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DE February 14th


Linking the birth control pill and eugenics hurt the movement for women's sexual freedom, I believe. After reading Roberts, "The Dark Side of Birth Control" I was extremely surprised about the negativity towards black women bearing children and the coercion of government run family planning organizations to have them use birth control and be sterilized, which was stated in the article. When watching, "The Pill" I viewed black women not taking advantage of the birth control pill as unwise and, in a sense, stubborn.
Once I read this article it really opened my eyes to the type of injustice that these women faced. Of course they would be weary of this all-empowering birth control pill for white women. By linking eugenics and birth control black women were at a disadvantage. There was no reason to trust the white doctors prescribing them, if these same doctors were known to have sterilized some women. This made it part of the feminist agenda to not only safe and easily available for white well-off women, but also for black, skeptical women in poor areas.
Next, I think birth control became a tool of social control for women because it gave us the power to choose. It provided the ability for women to say no to bearing any children. It gave women the power to hold important and powerful jobs, without the threat of having to leave due to an unplanned pregnancy. And lastly, it gave us an unseen control. We could finally, if we chose, be as promiscuous as any male with a condom. AND we could ask these men to wear a condom if we so chose. It's amazing to me that this was ever even questioned! To me, this is most important. I'm not saying I'm supporting any form of promiscuity, but it's the idea that women finally held the sexual power that they had been deprived of, and that had even been used as an act of domination against them, for thousands of years!

Margaret Sanger and Birth Control


Birth Control, eugenics, and the improvement of a country
The eugenics movement was used to "cleanse" America of the "feebleminded" by improving the race of a nation by increasing the reproduction of the best stock (60). Birth control, in combination with eugenics, was then used as a tool to regulate the poor, immigrants, and black Americans (59). Even more damaging and permanent was the use of sterilization as a remedy for social problems (61). "Between 1929 and 1941, more than 2,000 eugenic sterilizations were performed each year in the United States...[an] estimated...70,000 persons were involuntarily sterilized..." (89).
**Positive Eugenics** Reproduction of the best stock (60)
**Negative Eugenics** Prevention of socially undesirable people from procreating (65)
The use of negative eugenics on the feebleminded, sexually deviant, criminals, imbeciles, and immigrants, specifically sterilization, moved from a primary focus on the sterilization of women only to men as well. Prison inmates in state institutions would have vasectomies performed no matter the crime. Sterilization for women was also used as way for the feebleminded who had been institutionalized to be "safely" released back into society. A favor was being done for these women and society as a whole. "Young women who were at most mildly retarded were often admitted to facilities for the feebleminded for the sole purpose of being sterilized" (69).

Sanger, eugenics, birth control
*a public health issue
*a matter of national welfare
*helped to contest religious objections to birth control
*birth control to lower the birthrate of the unfit/ less desirable classes
***Sanger's choices and actions***
Sanger and Gamble (heir to Proctor and Gamble fortune) discussed the most effieceint way to get information out about birth control to the "uneducated black" population (77). Sanger to Gamble (1939) discussed the use of Negro doctors at the birth control clinics in order to earn and keep trust with the patients. She also discussed the use of the minister so they could relay the word of safety and reliability of the clinics (78).
This questionnaire was given in North Carolina where Gamble funded the Eugenics Society. Note " test your knowledge of this important health and social measure". The questions act as a reassurance for those who may be sterilized. Life does go on after sterilization, but we are going to control what you do with your black/immigrant/feebleminded/hysterical body. After reading this article on Sanger I think it is very important as feminists to see who is getting left out or even punished/oppressed in particular moments where others seem to be advancing. Sanger clearly was a pioneer for white women's rights, but it seems to me that she was happy to cleanse the US from those she and others deemed undesirable/lazy/non-white/hysterical/sexually deviant. bell hooks had also mentioned black women being left out of the women's lib movement when race was concerned. It was a time a privileged white women advancing women's rights, but on their own personal agenda. This is also present within Sanger's oppressive use of birth control. The oppression of one women is holding back all women.

