Margaret Sanger and Gloria Steinem were the voices of their time. In 1920, World War One had come to an end. An entire generation of men was killed, and women were constantly giving birth or lactating. Sanger stipulated that women can only be free when they can liberate themselves from motherhood, and only become pregnant by choice. Gloria Steinem’s generation was embroiled in another war in Viet Nam, and the women left behind could barely support themselves because of discriminatory employment practices in corporate America. As it turns out, the only difference between 1920 and 1970 was one of degree as women were still treated as second-class citizens in the latter part of the twentieth century.
In “Woman and the New Race,” Margaret Sanger addressed the problem of involuntary motherhood. Written in the wake of World War 1, Sanger stated that women were simply creating the soldiers of destruction for the next generation: prostitutes, thieves, and murderers, unwanted and antisocial—destroying the world that gave rise to them. “While unknowingly laying the foundations of tyrannies and providing the human tinder for racial conflagrations, woman was also unknowingly creating slums, filling asylums with insane, and institutions with other defectives. She was replenishing the ranks of the prostitutes, furnishing grist for the criminal courts and inmates for prisons. Had she planned deliberately to achieve this tragic total of human waste and misery, she could hardly have done it more effectively”(Sanger). At the time, there were no social provisions for poor women with numerous children. They had to throw themselves at the mercy of the community, the church, or more wealthy family members, and they would often meet with derision or ostracism, especially if the children were borne out of wedlock. As one can imagine, supporting several children on a severely limited income is a difficult to impossible situation. Some women had begun to exercise their reproductive rights by committing infanticide or getting abortions. In a time when American society viewed women as little more than brood mares, Sanger believed that the power of deciding when and with whom to reproduce should be a basic human right. Rights in the political and corporate arena were secondary priorities.
By the 1960s, women no longer had to resort to abortion and infanticide to practice birth control as the Pill became available. Yet, there were (and are) still gross inequities in how women are treated in society at large. Gloria Steinem was a famous feminist leader during this time. She did not advocate the independence of women from men as much as she emphasized the need for equality between the sexes. Women and men must both be free to pursue the rights promised to them in the Declaration of Independence in order to truly progress forward in society. She advocates a social revolution as radical as America’s War for Independence, it is a very peaceful one. “The challenge to all of us is to live a revolution, not to die for one. There has been too much killing, and the weapons are now far too terrible. This revolution has to change consciousness, to upset the injustice of our current hierarchy by refusing to honor it. And it must be a life that enforces a new social justice.” Both men and women should be an active part of raising the next generation as they were in the agrarian societies at large. Steinem hypothesizes that many social problems at the time were
While the essays of Sanger and Steinem were written fifty years apart, both were concerned with the woman’s secondary position in society, and both mention a ‘rising in fundamental revolt’(Sanger). While Sanger was concerned with over-population, forced motherhood, and the lack of freedom women had in society, Steinem identifies gender discrimination in the corporate world, “The truth is that a woman with a college degree working full time makes less than a black man with a high school degree working full time. And black women make least of all.” During the 1920s, women were by and large uneducated about their reproductive capacities and they were forced to give birth again and again until they had more children than they could afford. At the time, women were just starting to recognize their rights as citizens. In the year this article was written, women finally obtained the right to vote. During the 1970s, women were seeking the right to a legal and safe abortion as “back-alley” procedures killed and irreversibly maimed many women. The battle rages on to the present day.