Essay, Research Paper
"A free race cannot be born" and no woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother"(Sanger A 35). Margaret Sanger (1870-1966)said this in one of her many controversial papers. The name of Margaret Sanger and the issue of birth control have virtually become synonymous. Birth control and the work of Sanger have done a great deal to change the role of woman in society, relationships between men and woman, and the family. The development and spread of knowledge of birth control gave women sexual freedom for the first time, gave them an individual identity in society and a chance to work without fearing they were contributing to the moral decline of society by leaving children at home. If birth control and Sanger did so much good to change the role of women in society why was birth control so controversial?
Although birth control and other forms of contraceptives did not fully become legal until the 1960?s they had been developed nearly seventy years earlier in the forms the are still prevalent today (Birth
Control in America). The modern condom, or ?…rubber was invented in 1870, but [it] was not the thin latex type?? that is currently prevalent in our society (Hoag Levins 2). An early form of the birth control pill, which Margaret Sanger advocated, was also in existence in the very late 1800?s (Birth Control in America). Contraception was considered an ethical issue, in that the majority of Americans believed it was a form of abortion and therefor it was considered amoral (Birth Control in America). The laws of Sanger’s day ?…forced women into celibacy on one hand, or abortion on the other" (Sanger B 3). Why did it take so long to spread and legalize something with the potential to better the lives and life styles of women and families in the early 1900?s? It could be partially attributed to the attitude of politicians of the time. President Theodore Roosevelt said "…that the American people would be committing racial suicide"(Birth Control in America). Roosevelt shared a belief, held by the majority of politicians at the time, that families of America should act, as Roosevelt put it "servants of the state; and should provide Children to build national strength" (Birth Control in America). This feeling in America was at the time when the industrialization was at its peak in the US and beginning to take hold else where in the world. This in turn had prompted an arms race. There for many countries felt children were an important part of building a stronger military. National pride to all countries was important. European countries were competing for space and power do to what Germany called "The War of the Cradle"(Birth Control in America). This meant the German government had begun instilling national pride and building its nationalism from the ground up. This was at the brink of World War One. However, it was not only for nationalism that the impoverished were encouraged to reproduce. It was because children meant inexpensive labor for the new industrial factories that were springing up all over urban America and the world.
There was also the "ethical" argument against birth control that seems to be mostly tainted with male pride. It appeared to some people to be
"…increasing isolation and mobility of the individual family" (Birth
Control in America). It allowed people to control the size of their family
thus controlling their life style as well. Fewer children meant less work
more money and more time for women. With Margaret Sanger?s work, and birth
control the family was reshaped in size from seven or eight children to
what is more common today, which is two to three children.
Birth control has always been present in society even if it was just a
matter of "Backyard" abortions, with coat hangers. These could lead to
fatal complications (Birth Control in America). Birth control was just
safer alternative offered by the medical world. There is still a morality
issue in abortion but why was it so with a type of birth control that
prevented the problem instead taking care of a pregnancy after it had
Perhaps this is because there were huge advancements for women that could come out of the use of birth control. However, only two issues were
thought of in earnest during the period of the "sexual revolution"
According to Sanger ?Birth Control is the first important step [a woman]
must take towards the goal of…[becoming] a mans equal"(Sanger B 1). The
first of which was birth control for the first time offered woman sexual
freedom. It was thought of by the great Sigmund Freud that men were the
aggressive hormone driven beings whereas women were passive and were to
accept their purpose (Birth Control in America). Margaret Sanger said
about a married women "having left (procreation) to [her husband] she is
exploited, driven and enslaved…" by his sexual desires; not only did this
make the sexual experiences not pleasant, but the risk of becoming pregnant
with out the means to support other children was always there. After all
"It is she who the long burden of carrying, bearing…" and caring for ??
unwanted children…" and it is her heart that will ??weep and be crushed at the sight of the malnutrition and tears that come from a child born into poverty?? with little to no hope of improvement (Sanger A 35). However, with birth control came the shifting of sexual intercourse from a giving on the
female’s part and a taking on the males to the concept of sharing in the
experience. Women no longer had to conform to the stereotypical name of
mother and wife. This was great news for woman across the country, but it
was threatening to most men. Sanger would argue ?…that sex expression is
the act of two [and] the responsibility of controlling the results should
not be…? put entirely on the shoulders of the woman (Sanger 35). When
sexual intercourse became shared and childbirth became an option the
attitude shifted from child baring to child rearing (Birth control in
The second major issue to arise form birth control during Sanger’s time was the sense of independence that had entered the realm of feminism thanks to the option women now had to gain control of their own bodies. Women no longer had to "…enhance the masculine spirits but to express the feminine;[the women's] is not to preserve a man made want but to create a human world by the fusion of the feminine element into all of its activities"
(Sanger A 36). The grow individualism of woman and the gathering support
for the feminist cause can almost always be linked to the new power women
had found at the tips of their fingers with birth control. A promotion of
the feminine spirit as a person and not as a servant to her husband could
be seen in all of Sanger’s writings on why the practice of birth control
?…though prudent…? was so important in creating ?…higher
individuality…? for women (Sanger B 3)
Another important points which developed from spread knowledge and use of birth control was it gave women the ability to work with out leaving
children at home. People felt these children would grow up ?… motherless,
fatherless, and moral-less…? with no self awareness only to become
?…the next tragedy of civilization…?(Sanger C 3) (Birth Control in
America).A report done on New York City between the years of 1908 and 1910 showed ??48,420 little infants under one year of age and 72,926 children under five?? had died(Sanger C 3). A woman would work, have children to come home too, and then come home to a husband with his own wants and needs (Sanger A 35). That is what would happen in the large industrial families. The impoverished in turn became the ill-educated (Mrs. Meehan). This in turn that the knowledge of the way one?s body worked and the wear and tear of excessive child baring on one’s body could not reach these people (Birth Control in America). Thus, the cycle of ignorance would begin again. Yet with an optional away for
women to control "…for themselves whether they shall become mothers, under
what conditions and when…" would prevent unwanted children and become "…the key to the temple of liberty" for women in America (Sanger).
It is true that birth control may not have been the sole factor in the women’s movement and freedom of self, but without this key element the
struggle would have been longer and harder. Birth control changed family
size and structure. It gave women a new sexual freedom with their own
body. It gave women a voice and their own identity, which in turn allowed
them to have an identity that separates from their spouses. Birth control helped shift slightly the balance of power from only being masculine to shared between the sexes. Margaret did so much to bring the issue of birth control and its benefits in to the for fount in her time. Her writings and actions better the lives of women in America then, and today more then ever. Margaret Sanger wrote the woman "…must emerge from her ignorance and assume her responsibility…" of her own body and "…the first step is Birth Control. Through Birth Control [the woman] will attain voluntary motherhood. Having attained this, the basic freedom of her sex, [the woman] will cease to enslave herself?[the woman] will not stop at patching up the world; she will remake it" (Sanger A 36).