One of the cover stories of Ms. Magazine this past summer dealt with the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and what is all at stake for women’s reproductive rights in this country, and the changing Supreme Court. And with Dubya nominating a guy like Roberts, yeah, it’s going to be one f-ugly battle, and there is indeed a lot at stake for us, considering the man’s stance on women’s rights. Anyway, Ms. received a lot of letters and emails about the story, many coming from readers concerned with the future of Roe v. Wade (and possibly Griswald v. Conn.). One letter in particular was reprinted in Ms. Musings blog, citing the legacy of Margaret Sanger and women’s reproductive empowerment.
[…]One of the letters was submitted to Ms. Magazine Online by Miriam Reed, author of Margaret Sanger: Her Life in Her Words (Barricade Books, 2003). It is reprinted in its entirety below:
In the summer 2005 issue of Ms. Magazine, Ellen Chesler refers to Margaret Sanger and her important work as birth control pioneer. Fortunate we are that Sanger worked so assiduously for birth control, but often overlooked is that birth control for Sanger was only a means to an end. The end was the freeing of the feminine spirit that it might fulfill its mission. And its mission?
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 (Woman the New Race , pp. 98-99).
One is at times hard put to find the feminine element in American life today, with the gag rule in force, with American militarism holding sway (Sanger was a pacifist), with access to contraception as well as abortion for the indigent less and less available, with honest information on a woman’s physiology and birth control methodology withheld from many young people.
As a dedicated consumer, by necessity, by custom, and by redilection, American women depend on corporate-produced contraceptives and corporate-produced food. When Margaret Sanger made The Pill possible, it served as an answer for those times. She never dreamed that pharmaceutical companies would become the powerful profit-driven machines that they are today. But what if women knew their bodies so intimately that birth control pharmaceuticals were unnecessary? What if women took the time and the initiative to recognize their cycles and mucus consistency and could control their conception with natural birth control methods? What if women taught this information to each other and to their younger sisters? What if women were no longer dependent on male-run corporations for these matters?[…]
Then their (corporations’) allies in the political sphere will do their damnest to significantly limit or outright illegalize this new form of radical natural contraception teachings among women and girls. Penalties for ‘thought-crimes’ or printing “illict” materials come to mind. Censorship. We see this in another form when it comes to the issue of self-righteous, moral-supremacist, misogynist anti-choice zealots who wear white lab coats in pharmacies, who use their ideological and anti-women-reproductive-rights dogma to thwart women’s access to their contraception–thus, thwarting women’s attempt to determine their own reproductive destinies. Whenever women attempt to break away from traditional societal expectations and even dependency on male politicians and predominately male-institutions such as the corporate world and the field of medical science, never fear, there will always–and unfortunately so–be the more powerful and influential reactionaries there to sabotage all of their (women’s) endeavors to independently empower themselves. It’s a sad fact of life.
For some years before Roe v. Wade, the Jane group in Chicago performed their own abortions. Learning to know your own body and demanding food that is locally grown does not require nearly as much courage. Women cannot be sent to jail for their consumer choices. But women would have to be educated by other than corporate advertising, would have to change their shopping habits, would have to engage within themselves the feminine spirit that Margaret Sanger sought to free when she was sent to jail for handing out contraceptives.
Birth control is only a means to an end. Woman’s refusal to engage in a profit-driven global market but instead “to create a human world” is the true legacy of Margaret Sanger.
Shorter: Women’s refusal to blindly go along with the traditionalist ideal of a woman’s “duty and obligation” to society (ie: having as many children as society dictates, never mind if the woman is personally against having that many or personally having children at all–even if she’s just a young twenty-something with no higher education or significant financial security), is a form of reproductive empowerment. In a nutshell, women standing up and being able to proudly say “I’m not going to have children when you tell me to,” or “I’m not going to have children until I accomplish a, b, c,” or “I’m going to decide how many children I have, not you,” and/or lastly, “I’m never going to have children,” with the aid of contraception and even legal and safe abortions, was the legacy of Margaret Sanger. Reproductive empowerment for women, which in case you haven’t notice, is having to be fought for and demanded all over again. Women controlling their reproductive destinies is just that annoying to some people.
“Our ‘overhead’ expense in segregating the delinquent, the defective and the dependent, in prisons, asylums and permanent homes, our failure to segregate morons who are increasing and multiplying … demonstrate our foolhardy and extravagant sentimentalism. No industrial corporation could maintain its existence upon such a foundation. Yet hardheaded ‘captains of industry,’ financiers who pride themselves upon their cool-headed and keen-sighted business ability are dropping millions into rosewater philanthropies and charities that are silly at best and vicious at worst. In our dealings with such elements there is a bland maladministration and misuse of huge sums that should in all righteousness be used for the development and education of the healthy elements of the community.”
The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Chapter 12, “Woman and the Future”
“[Charity] conceals a stupid cruelty, because it is not courageous enough to face unpleasant facts. Aside from the question of the unfitness of many women to become mothers, aside from the very definite deterioration in the human stock that such programs would inevitably hasten, we may question its value even to the normal though unfortunate mother. For it is never the intention of such philanthropy to give the poor over-burdened and often undernourished mother of the slum the opportunity to make the choice herself, to decide whether she wishes time after to time to bring children into the world. It merely says ‘Increase and multiply: We are prepared to help you do this.’ Whereas the great majority of mothers realize the grave responsibility they face in keeping alive and rearing the children they have already brought into the world, the maternity center would teach them how to have more. The poor woman is taught how to have her seventh child, when what she wants to know is how to avoid bringing into the world her eighth.
“Such philanthropy, as Dean Inge has so unanswerably pointed out, is kind only to be cruel, and unwittingly promotes precisely the results most deprecated. It encourages the healthier and more normal sections of the world to shoulder the burden of unthinking and indiscriminate fecundity of others; which brings with it, as I think the reader must agree, a dead weight of human waste. Instead of decreasing and aiming to eliminate the stocks that are most detrimental to the future of the race and the world, it tends to render them to a menacing degree dominant.”
