Thursday, January 7, 1999
Another feminist idol with feet of clayBy MICHAEL COREN
How often we praise those who so little merit our reverence.
There are plans to once again honour the founder of Planned Parenthood, a woman by the name of Margaret Sanger. She is lionized in many circles as a feminist pioneer who made it possible for women, and men, to have access to contraception and abortion.
Indeed she did. But what ideology underpinned her passion and her cause?
Margaret Sanger believed in the existence of so-called "dysgenic races" and "human weeds." These unfortunates were "blacks, Hispanics, Amerinds, fundamentalists and Catholics" as well as "Slavs, Latins and Jews."
Sanger thought such people were a "menace to civilization." They simply had to "stop breeding."
Her magazine, The Birth Control Review, favoured immigration restrictions based on race and published a glowing review of a book called The Rising Tide of Colour Against White World Supremacy, a fascist rant particularly popular with the later National Socialists in Germany.
Convinced of the need to do something about these groups, Sanger organized a 1925 meeting in New York of various "birth control leagues, race hygiene societies, family planning associations and social eugenics committees."
This would become International Planned Parenthood.
Sanger favoured the sterilization of "inferior races" and her intimate friend Ernst Rudin was to become Hitler's director of genetic sterilization. If members of the "human weed" groups refused to be thus treated, said Sanger, perhaps they should be forced.
She opened her first clinic in the ghettoes of Brooklyn and always targeted poor and minority areas.
"The mass of Negroes, particularly in the south, still breed carelessly and disastrously," she said, "with the result that the increase among Negroes, even more than among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit."
She continued: "The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population." But a prominent clinic director wondered "if Southern Darkies can ever be entrusted with a clinic."
Sanger condemned marriage as a "degenerate institution" and fidelity to one's partner as "obscene prudery." She wrote that it was a woman's duty to "look the whole world in the face with a go-to-hell look in the eyes."
She argued that a woman had the right to "be lazy, the right to be an unmarried mother, the right to destroy." She once encouraged her 16-year-old granddaughter to lose her virginity and told her it was acceptable to have "sexual intercourse three times a day."
She also believed the only way for people to understand the merit of her ideas was for the state to impose universal sex education and to slowly increase the type of education and the explicitness of its nature.
She longed for the day when homosexuality and abortion would be taught in every school in North America.
How proud she would be of contemporary Canada.
On a personal level Sanger was deeply unhappy. She neglected her children terribly and was not even on the scene when her daughter contracted pneumonia and later died. So much for her care for women. She became absurdly promiscuous, sometimes seeing several sex partners a day, and she also dabbled in the occult.
This sad but dangerous person lived until 1966, dying shortly before her 87th birthday. The North America she saw in her final weeks was exploding into the vision for which she had so hoped: teenage and adult promiscuity, the normalization of the perverse, a massive breakdown in marriage and the family, enforced sex education by anyone other than parents and latex in place of love.
In a way, she has won the battle. Pray she does not win the war.
By the way, after several telephone calls to Planned Parenthood I did manage to speak to the national executive director, Bonnie Johnson.
"A feminist hero, no doubt. A model for all feminists," explained Johnson of Sanger. "As to her comments about race and eugenics, they have to be taken in context. But do remember, we also had such heroes in Canada."
(Editor's note: Coren is the biographer of the author and social engineer H.G. Wells, one of the many married men with whom Sanger had an affair.)
Copyright © 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.