January 4, 2012

THE LADY WHO APPLIED DARWINISM:

A Life of Passion: Progressive Eugenics and Planned Parenthood (Angela Franks, January 4, 2012, The Public Discourse)

To a Sanger supporter, the accusation of eugenics touches a nerve. To understand this, one must grasp the subconscious syllogism underlying the emotional reaction: Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are progressive feminist institutions. Progressive feminism cannot coexist with eugenics, which is a malady of the right-wing. Therefore, Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood are free of eugenic contamination. QED.

Something new has happened over the last ten years, however, that challenges such easy assumptions, and both Cain's and Clinton's language reflected it. No one with any command of the facts can deny any more that Sanger was in some way a eugenicist.

First, scholars of women's history have begun examining the feminist movement with more objectivity, producing a new literature that is less afraid to detail the unsavory aspects of feminist history. Historical work on eugenics has also begun to shift: Historians of the subject have long recognized Sanger's involvement in eugenics, but had not sufficiently acknowledged her importance for the movement.

Second, as positive as these improvements in scholarship are, probably the most crucial factor in bringing about a more realistic and balanced assessment of Sanger and eugenics has been the internet. Sanger's own words are more accessible than ever (a process aided by the multivolume edition of The Selected Papers of Margaret Sanger). Planned Parenthood is simply unable to deny convincingly the truth about its founder.

And what is that truth? Margaret Sanger was many things admirable: a vibrant personality, a brilliant organizer, a canny reader of the temperature of the times, a woman who built powerful institutions in a man's world. But she was also many things ugly and even despicable: an egotist who frequently clashed with others; a free-love advocate who had a dizzying number of affairs and who hurt many men as a result; and a eugenicist who argued that "birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective."

Posted by at January 4, 2012 7:00 PM
  

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