The Pivot of Civilization, 1922. Chapter 5, “The Cruelty of Charity”
– – – – –
Gotta love that feminine spirit. Don’t get her started on the Negroes.
Sanger was into eugenics? That’s what these quotes are leading to me to think. Robert, are these quotes typical of the tone of the book, or are they wildly out of context?
“ Don’t get her started on the Negroes. ”
I don’t see you bitchin’ about the “Founding Fathers” owning slaves and writing into Law that they were only 3/5 human, and how we should abandon democracy and the constitution because it was written by a bunch racist rich white guys. And why would you–you’re clearly pro-white-middle-[conservative]-male-privilege anyway, as you drop subtle hints in your posts, though you conveniently bring up a case of a white feminist woman, Sanger, who was a racist in an attempt to completely discredit her activism (like I said, though I don’t see you discrediting all that the Founding Fathers work for and look what they did on the side). And, predictably so, to start a flame-war to draw attention to your cowardly-self. It’s not going to happen, so I suggest you step off, or actually talk about the post itself and quit trying to start a flame-war to put on a little show for yourself. Find some other way to amuse yourself.
Sanger was a racist…along with many other white first-wave-feminist women. I’m not going to throw out Nineteenth Amendment or all that the mostly white-second-wave-feminist-women accomplished either, just because of that. Just as I’m not going to throw out the Constitution because the people who wrote were a bunch of old racist white guys with little and practically no regard for Africans, women, and other people who weren’t like them. Humans are flawed and the “norms” of the time in which past individuals lived, can be very flawed by our standards. But that’s life and history for you.
So grow-up, quit starting flame-wars on purpose on my threads in order to amuse yourself, or leave….
What if women took the time and the initiative to recognize their cycles and mucus consistency and could control their conception with natural birth control methods? What if women taught this information to each other and to their younger sisters?
um, don’t we call those women parents, just slightly less often than we call women who don’t use any birthcontrol parents? (natural family planning is 75%-99% percent effective, per ppfa.)
Lee, Sanger was a person with some pretty vile beliefs. Those quotes are the tip of the iceberg. That shouldn’t take away from the indisputable contribution she made to freedom for American women – but it is productive to consider the question of why she wanted that freedom.
I don’t see you bitchin’ about the “Founding Fathers”
The Founding Fathers didn’t die in 1966, Adrienne. Sanger is a modern.
If you want to talk about the legacy of America’s colonial period, it is entirely appropriate to discuss slavery and oppression and all the rest of it – to do otherwise would be disingenuous, unless you’re talking about educating small children who aren’t up for the complexities of life yet.
If you want to talk about Sanger’s legacy, it seems similarly disingenuous to completely ignore the part about starving out the inferior breeds.
However, as you noted, its your thread. I’ll bow out.
A relevant quote from a Planned Parenthood page about this question:
In that sense, I think the founding fathers/Sanger comparison is fair, regardless of when Sanger died.
In general, I think that slamming Sanger for her Eugenicist views is appropriate, although that’s certainly not her entire legacy. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem that the accusations that she was racist hold much water.
Even historian Edwin Black’s comprehensive book about the eugenics movement – in which Sanger is presented as a pretty awful person, a eugenicist who opposed welfare for the poor and allied with some of the worse scum around – found no evidence of racism. From “War Against the Weak,”
So was Sanger a racist? Well, by 21st century standards, yes – but virtually all whites of her generation were racist by current standards. That doesn’t change the fact that she didn’t advocate steralization of racial minorities.
Whoa! Adrienne, that hurt me too.
What is it about the truth and context of Sanger’s writings that are inappropriate to discuss with in the context of the thread? One of the aims of birth control according to Sanger was to reduce the miscreants in the gene pool. One form she advocated was of non voluntary sterilization of those deemed inappropriate for reproducing. She discussed this with among other people Adolph Hitler in person. (I have seen the photos.)
Why in this not germane to the discussion? I do not see how looking the other way or taking certain positions of hers out of the discussion will do any good if truths are actually what we are seeking here. I do not believe anyone here doesn’t understand that people even the best of them do some pretty messed up stuff as well. One of my favorite people to study is Eldridge Cleaver, when I relate his book Soul on Fire to students, is it more or less valid when I do it in the context of Soul on Ice?
If it is worth anything, I am interested in what Robert, brings to the table. I do no think that we all need to believe or have the same agenda to be valid and a place in the discussion. In fact, if what this thread is looking for is a love fest for Sanger’s liberation of the female sex, then what good is that as it simply isn’t so in and of itself? IMO, it might be appropriate to tell how she suffered and how she died as well, her beliefs had a price, or is that not a good message to learn from as well. Blessings.
Could you please provide a direct quote from Sanger, perferably one that includes a link to the original context, which supports this statement?
The full text of “The Pivot of Civilization” is kindly made available by Project Gutenberg.
The quote is “The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately. Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives. The male defectives are no less dangerous. Segregation carried out for one or two generations would give us only partial control of the problem. Moreover, when we realize that each feeble-minded person is a potential source of an endless progeny of defect, we prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded.” (Chapter 4, about 40% of the way through the book; just search for “immediate sterilization” in the e-text and this’ll be the first hit.)
Does she say the word “involuntary”? No, but “prohibited” seems to make it pretty clear that we’re not talking about persuading Miss Low IQ 1920 to submit to the knife.
We all owe Margaret SAnger a huge debt. She changed having children from something that happenes to you to something you decide to do. Her eugenics stance is well known and while very distasteful hardly detracts from her accomplishments, which have bettered the lives of children worldwide.
I’m not really into the anti-mass produced birthcontrol thing in the post. Must a true feminist go all natural? It’s a little bit of an eye-roller.
Point well taken.
The whole thing about natural family planning as an anti-corporate stance strikes me as too bizarre for words, at least in the context of traditional feminism.
What is Sanger’s legacy? Is it a virulent eugenics movement? Is it a well-organized racist movement? No? Then who cares what she wanted wrt eugenics when we are talking about the modern day feminist or planned parenting movements? Her activism has been put to better use.
Now if we want to have a discussion about Sanger the person, I’m all ears. Just as I’m all ears for a discussion about Ben Franklin the person – just not when we’re talking about his contributions to the US (except perhaps in passing).