Rhetoric of Choice


Rhetoric of Choice
Women's choices have always been constrained by economic and social factors. The development of capitalism eventually incorporated women into labor, providing the basis and conditions for black women's productive and reproductive labor to be fully exploited. "The location of "Third World" women in the global economy has hinged around their use as cheap laborers as well as their ability to produce additional cheap labor." This is why the reproductive capacities of women have to be manipulated in response to the need of market forces or labor shortage. Thus, "the human body is itself a politically inscribed entity, its physiology and morphology shaped by histories and practices of containment and control." Overpopulation is determined according to the need of labor in a global economy that thrives on the exploitation of cheap labor. Through this economic system the female body becomes an over determined site of economic power. The manipulation of women's reproductive system is in direct correlation with the global economic system.
Every time an American tax-payer complains about the welfare mother that takes 'advantage' of the system that allows her to breed even further welfare dependent children, a person has linked the government and the individual choice of a person, to an act that can be deemed as irresponsible and irrational towards the greater society. One community that was heavily oppressed by this language was the Native American population in the U.S. "No one even today knows exactly how many Native American women were sterilized during the 1970s. One base for calcuation is provided by the Gerneral Accounting Office, whose study covered only four of twelve HIS regions over four years (1973 through 1976). Within those limits, 3,406 Indian women were sterilized, according to the GAO." (Forced Sterilization 2009) Even though the debates about globalization, poverty, and environmentalism to this day still heavily depend on the same ideas and concepts of early eugenics hardly anybody would admit to basing their global population policies, or American foreign policy on eugenics.
In this blog my concentration doesn't lie within the question of condoning or dismissing eugenics, instead I want to put into question the liberal state, that allows for the colonialization of the female body while justifying it with the eradication of poverty. This keeps the language of eugenics alive and uses the understanding of the individual responsibility for reproductive rights to condone the very core of eugenics. It is the individual woman that is responsible for the high number of population, or her need for social welfare support. In this discussion I want to focus on the idea that the individual woman is "allowed" to make the "rational" choice of either reproducing or aborting a child only if she is up to the liberal standard (i.e. financial stability, purity of her race (namely white), sexual orientation (namely heterosexual) when it comes to her emotional, physical, mental, and financial abilities.
The ways in which this access to 'choice' has been regulated, used, debated, and constructed has a variety of effects on different demographics. With the development of effective and safe contraception's in the 1960's, it was made possible to control the timing and number of children a woman would have. These developments in technology have caused widespread public debates and legislation in many countries, posing the question of pro-choice, meaning the choice to abort 'life' instead of pro-life, which advocates that every pregnancy no matter how early should be carried out. One thing that has remained constant in this debate is the conflict between private choice and public regulation. The option to chose to deny having a child seems to be offensive to the moral sensibility of many. However to be denied the right to choose motherhood for some women, with specific attributes, seems to never enter this ethical debate. The choice to become a mother is given to 'all' that are 'fit' and reasonable, and this is why it hardly enters the public discourse of birth control regulations. This is one of the reasons why I think it is important to complicate how we look at the birth control movement, which is used multiple ways.
I want to investigate the creation of the binary relationship between the state and the woman in the popular dialogue of choice that is driven by the contemporary liberal approach. The emphasize of the pro-choice vs. pro life produces a dichotomy that assumes that there is only an ethical question at stake that didn't evolve out of a patriarchal environment, but rather a universal humanitarian, and philosophical question. The concept of pre-embryo life, and the basis for the current view on human reproduction, is stuck on the question of when life 'begins'. The reason why I think it is important to explore the questions of ethics, choice, and regulation, is the fact that the question of choice, once again connects to the liberal notion of who is capable of choosing, and what counts as a choice vs what counts as determination. It also brings up the connection of who becomes an important person to deny the choice, and the regulation that becomes more oppressive to some than others. For example, while Hitler made it illegal to abort Aryan babies, he believed it was the most rational and best protocol for a Jewish mother to have the "choice" of abortion. This 'choice' was later eradicated and made into law. "On July 14, 1933: Law passed in Germany permitting the forced sterilization of Gypsies, the mentally and physical disabled, African-Germans, and others considered 'inferior' or 'unfit'." (Kline 78) This shows that allowing for somebody to have the choice to not reproduce is always politically charged, and never divorced from the issues of racism, sexuality, and politics. In Foucault word's, "Biopolitics deals with the population, with the population as political problem, as a problem that is at once scientific and political, as a biological problem and as power's problem." The Phrase "keep government out of the bedroom and away from our body", often employed by pro-abortion groups is sometimes tossed aside and ignored when the objective is to reduce population. Suddenly, the 'personal' decisions to become pregnant becomes of paramount interest to government bureaucracies and their surrogates in private family planning agencies. When it comes to the poor, the question of pro-life is hardly ever debated, since their life is a burden to the government.
Another important issue that comes up early on in the genealogy of the pill is the sacrifice that some women (Puerto Rican) had to make in order for the more privileged woman (white U.S citizens) to gain the right to have a sexual revolution. Even though the pill was promoted to be accessible to all women, and a common struggle for the overall sisterhood, this in reality was only a fictional relationship. It is fascinating to see this movement towards the breaking and destruction of the chains of sexual oppression, as a universal case for all women. Unfortunately some women had to pay a greater price for this goal. The very ideology that supports the means to the ends, allows for characters such as Margaret Sanger to be seen as a feminist first and supporter of eugenics second, because it is more important to see her as a universal feminist, than a politically active figure that engaged in extremely racist ideologies. Margaret Sanger is considered to be historically an important figure in the field of feminism she advocates that the problem of the poorest is not that they are exploited but that they are deprived of the opportunity to stop reproducing children that they can't afford. It is not only the concepts and her ideology that are problematic but also the dehumanizing language she uses. "On their way to market like rats from their holes." Sanger begins to explain the danger of having these types of 'people' reproduce. It is not the system that is the tragedy but rather the pregnancies that are almost a chronic disease within this community. What does it mean to the canon of feminist literature to include activist such as Margaret Sanger that not only promoted reproductive rights but also pushed for the development of eugenics. In the piece "American Eugenics Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism", Ordover puts into question Margaret Sanger's fight for the birth control pill, which is often credited with liberating women sexually and socially, and transforming society (Ordover). This glorification of Margaret Sanger as a feminist has a distinct narrative that allows historians and many western feminists to place Sanger in a particular role in the genealogy of the suffrage movement. While it is no secret that Margaret Sanger was an active member of the eugenics movement at the moment in time, it is difficult for many to see how interconnected her racist ideologies were to her work for women. Even though her past isn't a secret, it is often put in the backseat in order to look at the more important issues that are at hand namely: "gender equity, self-determination, and redress of economic and person privation". This leads one to think that, due to the liberal 'choice' that Sanger brought to the "fit" women, she must not be able to be a racist of any sorts, but rather a victim of her Society that experienced at that moment in time 'a popular craze' of eugenics.
I believe that it is crucial in the discussion of contemporary feminism to complicate the liberal notion of 'choice' that arises in the discussion of birth control. Who benefits from the choice? Who is allowed to make the choice? Who is coerced into a specific choice? Sanger once proclaimed: "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously wether she will or will not be a mother" It is unfortunate that she didn't recognize that this statement stands in direct contradiction to eugenics.

