One of the chief results of the Brownsville clinic was that of establishing for physicians a right which they neglected to establish for themselves, but which they are bound, in the very nature of things, to exercise to an increasing degree. Similar tests by women in other states would doubtless establish the right elsewhere in America.
We know of some thirty-five arrests of women and men who have dared entrenched prejudice and the law to further the cause of birth control. The persistent work in behalf of the movement, attended as it was by danger of fines and jail sentences, seemed to puzzle the authorities. Sometimes they dismissed the arrested persons, sometimes they fined them, sometimes they imprisoned them. But the protests went on, and through these self-sacrifices, word of the movement went constantly to more and more people.
Each of these arrests brought added publicity. Each became a center of local agitation. Each brought a part of the public, at least, face to face with the issue between the women of America and this barbarous law.
Many thousands of letters have been answered and thousands of women have been given personal consultations. Each letter and each consultation means another center of influence from which the gospel of voluntary motherhood spreads.
Forced thus to the front, the problems of birth control and the right of voluntary motherhood have been brought more and more to the attention of medical students, nurses, midwives, physicians, scientists and sociologists. A new literature, ranging all the way from discussion of the means of preventing conception to the social, political, ethical, moral and spiritual possibilities of birth control, is coming into being. Woman's cry for liberty is infusing itself into the thoughts and the consciences and the aspirations of the intellectual leaders as well as into the idealism of society.
It is but a few years since it was said of The Woman Rebel that it was "the first un-veiled head raised in America." It is but a few years since men as well as women trembled at the temerity of a public discussion in which the subject of s.e.x was mentioned.
But, measured in progress, it is a far cry from those days. The public has read of birth control on the first page of its newspapers. It has discussed it in meetings and in clubs. It has been a favorite topic of discussion at correct teas. The scientist is giving it reverent and profound attention. Even the minister, seeking to keep abreast of the times, proclaims it from the pulpit. And everywhere, serious-minded women and men, those with the vision, with a comprehension of present and future needs of society, are working to bring this message to those who have not yet realized its immense and regenerating import.
The American public, in a word, has been permeated with the message of birth control. Its reaction to that message has been exceedingly encouraging. People by the thousands have flocked to the meetings.
Only the official mind, serving ancient prejudices under the cloak of "law and order," has been in opposition.
It is plain that puritanism is in the throes of a lingering death. If anyone doubts it, let it be remembered that the same people who, a few years ago, formed the official opinion of puritanism have so far forsaken puritanism as to flood the country with millions of pamphlets discussing s.e.x matters and venereal disease. This literature was distributed by the United States Government, by state governments, by the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A., and by similar organizations. It treated the physiology of s.e.x far more definitely than has birth-control literature. This official educational barrage was at once a splendid salute to the right of women and men to know their own bodies and the last heavy firing in the main battle against ignorance in the field of s.e.x. What remains now is but to take advantage of the victories.
What does it all mean? It means that American womanhood is blasting its way through the debris of crumbling moral and religious systems toward freedom. It means that the path is all but clear. It means that woman has but to press on, more courageously, more confidently, with her face set more firmly toward the goal.
What is the goal of woman's upward struggle? Is it voluntary motherhood? Is it general freedom? Or is it the birth of a new race?
For freedom is not fruitless, but prolific of higher things. Being the most sacred aspect of woman's freedom, voluntary motherhood is motherhood in its highest and holiest form. It is motherhood unchained--motherhood ready to obey its own urge to remake the world.
Voluntary motherhood implies a new morality--a vigorous, constructive, liberated morality. That morality will, first of all, prevent the submergence of womanhood into motherhood. It will set its face against the conversion of women into mechanical maternity and toward the creation of a new race.
Woman's role has been that of an incubator and little more. She has given birth to an incubated race. She has given to her children what little she was permitted to give, but of herself, of her personality, almost nothing. In the ma.s.s, she has brought forth quant.i.ty, not quality. The requirement of a male dominated civilization has been numbers. She has met that requirement.
It is the essential function of voluntary motherhood to choose its own mate, to determine the time of childbearing and to regulate strictly the number of offspring. Natural affection upon her part, instead of selection dictated by social or economic advantage, will give her a better fatherhood for her children. The exercise of her right to decide how many children she will have and when she shall have them will procure for her the time necessary to the development of other faculties than that of reproduction. She will give play to her tastes, her talents and her ambitions. She will become a full-rounded human being.