Sanger is well known to have started out as a socialist and ended up as a capitalist. Her early client-centered idealistic phase lasted a few years, and it proved difficult to provide service. Her ideology changed when she tried to expand service – she started wooing philanthropists, who were by and large eugenics-minded, and eventually probably believed all that hooie. There was NO MONEY to be had for client-centered services, and NO MONEY to be had for promotion of birth control to the middle-class white non-ethnic population (WASPs). Any way you look at it, it was a devil’s deal, brought on by the general belief among the upper classes that the lower classes were breeding too much and the upper classes too little. And frankly, there is still a fair amount of that thinking today.
George H.W. Bush (#41) wasn’t a supporter of Planned Parenthood because he was a feminist, he was a supporter because he didn’t think that poor blacks and latinos should have children.
I don’t think it’s a problem to talk about the racism and eugenics POVs expressed by Margaret Sanger, at all. I think too often, it’s ignored by feminists when talking about her accomplishments, in the movement and that can alienate a lot of women. It also sets feminists up for criticism by the so-called “pro-life” movement that uses the racism and eugenics of Sanger and others to attack the choice movement and its struggles including abortion accessibility.
Racism and eugenics are belief systems which have pervaded political movements promoting contraception and abortion, to varying degrees, in different places. Not just in feminism, but especially in government as well. During the 1950s-1970s, sterilization was a popular tool. Those things need to be condemned as loudly as denying women access to contraception and abortion.
It’s a big problem where I live, because the high schools which are predominantly populated by Black and Latino students are hit throughout the year with antichoice literature that states the choice movement is racist and wishes nothing more than to eliminate Black and Latino populations from the earth. The silence from the prochoice movement on this issue, especially locally b/c of reluctance to criticize the beliefs of , just fosters their campaign further, which does many female students of all races a disservice.
(and if pro-lifers are interested in controlling women’s reproductive power, like they are, they are very much so towards women of color in terms of either not wanting them to have children or to punish them for doing so. They um, don’t seem quite as open to adoption of their children for example, as much as those by White women… so I find their sudden concern for the future existance of the Black and Latino ethnic and racial groups to be somewhat…insincere.)
Contraception and abortion can be a way to empower, even liberate women. They can also be used as tools to imprison, enslave and kill different groups of people, which include women. The intent behind their use is what dictates this, and that is what the focus of the choice movement should be. To allow women to be able to choose from all the options, and to not be coerced towards one or the other, by either force or through lack of accessibility or empowerment to make that choice.
I’ve had discussions about Sanger with other women. I had some female family back then who worked in the reproductive movement. But, I’ve learned through discussion, that there’s many women who view her very differently from how much of the feminist literature often has. That has to be respected, imo.
That’s not personal against you P-A or your words at all. Because I think you have pegged Robert, spot on in terms of his intentions on this thread. Just like it’s too important a discussion to ignore, it’s for sure, too damn important to use as a means to rile femininists up because you have nothing better to do with your day.
I was under the impression Sanger wanted all women to have less children but that it was more a matter of life and death for less privileged people so they got extra focus. If she were for white women having more babies while not-white people had less it would be clear, but I’m not sure I’d classify wanting all women to have less children as eugenics.
As for “charity” – I totally understand where Sanger is coming from. I used to work for Big Brothers Big Sisters and was proud to work for a nonprofit that is good for every kid, rich or poor because everyone can use a mentor. The health profession of my day job is similar in its all goodness.
My activism job, however, is not so clean cut. I get mad at half-baked plans to throw money at a problem that won’t be fixed without further efforts and whose problems could be exacerbated by well-intentioned recklessness. Too often I see these efforts as enabling abuse instead of helping people out of abuse because they’re stop-gap solutions that don’t dig deeper to the root of the problem and I want to assist people who need help without enabling their abuse.
Currently I’ve got several thousand condoms in my hall closet because while I believe in systemic change and attacking the root of a problem (lack of sexual education combined with sexism), I also want to provide what’s necessary to help people right now. But when Portland cops trolling for prostitutes find a woman with several condoms on her and arrest her for prostituting, I haven’t made her life better. I still do condom handouts because activism has to be diverse to work, but I won’t do them in strip clubs and I’m dubious of groups that focus only the surface of a problem.
The classic ad hominem fallacy is to attempt to discredit an idea by attacking the speaker. I don’t need to defend Sanger, or her writing, to support a woman’s right to control her own body.
I wrote a paper in high school on Sanger. I was appalled. My work was unvarnished, and got me a stinkeye from a feminist teacher (but, to her credit, a good grade). I’m many years out of high school, and I’m still for abortion on demand without apology and safe, effective, accessible contraception.
Amp. I was reaching back 17 years ago not looking in the text, I apologize for paraphrasing. Robert, Thanks for keeping me out of the stacks.
It amazes me the fear in which some white folks approach growth from minority births and immigration in the US over the last century. Dr. Graham inventing the cracker as part of a bland and balanced diet to help white men stay fit and breeding to stave off the glut of lower born. It is comical to the point of being scary what motivates people. What do we know from history… it has a way of repeating itself.
I view Sanger like much of the good that has come out of war. I find many of her positions reprehensible and abhorrent. However in her genius she did hit on some points needing to be addressed. The makers of war have in wasting much talent and resources on death, invented some things that have made life better for a lot of people. Does one justify the other? Or do we simply take things for what they are and try and do better? Blessings.
That’s why the post is entitled “the true legacy of Margaret Sanger”, and it’s about women’s reproductive rights–not Sanger’s racism, pro-eugenicism, and contempt for the poor people of Color (or poor people in general). Her views on people of Color and the poor were not uncommon among privileged white-feminist-women back then. This post dealt with her contribution to women’s fight for reproductive rights, not her racism and shitting on the poor. And naturally so, troll-boy Robert would cite something that was completely outside the scope of the post. As I said before, Robert–bow out completely or actually talk about the post itself.
