The second phase of the post-suffrage movement was one that had not been explicitly anticipated in the Seneca Falls “Declaration of Sentiments.” It was the birth control movement, initiated by a public health nurse, Margaret Sanger, just as the suffrage drive was nearing its victory.
The idea of woman’s right to control her own body, and especially to control her own reproduction and sexuality, added a visionary new dimension to the ideas of women’s emancipation. This movement not only endorsed educating women about existing birth control methods. It also spread the conviction that meaningful freedom for modern women meant they must be able to decide for themselves whether they would become mothers, and when.
For decades, Margaret Sanger (unfortunately, an advocate of eugenics – the belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits – sometimes called selective breeding, perhaps using forced sterilization or arranged couplings) and her supporters faced down at every turn the zealously enforced laws denying women this right. Given her enduring influence, it’s worth considering what this complex woman, who founded Planned Parenthood, contributed to the eugenics movement.
“Several years ago, Margaret Sanger was named one of Time Magazine’s “20 Most Influential Americans of All Time.” Recent articles have reported on an unearthed video from 1947 of Margaret Sanger demanding “no more babies” for 10 years in developing countries. Sanger shaped the eugenics movement in America and beyond in the 1930s and 1940s. Her views and those of her peers in the movement contributed to compulsory sterilization laws in 30 States that resulted in more than 60,000 sterilizations of vulnerable people, including people she considered “feeble-minded,” “idiots” and “morons.” A significant portion of these were racial minorities.
She even presented at a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1926 in Silver Lake, N.J. She recounted this event in her autobiography: “I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan … I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses … I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak … In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered.” That she generated enthusiasm among some of America’s leading racists says something about the content and tone of her remarks.
In a letter to Clarence Gable in 1939, Sanger wrote: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members” Her own words and television appearances leave no room for parsing.
For example, she wrote many articles about eugenics in the journal she founded in 1917, the Birth Control Review. Her articles included “Some Moral Aspects of Eugenics” (June 1920), “The Eugenic Conscience” (February 1921), “The Purpose of Eugenics” (December 1924), “Birth Control and Positive Eugenics” (July 1925) and “Birth Control: The True Eugenics” (August 1928), to name a few.
As part of her efforts to promote birth control, Sanger found common cause with proponents of eugenics, believing that they both sought to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” [Sanger became] a proponent of negative eugenics, which aims to improve human hereditary traits through social intervention by reducing the reproduction of those who were considered unfit.
Sanger’s eugenic policies included an exclusionary immigration policy, free access to birth control methods and full family planning autonomy for the able-minded, and compulsory segregation or sterilization for the profoundly retarded.
In her book, The Pivot of Civilization, she advocated coercion to prevent the “undeniably feeble-minded” from procreating. Although Sanger supported negative eugenics, she asserted that eugenics alone was not sufficient, and that birth control was essential to achieve her goals.
In contrast with eugenicist William Robinson, who advocated euthanasia for the unfit, Sanger wrote, “we [do not] believe that the community could or should send to the lethal chamber the defective progeny resulting from irresponsible and unintelligent breeding.” Similarly, Sanger denounced the aggressive and lethal Nazi eugenics program. In addition, Sanger believed the responsibility for birth control should remain in the hands of able-minded individual parents rather than the state, and that self-determining motherhood was the only unshakable foundation for racial betterment.
Sanger also supported restrictive immigration policies. In “A Plan for Peace“, a 1932 essay, she proposed a congressional department to address population problems. She also recommended that immigration exclude those “…whose condition is known to be detrimental to the stamina of the race,” and that sterilization and segregation be applied to those with incurable, hereditary disabilities.
W. E. B. Du Bois served on the board of Sanger’s Harlem clinic. Du Bois grew increasingly critical of American capitalism and foreign policy. He praised the accomplishments of communism in the Soviet Union. In 1961, he joined the U.S. Communist Party. Shortly afterward, he left the country, renounced his American citizenship, and became a citizen of Ghana in Africa. He died there at age 95 in 1963.
Sanger’s writings echoed ideas about inferiority and loose morals of particular races that were widespread in the contemporary United States. In one “What Every Girl Should Know” a commentary, she references popular opinion that a aboriginal Australians were “just a step higher than the chimpanzee” with”little sexual control,” as compared to the “normal man and Woman.” Elsewhere she bemoaned that traditional sexual ethics “… have in the past revealed their woeful inability to prevent the sexual and racial chaos into which the world has today drifted.”
