I admire Margaret Sanger, the radical feminist who founded Planned Parenthood.
She opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in Brooklyn in 1916, and nine days later was arrested, because it was illegal to promulgate information about contraceptives. In 1921 she founded the National Birth Control League, which in 1929 became Planned Parenthood.
Sanger made modern life possible. I cannot imagine a world without contraceptives.
Few of my college friends opted to have children: one wonders what happened. Was it something in the water, or was it growing up in the ’70s in a university town, with feminist mothers and political activist friends telling us it was impossible to get anything done for years and years if you had kids, at least until they learned to read?
I couldn’t sleep in graduate school: it was a rigorous program and I was vulnerable to stress. It was one of my main reasons for not wanting to have children. I was an insomniac, able to sleep six or seven hours only every three days or so: the rest of the time I quietly attended classes or work, went to the library, and just hoped I’d sleep at night. EVERYBODY knew I needed quiet. Friends would send me home if the circles under my eyes grew too dark and pronounced. I passed the Ph.D. language exam and then ran home to sleep while I was relaxed: I figured I had a window of about fifteen minutes before I started studying for the literature exam. One of my professors sent me home one day, telling me not to be a square peg in a round hole and to to sleep all afternoon and not touch my homework till night. (He was the most brilliant professor we ever had, we all agreed, but he left his tenured job, so I suppose he was a square peg, too).
All that because I couldn’t sleep in graduate school.
Why? Because I’m middle-class? The world is overpopulated anyway.
Recently I yanked Sanger’s autobiography off my shelf as a gesture of protest against the Republicans’ campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood, and against pressure in general.
It is a good read, and there’s plenty of non-political stuff, too. Did you know she had an affair with H. G. Wells? And he also helped her with her birth control work.
Then I read on because I missed the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Rally.
I got a phone call in August. The caller said she had my name from a Planned Parenthood list, that there would be a national Planned Parenthood bus rally “next Thursday,” and they needed my support. I said I’d go, I had always been a Planned Parenthood supporter, but which Thursday? She didn’t have the date, so I suggested some dates and we decided on one. Where? She told me vaguely, in front of the State house, on the west side, I think.
I’d probably be equally bad on the phone, but when I’ve done volunteer work the calls have been scripted. So I was a little taken aback.
I called the local Planned Parenthood office for information about the rally. The receptionist knew nothing about it, so she transferred me to someone who, it turned out, was a phone counselor, and he knew nothing about it. He said tiredly, like someone who disliked his job, that someone would call me back.
No one called me back.
There was no information at the Planned Parenthood website. I learned that an anti-choice bus tour group of fanatics had breezed through town: the group was trying to destroy Planned Parenthood. When you google Planned Parenthood rally, the anti-choice groups come up first. They’re fanatics, and somehow have rigged it. Google should repair that. It’s annoying.
So who had called me about the rally? And then I forgot about it.
When I read about the national Planned Parenthood bus tour rally in the paper 10 days later, I was very sorry I missed it. I LIKE rallies. And I loved the photo in the paper of a woman with a sign that said, Keep Your Mitt off My Lady Parts.
This is such a strange campaign year. Planned Parenthood is a fairly innocuous do-gooder organization–birth control, cancer screenings, women’s health care, abortion counseling. There’s nothing new or radical about any of these issues. What DO the Republicans intend to do to help women who need contraceptives, who can’t afford or don’t want children, and who need to protect themselves against STDs or cancer? They’re certainly not going to let any of them go on the dole.
There wasn’t a Planned Parenthood office in my hometown–we went to the local women’s clinic or Student Health. A radical friend told us NOT to take the pill, because the hormones were dangerous and cancer-causing, so we all threw away our pills and used diaphragms. Read Our Bodies, Ourselves. We were a well-informed generation.
And we all worked for abortion rights. We stood behind tables, saying “Keep abortion safe and legal,” and asking people to sign petitions and postcards. I dressed up in a suit to confuse the priggish anti-choicers, who had a table across the hall, and didn’t quite know who I was, but I wasn’t supposed to dress like them. The anti-choice group was giving away doughnuts. We didn’t give away any food.
“In my favorite scene, Kay and Dottie go together to be fitted for diaphragms (still the best form of birth control). Dottie has researched the history of contraception, from plugs used by the ancient Egyptians to Margaret Sanger’s discovery of the diaphragm in Holland.
“But practicing the insertion isn’t easy for Dottie.
Her bad moment came when she was learning how to insert the pessary by herself…. As she was trying to fold the pessary, the slippery thing, all covered with jelly, jumped out of her grasp and shot across the room and hit the sterilizer. Dottie could have died. But apparently this was nothing new to the doctor and the nurse. “Try again, Dorothy,” said the doctor calmly, selecting another diaphragm of the right size from the drawer.
So we must elect Democrats to keep Dottie’s diaphragm safe and legal. Good luck, future generations. We’re menopausal now, and the onus is on you.