This is ridiculous. There’s no mistaking that Sanger was a racist and yes, future generations should know that about her because it’s true, but this post was not about her racism or pro-eugenicism, and that should not discredit all that she did accomplish for women. Who wants to dismantle PP simply because she was a racist pro-eugencist, and deny women reproductive health care? I don’t see anyone else adovacting for the destruction of the constitution and American democracy because slave-owning white men founded it.
I refuse to go on defending Margaret Sanger’s reproductive rights activism, all because she was a racist–as if she was the only one to be so. Meanwhile other notable white people such as the Founding Fathers, who owned slaves and said that Africans specifically slaves were only 3/5 human, incur little or no screeching criticisms–such as what Sanger gets all the time–to completely discredit what they did, and we just go about glossing over that. It is convenient to cite and denounce Sanger as a racist, because she was a feminist who advocated reproductive rights–the very thing anti-choice, anti-feminist people such as Robert despise. And I honestly refuse to fall into their little trap and go on and on in a circle, defending Sanger (which will never work, because even if Sanger wasn’t a racist or a pro-eugenicist, they would viciously attack her anyway).
Pro-choicers and feminists waste too much time trying to defend someone that the anti-choicers and anti-feminists would attack in an attempt to discredit, even if the pro-choice feminist activist was not racist or pro-eugenicist at all. We see this when MRAs take the quotes of feminists out of context and twist the meaning on purpose to make them seem like evil man-haters.
It doesn’t matter–Sanger could have not been a racist pro-eugenicist, and have instead been a Mother Tereasa to poor African-Americans–advocating for their rights, not advocating wiping-them out with eugenics–and even then, the screeching anti-feminist, anti-choicers such as Robert would still wail on and on about how evil she was nontheless. This thread has been derailed long enough.
I’m a feminist, and I am pro-birth control education and rights. I also know women my age whose mothers were given “Mississippi appendectomies” and women my age who are still treated like their reproductive capabilities are a threat to white society. Sanger did good works, sure, but the use of birth control for eugenics is also part of her legacy. I can’t ignore or gloss over that and it bothers me when I am expected to in order to somehow benefit “the greater good.”
“It amazes me the fear in which some white folks approach growth from minority births and immigration in the US over the last century. Dr. Graham inventing the cracker as part of a bland and balanced diet to help white men stay fit and breeding to stave off the glut of lower born. It is comical to the point of being scary what motivates people. What do we know from history… it has a way of repeating itself.”
While it may not be the prettiest side of human nature, I fail to see how white people being afraid of being out-reproduced by other races is comical or amazing (which I take to mean that it is difficult to understand or comprehend).
It’s simple natural selection: races are, in essence, partially inbred extended families. People who want to perpetuate their genetic material tend to want to have their relatives out-reproduce those who are not their relatives. Throughout almost all of human history, this would be considered a perfecctly normal concern; and in fact, for most societies today I doubt that such concerns would be considered strange.
I’m not defending those who wanted to limit minority births; but it seems to me that such a desire is historically the rule, and that the desire to put fairness before one’s own ethnic interests is more the exception.
I disagree with your assessment of races being “partially inbred extended families.” Though it has been a concern for some, and even an argument for gene perpetuation on the cellular level, I do no believe it is a “natural” concern. The fact that people are often racist as opposed to “fair” in your words unfortunately is the exception, and that is indeed the problem.
It is comical (sarcasm) and amazing from the point of the level of ignorance it portrays in the utterly worthless energy expended and fears based on something that doesn’t really exist. Biologically race is negligible to non existent but based on behavior. Socially it is a construct, so is what we choose to make of it. Historically, bad things come from the desire to remain separate. Perhaps some day we can stop the insanity and enjoy and enjoin the diversity around us for what it is, fantastic. Blessings.
The notion that race is some kind of extended family is absolutely absurd and has no basis in science. I really wish that people who are going to choose to spout this socio-biology crap would at least be well-versed in sociology and biology.
FYI for Glaivester: Race is a purely social invention, not biological. The few phenotypes that make up racial characteristics are a tiny percentage of the genes in a human being. There is more genetic diversity AMONG black-skinned people from Africa than there is BETWEEN white, brown, and black skinned people worldwide. Any sense of “us vs them” from race is social in origin, not biological. This should be obvious to any student of history, at any rate. Closely genetically related groups frequently have feuds with the characteristics of racism. Jews and Arabs, for instance, even have a common origin myth that makes them descendents of brothers. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean people are all classified as being of the “Asian race” in the USA, but have had frequent wars and feuds and deep enemitys throughout history. The English and the French, both descendants of Celts, Normans, and Romans, have a centuries-long resentment towards each other and belief in the inferiority of the people on the other side of the channel.
There is no science behind your claim, no matter what words you choose to use and the way in which you fan your tail and strut around.
>>There is no science behind your claim, no matter what words you choose to use and the way in which you fan your tail and strut around. >>
Mm-hm. The “I want people around me who are like meeeeee!” motive is pretty common, and it’s entirely possible that there’s some valid evo psych explanation for it. However, “like me” is a question open to cultural answers. The fact that race is considered a more important distinguishing characteristic than any number of other qualities is cultural, as is the way in which races are defined.
Twice now, you have repeated the urban myth that the Founding Fathers wrote that blacks were “3/5 human.” This is not true.
What was going on there was pretty much the opposite.
Two background facts: 1) Representation in Congress was determined by population. 2) Blacks weren’t allowed to vote in Southern states.
Therefore, Southern states wanted to count blacks as part of the population (thus increasing their representation in Congress), even while not allowing blacks to vote.
So what was really going on was that racist Southerners wanted to “count” the entire number of blacks, while Northerners wanted Southern states not to count blacks at all. This had NOTHING whatsoever to do with whether blacks were “human.” It had to do with whether Southern states were going to be able to exploit the black population to increase the slave-holding vote in Congress.
In other words, counting blacks was the racist thing to do, in that context.
As it happened, the Northerners and Southerners reached a compromise: Count 3/5ths of the black population for purposes of congressional representation. But again, this had absolutely nothing to do with whether blacks were human.
Sorry for bringing in this side point, but it’s always a bit annoying to see people repeat an urban myth.