In an extraordinary revelation in her 1938 autobiography, Sanger noted that her opposition to abortion was based on the taking of life: “[In 1916] we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way no matter how early it was performed – it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.”
And in her book Family Limitation, Sanger wrote that “no one can doubt that there are times when an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception. This is the only cure for abortions.”
There is no doubt that Margaret Sanger was a passionate and influential feminist leader but, the uncritical praising of Margaret Sanger is proof positive that the PLDC will tell whatever “truth” is necessary to further their ends, even if it stands one of the progressive/liberal icons on her head.
“In 1936, a Supreme Court decision declassified birth control information as obscene. Still, it was not until 1965 that married couples in all States could obtain contraceptives legally. What occurred in the 1960s was actually a second wave of activism that washed into the public consciousness, fueled by several seemingly independent events of that turbulent decade.
Each of these events brought a different segment of the population into the movement. First: Esther Peterson became the director of the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor in 1961. She considered it to be the government’s responsibility to take an active role in addressing discrimination against women. With her encouragement, President Kennedy convened a Commission on the Status of Women, naming Eleanor Roosevelt as its chair.
The report issued by that commission in 1963 rightfully documented discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. State and local governments quickly followed suit and established their own commissions for women, to research conditions and recommend changes that could be initiated.
Then: In 1963, Betty Friedan published a landmark book, The Feminine Mystique. The book evolved out of a survey she had conducted for her 20-year college reunion. In it she documented the emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were apparently experiencing because of limited life options. The book became an immediate bestseller, and inspired millions of women to look for fulfillment beyond the traditional role of homemaker.
Next: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. The category “sex” was included as a last-ditch effort to kill the bill – the proper term would have been ‘gender’. But it passed, nevertheless. With its passage, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was established to investigate discrimination complaints.
Within the commission’s first five years, it received 50,000 sex discrimination complaints. But it was quickly obvious that the commission was not very interested in pursuing these complaints. Betty Friedan, the chairs of the various State Commissions on the Status of Women, and other self-identified ‘feminists’ agreed to form a civil rights organization for women similar to the NAACP.
In 1966, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organizations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asians-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and tradeswomen and professional women of every sort.
During this same time, thousands of young women on college campuses were playing active roles within the anti-war and civil rights movements. At least, that was their intention. Many were finding their efforts blocked by men who felt leadership of these movements was their own [male] province, and that women’s roles should be limited to fixing food and running mimeograph machines. It wasn’t long before these young women began forming their own “women’s liberation” organizations to address their role and status within these progressive movements and within society at large.
These various elements of the re-emerging Women’s Rights Movement worked together and separately on a wide range of issues. Small groups of women in hundreds of communities worked on grassroots projects like establishing women’s newspapers, bookstores and cafes. They created battered women’s shelters and rape crisis hotlines to care for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. They came together to form child- care centers so women could work outside their homes for pay. Women health-care professionals opened women’s clinics to provide birth control and family planning counseling — and to offer abortion services — for low-income women. These clinics provided a safe place to discuss a wide range of health concerns and experiment with alternative forms of treatment.
Then, in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which had languished in Congress for almost fifty years, was finally passed and sent to the States for ratification. The wording of the ERA was simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” To many women’s rights activists, its ratification by the required thirty-eight states seemed almost a shoo-in.
The campaign for state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment provided the opportunity for millions of women across the nation to become actively involved in the Women’s Rights Movement in their own communities. Unlike so many other issues which were battled-out in Congress or through the courts, this issue came to each State to decide individually. [Why then is on-demand abortion and gay-marriage mandated by the federal government? Just asking.]
Women’s organizations of every stripe organized their members to help raise money and generate public support for the ERA. Marches were staged in key states that brought out hundreds of thousands of supporters. House meetings, walk-a-thons, door-to-door canvassing, and events of every imaginable kind were held by ordinary women, many of whom had never done anything political in their lives before. Generous checks and single dollar bills poured into the campaign headquarters, and the ranks of NOW and other women’s rights organizations swelled to historic sizes. Every women’s magazine and most general interest publications had stories on the implications of the ERA, and the progress of the ratification campaign.”
But, the leaders of the women’s rights movement had made one major mistake. Because of their own personal bias against men in general, they had made the movement appear to be a battle of men against women – even though it was the men who had passed the proposed amendment. A confrontational approach to getting support for passage sent the wrong message – that men opposed to passage were women-hating Neanderthals.
Opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment, organized by Phyllis Schlafly, feared that a statement like the ERA in the Constitution would give the government too much control over women’s – and men’s – personal lives. They charged that passage of the ERA would lead to men abandoning their families, unisex toilets, gay marriages, and women being drafted. How prescient!
And the media, purportedly in the interest of balanced reporting, gave equal weight to those, so called, deceptive arguments just as they had when the possibility of women winning voting rights was being debated. And, just like had happened with women’s suffrage, there were still very few women in State legislatures to vote their support, so male legislators once again had it in their power to decide if women should have their amendment.
After several extensions, when the deadline for ratification finally came in 1982, the ERA was just three states short of the 38 needed to write it into the Constitution. Seventy-five percent of the women legislators in those three pivotal states supported the ERA, but only 46% of the men voted to ratify.
“With the inclusion of the Civil-Rights-Act-inspired Title IX in the Education Codes of 1972, equal access to higher education and to professional schools became the law. The long-range effect of that one straightforward legal passage beginning “Equal access to education programs…,” has been simply phenomenal. The number of women doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and other professionals has doubled and doubled again as quotas actually limiting women’s enrollment in graduate schools were outlawed.”
Athletics has probably been the most hotly contested area of Title IX, and it’s been one of the hottest areas of improvement, too. The rise in girls’ and women’s participation in athletics tells the story: One in twenty-seven high school girls played sports 25 years ago; one in three do today. Countless young women now get full scholarships to college for their athletic ability – and almost all graduate on time (unlike male college-scholarship athletes where almost half fail to graduate at all). The whole world saw how much American women athletes could achieve during the last few Olympic Games, measured in their astonishing numbers of gold, silver, and bronze medals.
In society at large, the Women’s Rights Movement has brought about measurable changes, too. In 1972, 26% of men and women said they would not vote for a woman for president. In 1996, that sentiment had plummeted to just over 5% for women and to 8% for men. In 2016, a woman became the candidate of the Democrat Party. The average age of women when they first marry has moved from twenty to twenty-four during that same period.
But perhaps the most dramatic impact of the women’s rights movement of the past few decades has been women’s financial liberation. As late as 1990, married women were not issued credit cards in their own name; most women could not get a bank loan without a male co-signer; women working full time earned fifty-nine cents to every dollar earned by men. Today that number is above eighty.
Help-wanted ads in newspapers were segregated into “Help wanted – women” and “Help wanted- men.” Pages and pages of jobs were announced for which women could not even apply. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled this illegal in 1968, but since the EEOC had little enforcement power, most newspapers ignored the requirement for years.
The National Organization for Women (NOW), had to argue the issue all the way to the Supreme Court to make it possible for a woman today to hold any job for which she is qualified. And so now we see women in literally thousands of occupations which would have been almost unthinkable just one generation ago: dentist, bus driver, veterinarian, airline pilot, and phone installer, just to name a few.
Many of these changes came about because of legislation and court cases pushed by women’s organizations. But many of the advances women achieved in the 1960s and ’70s were personal: getting husbands to help with the housework or regularly take cooking responsibility for family meals; getting a long-deserved promotion at work; gaining the financial and emotional strength to leave an abusive partner.
The wisdom of the arguments opposing the ERA has long been settled as women have risen to the top of American society under the provisions of the Civil Rights Act. Having achieved the dream of the conventioneers at Seneca Falls, most American women settled into the business of pursuing their dreams and achieving happiness, while the militant feminists have drifted into irrelevance, though occasional whining can be heard. Suzanne Venker, author and cultural critic writes:
“Ah, the sad sound of feminist desperation …[W]ith Bernie Sanders giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money, feminists have resorted to shame-tactics to appeal to women voters. [Original militant feminist] Gloria Steinem told [liberal TV personality] Bill Maher that “…young women are only voting for Sanders because that’s where the boys are.” It seems women don’t think clearly when they have boys on their mind—says a [so-called] feminist.
At a rally in New Hampshire for Mrs. Clinton, [former Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright shouted, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” To which Hillary cheered in response. Nothing like a little intimidation to rein people in.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Clinton & Co. just dug their own grave. American women, apparently now even left-wing women, are not being the good feminists they’re supposed to be. Instead, they’re thinking for themselves. [OMG] And they’re tired of being told they owe the ability to breathe to the women who came before them. [But PLDC orthodoxy requires that one think what they are told to think.]
