curiosity of what "could" be, and I think women really responded to that and began addressing those questions earnestly in society. Women like Sanger opened the door, and it was up to others to start walking through it and then entirely smash it open.

I think that doctors at the time hesitated at first to prescribe the pill because it was religious and moral issue, but after it became such phenomenon, I think that doctors saw it as a disadvantage to not prescribe it. I think that if they didnt prescribe it at the time, they were risking the potential amount of money that can be made out of selling birth control pills. Also, I think that doctors who were not prescribing it at the time when society accepted it, the doctors would be seen as some sort of extremists who would not give women their rights. This can not only affect the doctors, it would also affect the doctors business in general. Women would be more hesitant to visit that doctor for any reason.

I also agree with you on the link of birth control pills to eugenics, in that it was very problematic especially with religious organizations. It was enough that birth control pills were rejected by the church, but including the fact that eugenics was in the picture, they might have seen this as playing with gods creation. This probably really affected the acceptance rate of the pill.

I agree the documentary was very well-done. To see the chronological order of feminism was really interesting as it led up to the reproductive revolution. To answer your question, I think doctors were being paid off to promote the pill to white women for birth control and to black women for eugenics, regardless of the consequences. Not all doctors were money hungry greedy liars, but some disregarded the health of their patients in the pursuit of advancing their careers whereas others were promoting it because they genuinely saw it as a solution. I think it's funny that law exists in South Dakota. It seems outdated for 2011. I guess it's unusual for citizens to determine who gets treated a certain way based on their individual beliefs. There aren't many workplaces that would allow that, can you imagine if your doctor's opinion interfered with your choice? They should still give their opinion but put less focused on their own wants and instead on the needs of the pregnant woman.
I don't think the problem was linked to eugenics, it was actually used as a form of eugenics for a while. Definitely. Something as small as a pill gains its power in altering body chemistry, and since it was new, it was easy to abuse it and blindly recommend it to people who you were trying to help (such as a nice white Christian lady) or eliminate (poor black folks). This distinction was deliberately avoided in discussion, which is sad because there is so much to be learned about race relations and the pill. Thanks, Margaret Sanger, for letting generations of families benefit from low-cost protective and planning services.

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