Margaret Sanger-The Pill; Direct Engagement: Group C


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 must set their eyes upon what SHOULD BE.

DE Feb. 14 Women's Decision to Create


While reading Margaret Sanger's passages, I had to remind myself that it was written in the 1920's. Sanger was extremely bold in her expression of beliefs of female oppression. I was a little confused when she was trying to link the birth control issue to slavery but I can see that her point she was trying to make is that females are somewhat slaves to their bodies until they choose to take control. Women's sexual freedom and expression is on the line because of birth control. All of Sanger's arguments still apply to us today because of the fact that men simply cannot give birth. Sanger's quote "it is her love life that dies first in the fear of undesired pregnancy" provoked thoughts that remind me that women don't have full sexual freedom. A man can go and sleep with whomever he pleases and never has to worry about becoming pregnant. Another issue tying to that is the issue of women being "sluts" if they "sleep around" when men have the acceptance to do so. A second issue at hand today is abortion which still keeps a woman from having control of her body and the decision to have children or not. I also think that Sanger marks on a feminist issue of motherhood by saying "within her is the wrapped up future of the race - it is hers to make or mar." It is a woman's choice as to whether or not a person may come into this world. Birth and motherhood is so easily taken for granted by many and women must challenge that. Sanger says "woman must not accept; she must challenge" and what I get is to challenge society and challenge everything they have because women have the power to create or not create. Without a woman's creation there would be no life, which is a huge burden to handle but us women should be able to make that decision.

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?

