A EUROPEAN EDUCATION: MARGARET SANGER AND THE TRANS-ATLANTIC DEVELOPMENT OF BIRTH CONTROL IDEOLOGY
During the early twentieth century, a myriad of progressive movements would form in the United States to better the social status of women. These movements had rich roots in their European counterparts and often fed off the intellectual fire that permeated progressive causes across the Atlantic. Margaret Sanger was a relentless activist who set out to emancipate women by advocating birth control. She initially promoted the feminist message that called for greater sexual autonomy Sanger’s feminist viewpoint would gain strength among the company of European intellectuals who shaped her ideas on both birth control and the importance of personal sexual satisfaction. A close examination of the sexual freedom argument is crucial to discerning Sanger’s own feminism within the context of other feminist principles.
Sanger was influenced by a variety of European activists who had a long tradition of arguing against a sexual double standard. Unlike American suffrage associations, British suffragists embraced the critique of sexual oppression. Sanger’s own frustration with the American suffrage movement and its lack of interest in reproductive rights possibly stemmed from her knowledge of the British model and British feminist’s active campaign for sexual autonomy. In addition, Sanger was also attracted to the writings of a new group forming in the cafes of London, Paris, and Milan known as the “New Moralists.” These New Moralists of the early twentieth century had a profound influence on Margaret Sanger and her argument for sexual autonomy. This paper will demonstrate the importance of these European influences on Sanger’s feminist advocacy of birth control as a means to achieve both sexual equality and satisfaction.
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