My Fresh Hell
Life in Scribbletown.

Family Planning

2006-04-26

I was all set to read "Married Love" by Dr. Marie Stopes – you know, the book published by the Eugenics Society – and find some ridiculous but odd passages about how we are to act as one member of a married couple and then laugh about it and make a snide comment but then I decided to do a little research.

I mean, who is this Dr. Stopes? What exactly is eugenics all about, anyway? I mean, I thought I knew (and the research proved me right, btw), but sometimes it helps to make sure. So, here's what Wikipedia has to say about the subject:

"Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through various forms of intervention. The purported goals have variously been to create healthier, more intelligent people, save society's resources, and lessen human suffering. Earlier proposed means of achieving these goals focused on selective breeding while modern ones focus on prenatal testing and screening, genetic counseling, birth control, in vitro fertilisation, and genetic engineering. Critics argue that primitive eugenics was and still is a pseudoscience. Historically, eugenics has been used as a justification for coercive state-sponsored discrimination and severe human rights violations, such as forced sterilization (e.g., of those perceived to have mental or social defects) and even genocide.

"Selective breeding of human beings was suggested at least as far back as Plato, but the modern field was first formulated by Sir Francis Galton in 1865, drawing on the recent work of his cousin, Charles Darwin. From its inception, eugenics (derived from the Greek "well born" or "good breeding") was supported by prominent thinkers, including Alexander Graham Bell, George Bernard Shaw, and Winston Churchill, and was an academic discipline at many colleges and universities. Its scientific reputation tumbled in the 1930s, a time when Ernst Rüdin began incorporating eugenic rhetoric into the racial policies of Nazi Germany. During the postwar period both the public and the scientific community largely associated eugenics with Nazi abuses, which included enforced "racial hygiene" and extermination, although a variety of regional and national governments maintained eugenic programs until the 1970s."

Selective breeding. Interesting, no? Because on the one hand we have some fairly okay thinking here – birth control and genetic counseling, right? Nothing wrong with that. Quite the opposite. And, really, that's what we're doing when we choose not to have children (now or never): selective breeding.

But then it gets a bit slippery. On the surface, this genetic testing and having some say in how, when and with whom we breed, is good because it would weed out bad things like genetic diseases and other abnormalities. Or, on the evil end of the spectrum, certain traits like undesirable racial characteristics, creed, etc.

Can you say Third Reich? I knew you could.

So, then I wondered if this Stopes person wasn't a Tool for the Nazi Man. Whether she was paid to write a book that, on the surface would be full of practical information about married life and sex, but really was carefully steering people in a certain direction - like away from marrying outside your status, color, or religion.

But, as it turns out, that is not the case at all – though I found a bit of something that may have suggested that she slid briefly over to the dark side in her quest for women's suffrage (and who put "suffer" in suffrage?) and birth control. She was one of the early feminists, an educated women not allowed to use her education who found herself in a bad marriage that was annulled because it was never consummated. She eventually met Margaret Sanger, which fueled her campaign for birth control, married again and had a son. Her husband, though, after a number of years of marriage suggested she take a lover. They signed a contract that allowed her to have sex with other men outside their marriage. All this before World War II.

Here's a
brief bio
on her. You should read it. It's fascinating.

So the book. She wrote a number of them and couldn't find a publisher because the subjects were too risque. The Eugenics Society agreed to published "Married Love" no doubt because it fit into their plan: promote birth control in order to weed out "bad" gene pools and lesser populations of people – the poor, the non-white, the non-Christians, etc.

Here's a bit of the correspondence (it's at the bottom of the page linked above) she received after publishing her book on birth control:

On 1st May 1924, a twenty-seven year old wife of a farm labourer wrote to Marie Stopes asking advice on how to stop having children. The woman was expecting her fourth child and her family had an income of £1 7s a week.

"My children do not have enough to eat and I cannot buy boots for them to wear… I have got into trouble with the school, because my boy did not go, as I had no boots for him to wear. I wrote and told my mother but she cannot help me because my father has died and left her with three children still going to school. She says I must stop having children… Do you think it would be best if I leave my husband and go into the workhouse… so we don't have any more children? I have gone without food and have tried to win money but everything I try fails. If you can kindly advise me I would be very grateful."

How unbelievably sad is that? It should be enough to turn the coldest conservative bitch in hell into a feminist right there. Or at least a Hull House contributor. But, you know, people are funny. And, they often suck as well. As I'm sure you've noticed.

While I haven't done extensive research yet, there was a hint that the Nazi propaganda machine grabbed onto her book as it took up the eugenics cause (to put it mildly) but that's something for a women's history Ph.D. candidate to tackle. I've only just scratched a really fascinating surface here.

Here's Dr. Marie's legacy: Marie Stopes International.

Vive la Feminist Revolution!

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2:29 p.m. ::
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