As if I give a damn now, I’ve pretty much given up on this thread. Like I said, this is ridiculous, and I really don’t care what is all talked about now on this damn thread. The post was completely ignored so just go ahead and drone on about other shit like everyone else.
I can’t either, Lillith.
I apologize for diverting your thread on Margaret Sanger. My bad, for thinking I could honestly express my very mixed feelings about her contributions to the lives of women. But I’ve run into this, before on other discussions on reproductive control and/or freedom.
It’s very frustrating to see how the antiabortion crowd out here can have a field day with the “prochoice as proponants of eugenics” argument because our feminist groups(be they what they are) are too busy putting their heads in the sand, about the history.
Since I’m not an unapologetic fan of hers, I’ll bow out of your thread. For me to stay and sing her praises without feeling some sense of revulsion is not possible at this point in time, and it seems at least as far as my own belief system is concerned, less than honest.
And btw, I can take any male figure in history to task for their actions. Maybe antifeminists like Robert don’t do this, but I do. I’m not thrilled being lumped in with him, as being “ridiculous” and “drone on about other shit”, but it’s not been the first time feminists have said like any time I deviate from one of the movement’s official positions. on an issue. And I’m sure it won’t be the last.
FWIW, if Sanger hadn’t been a proponant of eugenics, I’d be more in her corner, but she was just that, and to debate what I would do, as a feminist, if she were or she wasn’t, is just a mental exercise. It’s not reality.
Sorry for any role I played in diverting the thread. I must admit that I don’t have strong feelings on Margaret Sanger. I disagree with her on abortion and on compulsory eugenics, but I have no problem with artifical birth control (at least the forms that work prior to the nuclear fusion of the egg and sperm). So I don’t really have strong feelings about her. I will admit that not being sexually active, birth control has not directly played a big role in my life, so as an issue it doesn’t have the same personal resonance with me that it does with a lot of people.
As for the eugenics issue, it should be pointed out, in due fairness to Ms. Sanger, that eugenics was considered to be fairly respectable in the US up until World War II. In fact, if the Nazis’ actions had not caused people to associate eugenics and outright genocide, it might still be a respectable ideology today. So it’s not like her positions were exactly out of the intellectual mainstream of her time.
So it’s not like her positions were exactly out of the intellectual mainstream of her time.
Or the political mainstream, either.
It is perhaps worth noting that this was not a theoretical question.
Thousands of Americans were sterilized at the hands of state governments through the 1930s. This wasn’t just a chit-chat movement; this was actual doctors cutting into actual women (and some men) and taking away their reproductive freedom through state power.
Which, theoretically, PA would be up in arms about.
“Which, theoretically, PA would be up in arms about.”
The state legislating any kind of elimination to your reproduction choices–whether it’s abortion bans or forcing sterilizations–is something that I am no fan of. So yes, I am.
Adrienne: The trouble with hagiography is that sooner or later someone will point out the subject of any “legacy” had faults, often glaring ones. And it’s also a lot of the old sound and fury signifying nothing. It’s simple, really: Margaret Sanger advocated birth control both to free women and keep “moron races” (her term) to a reasonable number. If you didn’t want that brought up, you should have stated so from the outset in your piece.
Frankly, I don’t care what Sanger thought of non-whites, any more than I would let Henry Miller’s views on women and Jews to distract me from enjoying books like “The Air Conditioned Nightmare.”
It warms my heart to see conservatives foursquare against injustices that happened sixty or seventy years ago, in marked contrast to those of the current era– which they are comparitively silent about. :/
radfem is at least consistent.
I think what’s interesting is that the idea of a woman controlling her own fertility is so threatening—more threatening than the idea of a racist white man—that she must be attacked and ‘condemned’ over and over, while feminists bow and scrape in a way that men never have to. If you dare to unambiguously call a man anything even close to what women regularly get called, my God, you’re a man-hating feminazi bitch. And when a guy is unambiguously evil, he has to be separated from the rest of men so they can comfortably ignore any actions or concepts that they share with him. Meanwhile, women are forced to say things like, “I’m not a feminist, but…” Or “Andrea Dworkin had some good ideas, but….”
Well, screw that shit. Margaret Sanger was a product of her times and a trail blazer. Until each and every man of her day gets nailed every damned time his name comes up for his sexism and racism, then fuck it. Nobody ever feels compelled to talk about men like that. Men are not constantly required to apologize for their heroes’ flaws. Eldredge Cleaver’s particularly cavalier attitude toward his career as a serial rapist routinely gets glossed over, but that ought to be a deal breaker. Hasn’t happened yet. He’s a rapist. I think that ought to cancel out whatever else he did. He never did apologize in any serious way, so he remains a rapist. Where’s the mea culpas, the constant demands for condemnation? Nowhere, that’s where.
Andrea Dworkin is another good example. Nobody puts her in context. Men could rape women with impunity in the Seventies, beat them, and as long as they said “I do” first, it was called ‘life.’ Women could get fired for getting pregnant, couldn’t get credit without their husband’s permission, and were forbidden by law from numerous jobs. That’s AD’s context.
Context for historical males is a cushion. Thomas Jefferson’s black descendants got called liars till the bio evidence came up, whereas white descendants got accepted at their word. Best not to mention that he was bedding his female slaves. Not mentioning it every damned time is condoning it because of context. Doesn’t happen with female historical figures.
MS is the reason I don’t have kids, because I don’t want them. I will never want them, and I don’t have to have them. I cannot imagine what it mut have been like for her, in her day, when the crap we get is just unbelieveable now—Aegis getting his own thread, anyone? It just goes on and on, though, the demands and attacks, the constant sly manuevers to discredit yet another feminist.
We must be doing something right if people are feeling so threatened they must lurk and snipe here, yet can’t risk an outright attack. They have to keep their eye on us, they want to provoke us, yet they always avoid the frontal attack.
But it’s not as simple as feminists vs antifeminists. It bothers me the ways in which critiques of Sanger’s racism *by feminists* get lumped into the same category as right wing hypocrites.
