Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story, by Peter Bagge


Four stars, read in August 2015.

It occurs to me that a lot of our current problems are still problems because people don’t know enough about Margaret Sanger. The divide over abortion and birth control persists a century later because people (especially men) don’t understand how inextricably sex and politics are linked for women, and this is what Sanger spent decades making people realize.

She has always been a particular target of slander and demonization from those who fear independent women, so even progressives come away with significant misunderstandings about her. This graphic memoir makes a point of explaining context, correcting false information, and pointing readers in the right direction for further research. I dislike the illustration style, but the book is a wonderfully important one.

“Government and industry have conspired to subjugate women for their own selfish ends . . . They want us to remain baby-making machines in order to replenish their armies and factories. Meanwhile, established religions—particularly the Catholic Church—have interpreted the sex act as a sordid and animalistic function that serves no purpose other than procreation . . . the inevitable result being war, poverty, child labor, crime and overpopulation . . . while taking a savage toll on the lives and health of women and their children.”

“Are you suggesting birth control will solve all these problems?”

“Let me put it this way: They cannot be solved without it.”

The one major concern people tend to have about Margaret Sanger is that they think she supported the racist theories of eugenics of the time, and that’s addressed in this book. I can’t say that I feel 100 percent comfortable about it, because people I respect very highly have questioned her on this (Angela Davis, if I’m remembering correctly)—but the impression I got from this book is that her quote on the subject, the one that seems to implicate her, is generally misunderstood. She was, in fact, quite concerned about eugenics for that reason, supporting voluntary sterilization but specifically not forced sterilization, and questioning how we could let people decide whose genes were “superior” or “unfit” for propagating. This interview with Peter Bagge will give you a little primer if you’re interested.

“Tonight I’d like to discuss the morality of birth control . . . When one acts recklessly and irresponsibly we regard such behavior as immoral . . . except, we’re told, when it comes to procreation—the results of which demand the most responsibility of us . . .

When women first demanded an education, it was argued that it would degrade our morals. The same with our demands to own property, drive a car, and the right to vote . . . All of which has come to pass, yet miraculously society hasn’t crumbled. Yet those same naysayers are convinced that our demand for voluntary motherhood and dominion over our own bodies will surely bring about the end of civilization.”

VOLUNTARY MOTHERHOOD. Possibly the two most important words in feminist history.


Rad American Women A-Z, by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl
Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas, by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
No Girls Allowed, by Susan Hughes and Willow Dawson

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