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Eugenic Feminism

Eugenic Feminism: Reproductive Nationalism in the United States and India

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Eugenic Feminism
    Book Description:

    Asha Nadkarni contends that whenever feminists lay claim to citizenship based on women's biological ability to "reproduce the nation" they are participating in a eugenic project-sanctioning reproduction by some and prohibiting it by others. Employing a wide range of sources from the United States and India, Nadkarni shows how the exclusionary impulse of eugenics is embedded within the terms of nationalist feminism.

    Nadkarni reveals connections between U.S. and Indian nationalist feminisms from the late nineteenth century through the 1970s, demonstrating that both call for feminist citizenship centered on the reproductive body as the origin of the nation. She juxtaposes U.S. and Indian feminists (and antifeminists) in provocative and productive ways: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's utopian novels regard eugenic reproduction as a vital form of national production; Sarojini Naidu's political speeches and poetry posit liberated Indian women as active agents of a nationalist and feminist modernity predating that of the West; and Katherine Mayo's 1927 Mother India warns white U.S. women that Indian reproduction is a "world menace." In addition, Nadkarni traces the refashioning of the iconMother India, first in Mehboob Khan's 1957 filmMother Indiaand Kamala Markandaya's 1954 novelNectar in a Sieve, and later in Indira Gandhi's self-fashioning as Mother India during the Emergency from 1975 to 1977.

    By uncovering an understudied history of feminist interactivity between the United States and India,Eugenic Feminismbrings new depth both to our understanding of the complicated relationship between the two nations and to contemporary feminism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4141-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION Eugenic Feminism and the Problem of National Development
    (pp. 1-32)

    Speaking in a 1935 radio broadcast in Bombay titled “What Birth Control Can Do for India,” American birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger outlined the importance of reproductive control to the incipient Indian nation. Long sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence (at this point still twelve years away), Sanger trotted out the usual arguments about the necessity of birth control for maternal and familial health. Eugenic concerns, however, were at the forefront of her address. Saying she is “[bringing] this message at a critical time in [India’s] history,” Sanger proposed that “[India’s] first consideration must be the primary one of...

  4. 1 PERFECTING FEMINISM: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Eugenic Utopias
    (pp. 33-64)

    In a 1895 poem titled “The Burden of Mothers: A Clarion Call to Redeem the Race!,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman characteristically places women’s reproductive powers at the center of nation building. On the grounds that “through [women] comes the race” (8), she insists as long as women are “fettered with gold or with iron” (7) humanity will be “besotted, and brutish, and blind” (14). But while her address is ostensibly to the entire human “race,” her model is more national than global. Asserting that “No nation, wise, noble and brave / Ever sprang—tho’ the father had freedom—/ From the...

  5. 2 REGENERATING FEMINISM: Sarojini Naidu’s Eugenic Feminist Renaissance
    (pp. 65-98)

    Speaking in London in 1913, Indian nationalist and poet Sarojini Naidu challenges the notion that Indian women are hostages of tradition, patiently awaiting enlightenment from the West. Instead she traces a feminist genealogy to India’s distant past, insisting that “all these new ideas about the essential equality of man and woman and their cooperation in every sphere of life, are not at the least, new to us. Hundred years ago the foundation of Indian civilization was laid on this very basis.”¹ Figuring gender equality as the “foundation of [an] Indian civilization” only recently compromised by colonial rule, Naidu rejects an...

  6. 3 “WORLD MENACE”: National Reproduction, Public Health, and the Mother India Debate
    (pp. 99-132)

    The controversy surrounding the 1927 publication of Katherine Mayo’sMother Indiawas arguably the most important preindependence event between U.S. and Indian feminisms. An imperialist polemic against Indian self-rule thinly disguised as journalistic exposé,Mother India’s portrayal of the subcontinent as a cesspool of perverse reproductive practices and contagious diseases defined U.S. views of India for decades to come. Claiming to reveal “the truth about the sex life, child marriages, hygiene, cruelty, religious customs, of onesixth of the world’s population,”¹ its lurid subject matter led, in part, to its immense popularity. Reprinted nine times within its first year of publication...

  7. 4 THE VANISHING PEASANT MOTHER: Reimagining Mother India for the 1950s
    (pp. 133-172)

    Despite the formal equality granted to women by the Indian Constitution and the continued visibility of elite nationalist feminists in politics, the decades following Indian independence have been labeled the “‘silent period’ of the women’s movement.”¹ The mainstream women’s organizations (such as the All-India Women’s Conference) became institutionalized into primarily welfarist bureaucracies in the service of the Congress government, while more radical feminists turned their energies to other organizations and causes.² This “lull” is variously attributed to the traumatic aftermath of partition, disappointment at the dilution of the Hindu Civil Code, and faith in the new nation to right the...

  8. 5 SEVERED LIMBS, SEVERED LEGACIES: Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and the Problem of Subalternity
    (pp. 173-200)

    On August 15, 1975, just a little less than two months after her declaration of a state of Emergency, Indira Gandhi gave an Independence Day address at the Red Fort in Delhi. In it, she outlined a new vision for democracy and independence for the postcolonial nation, arguing, “Independence does not merely mean a Government by Indians. It means that the Government should be capable of taking independent decisions courageously.”¹ Her assertion of governmental independence at once resonates with the event (after all, she is speaking on the twenty-eighth anniversary of Indian independence) and describes a model of government curiously...

  9. EPILOGUE Transnational Surrogacy and the Neoliberal Mother India
    (pp. 201-212)

    Zippi Brand Frank’s 2009 documentaryGoogle Babyopens with this meliorist account of how technology has transformed reproduction into an act determined less by chance than by the market. In doing so it draws a series of equivalences between different historical moments and technologies, comparing the 1960s invention of the birth control pill (with its feminist implications of taking away the “risk” of unintended pregnancies), to new reproductive technologies for “making babies.” The inexorable logic of this movement elides the very different implications of these technologies and moments, not least of which is how new reproductive technologies translate the contingencies...

    (pp. 213-216)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 217-250)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 251-264)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)