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When Sex Changed

When Sex Changed: Birth Control Politics and Literature between the World Wars

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    When Sex Changed
    Book Description:

    InWhen Sex Changed, Layne Parish Craig analyzes the ways literary texts responded to the political, economic, sexual, and social values put forward by the birth control movements of the 1910s to the 1930s in the United States and Great Britain.

    Discussion of contraception and related topics (including feminism, religion, and eugenics) changed the way that writers depicted women, marriage, and family life. Tracing this shift, Craig compares disparate responses to the birth control controversy, from early skepticism by mainstream feminists, reflected in Charlotte Perkins Gilman'sHerland, to concern about the movement's race and class implications suggested in Nella Larsen'sQuicksand, to enthusiastic speculation about contraception's political implications, as in Virginia Woolf'sThree Guineas.

    While these texts emphasized birth control's potential to transform marriage and family life and emancipate women from the "slavery" of constant childbearing, birth control advocates also used less-than-liberatory language that excluded the poor, the mentally ill, non-whites, and others. Ultimately, Craig argues, the debates that began in these early political and literary texts-texts that document both the birth control movement's idealism and its exclusionary rhetoric-helped shape the complex legacy of family planning and women's rights with which the United States and the United Kingdom still struggle.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6212-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “Setting Motherhood Free”
    (pp. 1-21)

    Virginia Woolf wrote this scandalized letter to her friend Molly McCarthy in 1923, as she was draftingMrs. Dalloway, clearly thinking about the social changes wrought to England since her own youth. InMrs. Dalloway, Woolf focalizes such changes—to class conventions, gender roles, and sexual expression—through attention to the upheaval wrought by World War I; however, as her conversation with her friends suggests, these changes also reflected the newly visible presence of contraception as a topic for publication and public comment. The “Mary Stopes” to whom Woolf’s friends look for guidance in avoiding pregnancy is British “Mother of...

  5. 1 “The Thing You Are!”: The Woman Rebel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland Saga
    (pp. 22-46)

    The biography of American author and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman might suggest that she herself was a heroine in a birth control advocacy narrative. Married at twenty-three, she suffered a complete breakdown in 1885 after the birth of her first and only child, Katharine. Though Gilman attained fame as a lecturer and political activist in the years following her separation from her first husband, Walter Stetson, in 1888, she maintained throughout her life that poor mental health following her postpartum depression held her back from reaching her potential for personal and professional success.¹ In 1900, Gilman embarked on a second...

  6. 2 “Six Sons at Eton”: Birth Control and the Medical Model in Joyce and Woolf
    (pp. 47-75)

    These lines from Shaun/Juan’s sermon in James Joyce’sFinnegans Wake(1939) remind readers that as birth control took shape in the public imagination of the twentieth century, the voices of Margaret Sanger (“Population Peg”) and Marie [S]topes rose above the clamor of neo-Malthusian, feminist, and eugenic discussion of contraception, and the two emerged as figures whose very names were metonyms for a new reproductive ethic. At the same time, Joyce reminds us that birth control politics as represented by Sanger and Stopes were characterized not only by calls for reproductive freedom but also by the discourse of limitation and correction....

  7. 3 “That Means Children to Me”: The Birth Control Review in Harlem
    (pp. 76-98)

    The first issue of theBirth Control Reviewdedicated specifically to the concerns of African American women began on an inauspicious note with this editorial from white activist Blanche Schrack, whose knowledge of the issues facing urban Black Americans apparently comes to her through … her cook. Though the birth control movement has been reviled in twenty-first-century conservative circles for its supposed promotion of “black genocide,”¹ readers of the 1919New Emancipationissue of theBirth Control Reviewwould be treated not to a tirade against Black reproduction, but to a paternalistic social welfare version of birth control politics, in...

  8. 4 “Unbridled Lust” and “Calamitous Error”: Religion, Eugenics, and Contraception in 1930s Family Sagas
    (pp. 99-123)

    One aspect of birth control politics that transcended national as well as cultural borders was the entrance of Protestant and Catholic governing bodies into the question of contraceptive morality. When the Anglican Church declared birth control acceptable for married couples at the Lambeth Conference in 1930, battle lines were redrawn in the struggle for control over the definition of marriage. Pope Pius XI gave no ground, releasing in December 1930 the encyclicalCasti Connubii, which defended Catholic notions of the traditional family against attacks by free lovers, birth control advocates, eugenicists, and feminists.Casti Connubiiidentified the “calamitous error” and...

  9. 5 “She Takes Good Care That the Matter Will End There”: The Artist’s Douche Bag in Three Guineas and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem
    (pp. 124-147)

    Following the Lambeth Conference and the advent of the Great Depression, which saw family size constrict in England and the United States, birth control lost some of the veneer of social scandal it retained from Sanger’s trial and the censorship of contraceptive information. In 1930, local health authorities in Great Britain began to be permitted to distribute information on contraception, a practice that became increasingly commonplace throughout the decade. Though access to such information in the United States was still restricted, a 1934 conference in Washington, D.C., drew out several public figures as supporters of birth control, including pilot Amelia...

  10. Conclusion: Birth Control’s Afterlives
    (pp. 148-164)

    This book attempts to document through literature a moment in the history of sexual culture in the United Kingdom and the United States in which not a method of contraception but birth control as asubjectrose to prominence. Examining the texts of birth control activism and the literature that responded to such activism, we arrive at the conclusion that the English and American birth control movement of the 1910s and 1920s put into public discourse one particular version of the association between fertility and sexuality, positing contraception as essential to a healthy, satisfying, and socially productive (hetero)sexual and reproductive...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-186)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 187-200)
  13. Index
    (pp. 201-206)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)