My initial reaction to Margaret Sanger's Birth Control - A Parents' Problem or Woman's? From Woman and the New Race was that I could not believe that it was written in the 1920's. The excerpt seems to echo some of the same issues that arise in modern feminism. She outlines a modern notion of the ambiguity of feminism and an ultimate goal of the feminist movement: "Her mission is not to enhance the masculine spirit, but to express the feminine; hers is not to preserve a man-made world, but to create a human world by the infusion of the feminine element into all of its activities," (Sanger, 127).

It seems like she nailed a large part of the "feminist movement" right on the head with the early perception of a world of gender equality. She also mentions the viewpoint upon which feminism still continues to draw: "Woman must not accept; she must challenge," (Sanger, 127). Since feminism is a critique of issues that arise in the cloud of society, Sanger seems to underline that concept directly in the twenties. A learned concept from the initial feminist directive versus the modern feminist directive is that the two are not much different from one another. Sanger's voice in this excerpt is leaning toward the part of the female's-reproductive-choice-only-wing of feminism, but the direction that she pushes for the rights of reproductive-control is recognized as a modern issue toward the ultimate "feminist movement".

DE-February 14th -Woman's Freedom of Choice


-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? Do not use your response to answer the question: Was Margaret Sanger a racist? Instead focus on thinking about what questions her experiences/her choices and actions raise for you.

While reading the article by Margaret Sanger, I couldn't help but think about how applicable it is today, except take out "birth control" and stick in "abortion." The feminist movement's influence to preserve women's reproductive rights is vital. It is frightening to think about what would be the norm if feminism did not include reproduction. When Sanger writes, "While it is true that he suffers many evils as the consequence of this situation, she suffers vastly more," I thought how that simply defines why women should have control over their bodies before anyone else. How that simple notion clears up, for me at least, one of the most heated debates in the world. From lack of contraception to forced pregnancy, this debate, and the women's movement that preserves it, is key to keeping Sanger's belief's alive. What we should learn from her is that these notions of a woman's freedom (whether she chose her words wisely or just never thought of them being used in comparison to racial oppression) is not only from others, such as men, other women, government etc, but also from herself. Depending on whom you ask, being able to give birth is a blessing or a curse, but it should be understood unanimously that women then should have the RIGHT to control it. Sanger concludes her article with giving all of the responsibility of birth control to women. Whether it is the pill or abortion she is absolutely correct.

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? Do not use your response to answer the question: Was Margaret Sanger a racist? Instead focus on thinking about what questions her experiences/her choices and actions raise for you.

What most struck me about Sanger's article were the contradictions between her notions of oppression in relation to femininity and reproduction, versus, her understanding of racial oppression and the language of slavery. Sanger argued in favor of the ability of "the feminine spirit to free itself from bondage" through having full power over the decision to procreate. Her notions of sex as a tool for power, while a bit Freudian in essence, definitely were persuasive as she argued that a woman is "enslaved through her reproductive powers." By contrast, her use of the term "free race" became problematic with her statement that, " A free race cannot be born out of slave mothers. A woman enchained cannot choose but give a measure of that bondage to her sons and daughters." This statement emphasizes the problematic nature of the use of slavery as an analogy for women's reproductive oppression. The idea of an enslaved woman merely passing on her own oppression to her children, in combination with Sanger's utilizing of the term "free race" creates a notion of stagnancy in racial oppression. The disconnect between the Sanger's understanding of racial oppression as opposed to that of women's oppression was further emphasized by the following viewpoint, "woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her..." Such a powerful message around what Sanger would likely understand as a freedom from bondage, seemed to break down when it came to notions of race. This feature of Sanger's writing, made me realize the importance of understanding intersectionality. It emphasized the ways in which language can frame a feminist argument in problematic ways. Because of this, this article can serve as a reminder of the importance of recognizing the universality in the human experience of oppression.

DE Question for feb 14 (feb 16)


NOTEBecause we are watching the film for Monday, we will not be discussing the readings that much until Wednesday. Therefore I am extending the deadline for your direct engagements. Instead of posting entries by Saturday and comments by Monday, group C should post their entries by Monday evening and groups A and D should post their comments by Wednesday at noon. 

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).

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? Do not use your response to answer the question: Was Margaret Sanger a racist? Instead focus on thinking about what questions her experiences/her choices and actions raise for you.