Sorry, you’re missing my point, if that’s what you were referring to. I’m sick and tired of people like Robert starting flame wars over shit that will never affect his conservative white male ass because our rights don’t matter to him. Everything is his playground, even our discussions. He doesn’t give a shit about us. Let’s just make it all about him.
But stuff like this can only be a flame war if we let it. If we can’t acknowledge the bad along with the good.
But then I don’t think anyone can say that the reason they can choose not to have children is because of Margaret Sanger (or in my case Ettie Rout), or any individual. Social change is not made by individuals but by movements. If we accept that then we can accept that there are problems within that movement were not ideal.
If we only accept criticisms of racism (say) against feminists until men are held to the same standard, then that’s basically ignoring that we live in a fucking racist society, and if we’re going to build a feminist movement, it has to include all women, we have to have higher standards than previous societies, including about our foremothers.
I don’t accept an argument ‘it was just the time’ when it comes to sexism from anti-slavery activists, or socialists, so I don’t use that argument either.
I see this as wholly different from Andrea Dworkin, when people criticise Margaret Sanger’s eugenic beliefs they are not criticising her feminist analysis. Eugenics is about removing choices from women, so it’s not feminist. When people criticise Andrea Dworkin they are criticising her feminist beliefs, and thefore the ‘higher standard’ argument is
Once again, Ginmar is spot on.
And yet, the only time you will see anti-feminist, Right-wing trolls take any interest at all in the history of eugenics in this country is when they can use that history to try and write off everything that Sanger ever did and everything her heirs in the field of family planning are doing now. The rest of the time, they could care less.
Go figure. :/
OTOH, I have never read any post of radfem’s where she attempted to poo-pooh the history of racism and its attendant evils in the U.S. Ergo, if she wants to critique Sanger, I’ll pay more attention to her comments than to those of an anti-feminist troll who has made it clear on numerous occasions that he has little respect for women’s bodies or our opinions. Intent matters. Agendas matter. Surely we can acknowledge that without falling back on hagiography. Surely we can discuss Sanger’s troublesome views on race and so forth without pretending that she invented them, or that she was the most powerful figure of her era to push for them.
I am going to have to come down on the side of moderation (if moderation can be a side). On one hand it is a little like writing up a post praising Hitler’s leadership style or his administrative skills and just ignoring everything else. On an intellectual level that is fine, but in reality you seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room. On the other hand, is it entirely fair to judge a person of history with current values? Suppose in another 200 years the idea of keeping pets or eating meat is viewed as the moral equivalents of slavery and murder, respectively. How many would like to be judged as a person with that yardstick?
alsis (post #41): You couldn’t be more right: there must be some way to discuss agendas, intents and also legacies without hagiography, which I’d like to leave to Republicans. Maybe the only way to do so is to grit one’s teeth and say, for example, “Ok, Sanger was a racist eugenicist; so the hell what? Without her, there’d be no pill.” There are moments when shoulder-shrugging is all that can be done.
To hijack this thread a bit back to the original post… I really like this sentiment. From reading some of the other comments, I see I’m alone in this.
I hate the Pill. I’m very glad that it works so well for so many women–definitely not a bad thing to have a (somewhat) woman-controlled contraceptive method. So I’m not advocating taking it away or anything. But I’m not exactly jumping in the streets shouting that it is the best method possible for women. Partially, it’s because I think it’s highly unlikely that women will ever really have “reproductive choice” when there’s still a gatekeeper deciding who gets it and who doesn’t. I think the issues with pharmacists refusing to prescribe it (or, for that matter, how abortion rights get whittled away by “convincing” more and more doctors to not take the risk of performing them) show that you can’t have an intermediary there and still talk about reproductive freedom.
I love the idea of women knowing their own bodies well enough to control their own fertility. I love the idea of lay-women performing abortions, a la Jane in Chicago in the 70s. Alas, being a pragmatic soul, I recognize that idealistic hope does not an effective contraceptive make. I’m just unsure about how much I really trust the dismal effectiveness numbers on “natural” family planning (mucous method, basal temp method, etc). After all, I think the PP and other organizations have a motive (not profit, but ideological) to encourage people to use “acceptable” forms of birth control… so I do think it’s possible they low-ball the numbers a bit.
Okay, fire away! (I feel like such a heretic…)
I love the Pill. I am on it and have no plans on getting off of it. I’m all for making a wide variety of contraception available, since the Pill isn’t right for everyone. I’m leery of natural birth control–I have an aunt who practiced it and had six kids.
As far as the gatekeeper thing goes–it could be (and was) applied to voting. That didn’t make voting less valuable, it meant that voting was a real threat to those who’d block it through ridiculous laws. Same with the Pill–the pharmacists who block it don’t like the idea of women controlling their fertility. And let’s not forget, the women who did DIY abortions for Jane were in danger of being arrested.
Thanks for your words, alsis. I appreciate them. :-)
Well, I wasn’t going to post, but I just wanted to say that even if Robert hadn’t posted what he did, I would have still said something. I’m a woman who doesn’t need a man to do her work for her, yet I and others get lumped in with the antifeminist troll.
In part anticipating that, I hesitated for a mili-second because I knew that anyone who said anything that was similar to what he did would get lumped in right with him. And that it’s probably a waste of time to bring up these issues because rather than being seen for what they are, part and parcel of Sanger and her legacy, they would just be seen as contributing to the “trolling” and crap dropped on this thread, by a man. It’s impossibe for feminists in the presense of an antifeminist, particularly a male one, to break ranks and criticize something in the movement because then you’d be supporting the other side not your “sisters”, so the fate of this thread was pretty much set when Robert entered it, which of course is a win-win for him, I guess. It’s always the man who defines the thread after all, and how everyone will be treated on it.
So I should have stayed quiet, but I’m not good at that, admittedly.
Is it that a woman, can’t bring up these issues on her own! Or have her own concerns! As if we must all think alike, on everything! Well, we don’t. And I’ve taken my lumps in similar discussions on the choice issue so I’m used to it. And I don’t think that makes women traitors.