But Hillary understands women! She’s on your side! “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder,” implored Albright, referring to the fight for equality. “And a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done!” Blah, blah, blah. Can we get some fresh blood here, please?
My sympathies certainly don’t lie with left-wing women, but I will say this: they’re smart to forge their own path. While they’re no doubt concerned with some of the same issues [militant] feminists are, they clearly don’t mind if it’s a man who fights on their behalf.
[Militant] Feminists do. Which should tell you everything you need to know about the feminist elite. Hillary & Co. have zero concern for the women of America. Zero. Their agenda is different. It’s to push the men out and get the women in. What they want, at the end of the day, is a matriarchy. That is not what most women, Republican or Democrat, want.
According to The New York Times, a 2016 Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist College poll of Democratic voters in New Hampshire showed 64 percent of women under the age of 45 supported Bernie Sanders, while only 35 percent backed Mrs. Clinton in the presidential primary!
What’s happening is dreadfully obvious—it’s just hard for [militant]feminists to swallow. [Militant] Feminism, as they know it, is dead. Women have heard the siren call long enough, and they’re sick of listening to it. That doesn’t mean women don’t believe in equal rights. It means they know such rights already exist. It also means they don’t identify with crazy statements like the ones Steinem made to Maher, when she said “the road used to be a male province” and that “home is still the most dangerous place for a woman.”
The demands for conformity by Clinton’s henchwomen mirror that PLDC staple – anti-free-speech movements on college campuses, but are striking because they came from a former secretary of state and a feminist icon, both of whom struggled against demeaning stereotypes in their own careers. They now ape the sexists they fought. Steinem also insulted those who favored Donald Trump, saying they only liked him for his money. If he “lost his wallet, there would be no women in sight,” she told Women’s Health magazine.
The bullying smears backfired, but before the incidents give way to new outrages borne of Clinton Entitlement Syndrome, some context is useful. For one thing, neither Albright nor Steinem was thinking of former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina or any female candidate other than Clinton when they insisted on conformity. So their demands amount to a selective use of gender as a partisan club, which ghettoizes female voters.
The pattern is not new, yet it is new that it no longer works. Albright and Steinem are among the establishment gatekeepers whose power is ebbing. Acting like bitter reactionaries, they resort to intimidation.
The world is passing them by – just as aging “New Dealers” found out in the late 1940s. Part of their problem is generational, with Albright, at age 78, and Steinem, 81, stuck in a time warp while many young women say they are free to support Sanders for the same reason men do: They find him more authentic, and Clinton less honest.
It’s also true that Clinton’s political career is impossible to separate from her husband’s. Her first Senate race was launched on the wave of public pity after the Monica Lewinsky scandal – a long-term behavior which she enabled – and she cites her husband’s presidency as a reason why she should have her own. Is that modern feminism?
That awkward history has diminishing benefits for a new generation. Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski captured the moment when she aimed a barb at Steinem by telling a rally, “I’m here because I support Bernie Sanders . . . I’m not here for the boys.” And in a direct dig at Clinton, Ratajkowski said, “I want my first female president to be more than a symbol.” We all should.
Of course, in classic PLDC fashion, Ms. Ratajkowski soon became a target of progressive/liberal pundits and critics for being hedonistic while posing, of all things, as Lady Godiva on a horse, because she had dared to challenge the actually hedonistic (Hollywood lifestyles, support for legal marijuana, Bill Clinton, etc.) Democrat hierarchy. Such hypocrisy!
“When Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem tried to shame and bully young women into supporting Hillary Clinton, they inadvertently revealed a dirty secret of the left’s fixation on gender, race and ethnicity. They demonstrated that hiding behind the gauzy appeals to make history, is a willingness to use brass knuckles to achieve conformity.
In their warped vision, biology trumps individuality, and those who don’t agree are traitors to their gender. That’s not just unappealing, it’s also un-American. Our democracy is energized and more representative when no vote is taken for granted.
“Hey Gloria, Madeleine and Hillary: just because women don’t agree with you doesn’t mean they don’t know any better. It just means they don’t agree with you.
Telling young women who don’t vote for Hillary that they know not what they do—otherwise they wouldn’t be stupid enough to vote for Sanders—is hardly going to help you win them over.”