This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission. For a complete directory of all my Colson Center articles, click here.
Last Tuesday was the one hundredth anniversary of “International Women’s Day”, which occurs every year on March 8. On this day, various organizations throughout the world sponsor celebrations which, in the words of the Wikipedia, “[range] from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women’s economic, political and social achievements.”
That sounds legitimate enough. After all, who wouldn’t want to celebrate the achievements of women or the respect and appreciation we owe them?
I began to get suspicious, however, when the name Marie Stopes kept popping up in association with last Tuesday’s festivities. A birth control pioneer in the early 20th century, Stopes is best remembered today for her views on ‘family planning.’ But she is also distinguished by having an international chain of abortion clinics named after her.
An article celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day listed 1921 as one of the key years in the history of women’s accomplishment since it was this year that Marie Stopes opened the UK’s first birth control clinic in London. Nor is that all. Locals in Sierra Leone threw themselves into last Tuesday’s festivities, not least the “Marie Stopes Sierra Leone women” who, according to a press release, make up over half of the population of Sierra Leone.
What last week’s celebrations failed to mention, however, was that Marie Stopes was a social Darwinist who saw contraception and forced sterilization as means for achieving what she called ‘racial hygiene.’ In 1935, Stopes attended the International Congress for Population Science in Berlin, sponsored by the Nazi regime. The conference must have made a significant impact on Stopes because in 1939 she wrote a gushing letter to Hitler to accompany some of her poems.
Stopes shared Hitler’s desire to achieve a perfect race, urging the “sterilization of those totally unfit for parenthood be made an immediate possibility, indeed made compulsory.” Putting her ideas into practice, Stopes opposed her son’s plans to marry a woman who wore eye glasses lest he contribute to diluting the gene pool.
Marie Stopes was not an anomaly. As I pointed out in my article “Social Engineering and the Dark Secret of the American Left”, in the early 20th century almost the entire left-wing movement was obsessed with Eugenics, social engineering and race theories. By mixing the biological theories of Darwin with the social theories of men like Francis Galton and Thomas Malthus, many liberals believed that it was the job of government to ensure that the surplus population did not expand, especially among the undesirable races. “Family planning” played a key part of this agenda, especially abortion. When Margaret Sanger created the “Negro Project” in 1939, her explicit aim was to bring birth control to American blacks in order to reduce their populations.
Now granted, the organizations who sponsored last Tuesday’s activities have little continuity with the racism of Marie Stopes. In fact, they probably do not even know that Stopes held such views, as this has been a carefully guarded secret among Left-wing feminists.
Yet many of the organizers of International Women’s Day did share Stopes’ underlying philosophy. In the article ‘Celebrating 100 Years Of International Women’s Day’, the authors pointed out that, “the notion that we can do whatever the hell we want is only possible because of the women who courageously marched, shouted, protested, pioneered, laughed, loved (and danced) before us. It is their passionate spirit we celebrate today.”
It is perhaps appropriate that the article went on to list Marie Stopes as one of the women whose spirit they were passionately celebrating, for Maries Stopes was indeed a woman who embodied the ethic that “we can do whatever the hell we want.” For her, that meant the sterilisation of those deemed “unfit for parenthood.” It also meant child-labor among the lower classes and forced sterilization of poor women. For Stopes’ feminist descendants, it means the right to pursue abortion, lesbianism and pornography. Who’s to say which is right? Unfortunately, when “whatever the hell we want to do” is our only criteria for assessing our decisions, we cannot say which is preferable.