Sanger is a mixed bag for many women. Yes, she brought women the freedom to NOT have children, but she advocated that “certain” groups of women not have children EVER like other proponants of eugenics including the male, Alexander Graham Bell, I referred to on a different thread. And their basis was to purify the White race, to free it of other races, disabilities and the poor(who must be suffering from some defectiveness because why would they be poor?)
Women from communities and racial/ethnic groups that have known genocide might have very different feelings on the issues of contraception, abortion, and the belief systems of those like Sanger too. American Indians for example, many women were sterilized involuntarily well into the 1970s, at least. Are they wrong? Who gets to decide who’s “right” about a historic figure, male or female?
Though to some credit, I think Sanger was moving away from some of those beliefs towards the end of her life, and I don’t think she was a nazi sympathizer. The problem is that when feminist bury their heads in the sand about her, or try to paint her the complete opposite, that greatly helps the “pro-life” movement to come in and use her in their cause, to their heart’s delight, which makes feminits buckle down even more….and so forth.
Personally, I think it goes to show that contraception, comes with a warning tag. That what can be used to liberate us, can also be used to imprison us. Or to liberate one group of women, and imprison or even wipe out others. If that last sounds exaggerated, I think that mankind will live a couple of more centuries before self-imposed oblivion and who knows what our species can come up with during that time? Or what the term, “product of the times” will mean then. It’s not pretty now, not much more if any prettier than in our last century.
It’s crucial to fight to keep contraception as something that gives a woman a choice, and to fight any attempts to use it “voluntarily” or otherwise against women. That sounds logical, makes sense, and maybe I’m the only one who’s experienced this, but I’ve been in discussions with prochoice feminist women who think abortion accessibility and the ability to use contraceptioin is great, and then in the next sentence, they wish that the government would mandate the use of Depo Provera or Norplant(the forms of bc, besides sterilization, that are the easiest to force on women) for women on welfare. Is that really all that different than the beliefs of nearly 100 years ago?
(hopefully, the above, is uncommon. )
To forget that history because it makes us feel uncomfortable that one of our leaders could ever be racist, classist, ableist, dooms us to repeat it, imo, unless we remain mindful of it. Racism, Sexism, etc. certainly haven’t gone anywhere in the past few hundred years, have they?
If women come up to you and say they don’t like Sanger and consider her a hero because of the impact her and other proponants of eugenics had on their communities? What if they view her in much less than a positive way, and even very negatively? Are you going to listen to their perspectives, or are you going to talk over them and shout them down and say, yeah, eugenics sucked but it was the common belief of the time, and what we got out of her was soooooo much more important. Is that really educating women about Sanger, or insulting them? Does that help feminism be more inclusive?
hint: Mention Graham as a heroic figure in Deaf communities, and prepare to take some heat. One man’s hero is another man’s villain, and that’s the truth a lot of the time.
BTW,I’ll rip into any man, past or present, for the same things, lest my credentials as a feminist be called into question. Including two yesterday. *shrug*
But I don’t spare women criticism. I think that’s patronizing. And I can’t downplay racism, eugenics with a shrug of the shoulders and an “oh well”, because that’s insulting too. No, it’s not ALL on Sanger’s shoulders, she was but one of many male and female participants of the time in the belief system which embraced racism, sexism and classism, not to mention ableism.
Though I think one of the most valuable lessons of the 20th century, is that we no longer *have* to be a product of the times(though it’s debatable if that’s true back then, given all the social movements that occurred though racism, sexism and/or classism affected most of them to varying degrees) and our leaders no longer have that as an excuse imo to hide behind.
Just so you know, I did respond to this thread. My comment is #46, but it’s awaiting approval….
Sheelzebub–If you’re arguing that the pill should be available over-the-counter, I completely agree. My not-liking-the-pill is, admittedly, not only about the “gatekeeper” aspect of it. It’s also partially just the way my body reacted badly to it, plus the way it is promoted to a lot of young women on college campuses as *the* contraceptive of choice. (Which just seems ass-backward to me: I can’t imagine recommending any hormonal contraceptive, rather than condoms, to anyone who wasn’t in a monogamous relationship where both people had run the gauntlent of STD tests.) I think the mindset that the pill is the be-all end-all of contraceptives is common among 20-somethings. To the point that it makes it a bit harder to negotiate condom use: the common reaction I’d get was surprise that I wasn’t on the pill, plus constant conversations in a long-term relationship that “we’re past that stage and shouldn’t you go on the pill now so we can have sex without these yucky condoms?”
And when I look at how much the pill is promoted to women when it just seems like borderline malpractice–hello, I had friends that were completely upfront about having multiple sexual partners whose sexual history they didn’t know get told time and again that they should use the pill or take the shot–I begin to suspect that it has a lot to do with how men’s sexual pleasure has more value placed on it than women’s does. (Clearly, not every woman has bad side effects with the pill. But one of the very common side effects is reduced libido. Or depression, which doesn’t make you wanna boink much either.)
I’m not trying to say that having one more contraceptive in the arsenal is a bad thing. If it works for people, the better for them! I just think the pill is… not unproblematic in some ways. (I could write a chapter more on this, but I promise I’ll stop now.)
I swear I didn’t use any naughty words…or at least not too many….
Oh, and I’m sure natural planning fails (as do other methods). I’d just love to get my sweaty mitts on a study from an unbiased source that could really break down effectiveness by method (a calendar is *much* less effective than basal temperature, for instance) and by “using correctly” vs. “average use” and so forth.
radfem–haha! well, I can’t wait to see what you wrote. I’ll be waiting with bated breath :)
I have no idea what put your post into moderation, specifically. But it wasn’ t dirty words – dirty words don’t cause “Alas” posts to be blocked, by and large. You can say “fuck” and “shit” all you want, I swear. :-D
The computer has this big list of words that automatically get a comment put into the “needs approval” pile; most of the words are somehow related to poker, to porn, to loans, or to prescription medicine. If your comment happened to use one of those words, then it got put into “needs approval” list. Also if you happened to be posting from an ip address other than your usual ip address.
(For a while, every time someone wrote a comment using the word “socialist” it was automatically put into moderation, because the word “cialist” is on the list!)
Anyhow, once a comment is in moderation, it stays there until me or one of the other moderators approves it. And if we happen to be busy or asleep, that can unfortunately take a while . Sorry about that – but it really IS necessary. Sometimes there are hardly any spam posts, but sometimes there are dozens per hour, which “Alas” readers never see; the discussions we have here would be unworkable without the moderation program.
(Sorry about the digression!)
“And I can’t downplay racism, eugenics with a shrug of the shoulders and an “oh well”, because that’s insulting too. ”
This is at the heart of the whole Sanger issue for me. Yes, I agree that we should acknowledge the positive aspects of her work, and not pretend they don’t exist because of the negative aspects. But we *must* be open and honest about the negativity, and not try to downplay it with the “well, lots of people thought that way” excuse. Yes, lots of people in her day were racists, but I don’t believe that it automatically follows that there were no anti-racists.
Most people nowadays are sexist, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let sexists off the hook for their beliefs.
“I swear I didn’t use any naughty words…or at least not too many…. ”
Probably because it was long and I’ve been out, and not online. But I approved it, as you can see.
And gee, I just love the subtle accusations of me being a racist-apologist and even racist for not writing some long, drawn-out post about Sanger’s ugly racism and batshit-crazy pro-eugenicism and how I am no fan of it either (really I am not a fan of it), and never mind my past posts vehemently denouncing racism, especially when it comes to the Black feminist movement. But just pay no attention to that at all, and use one post that didn’t dribble on about Sanger’s vicious racism and her “sterilize the moron races” stanzas, to forever discredit me on the issue of racism and racial inclusion within the feminist movement. And never mind that I, a half-Black young woman who “looks Latino” according to those completely ignorant of who and “what” I am (and bitch about me so called “playing the race card,” because I don’t give a damn anymore), experiences racism quite more often then you think, whether it’s done knowingly or unknowingly by the perp, so I probably have a better understanding of encountering ugly racism then most of the white commentors here lecturing me about the awareness of racism.
“To hijack this thread a bit back to the original post…”
Oh well, I am shocked that someone would actually do this now. Should I just erase the post, re-title it, and write-up “Just a thread about Sanger’s racism and pro-eugenicism, and P-A is a blind, rigid feminist, who is passionately devoted to orthodoxies, and doesn’t give two shits about it”? Nice because yeah, that’s totally and absolutely correct about how I feel about Sanger. Puh-leeze.
And goodness, don’t you think if I had not added “true” within the post’s title and left “legacy” by itself–as in the ‘general legacy’ of Sanger–I would have been smart enough to include Sanger’s ugly racism? (because I would have included it, because racism was apart of the general legacy of Sanger)
[From P-A: Okay, this comment was mostly a frustrated knee-jerk reaction, so dismiss most of it as a hyperbole]
That’s cool, Amp, P-A, I was joking. I had a prior post held up by the word, “poker”. Which I understand that there’s a spamster who uses that word. Thanks for fixing my post.
Actually, P-A, I just have an opinion on Sanger which I expressed here. I didn’t intend to discredit anyone’s opinion on her, or their life experiences or anything and not you. If so, then I’m really sorry. But I didn’t paint anyone here as a racist, or sexist(well except Robert, and I was aware of what he was up to the whole time, btw). I don’t feel that way about anyone here, even those who disagree with what I said about Sanger. I was just frustrated by the narrow scope of allowed comments pertaining to Sanger.
Number one, I’m criticizing Sanger. Not you. If I have done so, subtly or otherwise, that was not my intention. But you set up conditions from the beginning that no one was to express any negative opinion of Sanger that differed from your own. I should have just left it at that, because after all, this is your thread, your rules. I didn’t know that I would be labeled as not only basically an antifeminist out to “dole out shit”, or now, as calling people, subtly or otherwise, racist. Or that I’m apparently now, going to be accusing you of using the race card. Why would I do that? I think that whole “race card” business is a pile of crap, so that’s not coming at least from me, just so you know.
Number 2, I’m a bit critical of the dynamics here, where just because Robert tried to flame you, which I believe he did, that anyone who has an opinion remotely similar to his, is contributing to his flaming. I don’t care diddly what his opinion on the issue is.
Number 3, her legacy is two-pronged. Hopeful, in terms of the continued fight to liberate women and keep them liberated, and precautionary, in terms of what can happened when what she’s given women is abused or misused. I don’t find that an affront to feminism at all. I was a bit surprised at how much I’ve offended people on this thread, to be honest.
But my opinion is just different, that’s all. And if that’s bad, then I’m sorry. I’m entitled to it, just as you are entitled to yours, though I do think that you are indeed critical of Sanger as well, as shown in your posts on this thread. And I explained my reasons why, and you can agree with them, or disagree with them.
I’ve had my head knocked around on Sanger more than a few times, by women who view her differently than simply being a positive thing.
I didn’t intend to discredit anyone here on the issue of race. I’m not any expert on it. I just have strong feelings about Sanger, after listening to how a wide variety of women feel about her.
Actually, I judge people by a sum of their posts, and I think you’re pretty cool, like most everyone here is(except Robert, who’s another one of a large crowd of opportunistic antifeminists looking to stir up stuff) and what a pretty good crowd of people there is here, whether I disagree with your posts or not and I’ve agreed with most of them. This thread just disappointed me, in terms of how rigid the rules were in terms of expressing views on Sanger, that’s all.
Oh dear, I used the p-word again…..
(no, not that one)
Point well taken, RadFem. Now that I know what you were really trying to get at, and not what I was originally thinking under a false assumption obviously.
Well, some times, actually most of the time, I do come on like a mack truck. No worries.
FWIW, I really do like this blog and the people here. Some of them I know from other places; others are new.
Always check your email list, when you send out an email. Always. I really hope the city manager and the police chief like the article I just sent from Yahoo on the national traffic stop study….. :o
On second thought….it works….***end drift
AB I am also disturbed by the way in which doctors seem to neglect the STD side of safer sex for heterosexual women (ie, condoms). I suspect you’re right about why that is.
About the thread in general…what Radfem said. She’s put a lot of time into articulating her ideas in this thread, and I appreciate that.