Thus and only thus will woman be able to transmit to her offspring those qualities which make for a greater race.
The importance of developing these qualities in the mothers for transmission to the children is apparent when we recall certain well-established principles of biology. In all of the animal species below the human, motherhood has a clearly discernible superiority over fatherhood. It is the first pulse of organic life. Fatherhood is the fertilizing element. Its development, compared to that of the mother cell, is comparatively new. Likewise, its influence upon the progeny is comparatively small. There are weighty authorities who a.s.sert that through the female alone comes those modifications of form, capacity and ability which const.i.tute evolutionary progress. It was the mothers who first developed cunning in chase, ingenuity in escaping enemies, skill in obtaining food, and adaptability. It was they also who attained unfailing discretion in leadership, adaptation to environment and boldness in attack. When the animal kingdom as a whole is surveyed, these stand out as distinctly feminine traits. They stand out also as the characteristics by which the progress of species is measured.
Why is all this true of the lower species yet not true of human beings? The secret is revealed by one significant fact--the female's functions in these animal species are not limited to motherhood alone.
Every organ and faculty is fully employed and perfected. Through the development of the individual mother, better and higher types of animals are produced and carried forward. In a word, natural law makes the female the expression and the conveyor of racial efficiency.
Birth control itself, often denounced as a violation of natural law, is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives. So, in compliance with nature's working plan, we must permit womanhood its full development before we can expect of it efficient motherhood. If we are to make racial progress, this development of womanhood must precede motherhood in every individual woman. Then and then only can the mother cease to be an incubator and be a mother indeed. Then only can she transmit to her sons and daughters the qualities which make strong individuals and, collectively, a strong race.
Voluntary motherhood also implies the right of marriage without maternity. Two utterly different functions are developed in the two relationships. In order to give the mate relationship its full and free play, it is necessary that no woman should be a mother against her will. There are other reasons, of course--reasons more frequently emphasized--but the reason just mentioned should never be overlooked.
It is as important to the race as to the woman, for through it is developed that high love impulse which, conveyed to the child, attunes and perfects its being.
Marriage, quite aside from parentage, also gives two people invaluable experience. When parentage follows in its proper time, it is a better parentage because of the mutual adjustment and development--because of the knowledge thus gained. Few couples are fitted to understand the sacred mystery of child life until they have solved some of the problems arising out of their own love lives.
Maternal love, which usually follows upon a happy, satisfying mate love, becomes a strong and urgent craving. It then exists for two powerful, creative functions. First, for its own sake, and then for the sake of further enriching the conjugal relationship. It is from such soil that the new life should spring. It is the inherent right of the new life to have its inception in such physical ground, in such spiritual atmosphere. The child thus born is indeed a flower of love and tremendous joy. It has within it the seeds of courage and of power. This child will have the greatest strength to surmount hardships, to withstand tyrannies, to set still higher the mark of human achievement.
Shall we pause here to speak again of the rights of womanhood, in itself and of itself, to be absolutely free? We have talked of this right so much in these pages, only to learn that in the end, a free womanhood turns of its own desire to a free and happy motherhood, a motherhood which does not submerge the woman, but which is enriched because she is unsubmerged. When we voice, then, the necessity of setting the feminine spirit utterly and absolutely free, thought turns naturally not to rights of the woman, nor indeed of the mother, but to the rights of the child--of all children in the world. For this is the miracle of free womanhood, that in its freedom it becomes the race mother and opens its heart in fruitful affection for humanity.
How narrow, how pitifully puny has become motherhood in its chains!
The modern motherhood enfolds one or two adoring children of its own blood, and cherishes, protects and loves them. It does not reach out to all children. When motherhood is a high privilege, not a sordid, slavish requirement, it will encircle all. Its deep, pa.s.sionate intensity will overflow the limits of blood relationship. Its beauty will shine upon all, for its beauty is of the soul, whose power of enfoldment is unbounded.
When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race. There will be no killing of babies in the womb by abortion, nor through neglect in foundling homes, nor will there be infanticide.
Neither will children die by inches in mills and factories. No man will dare to break a child's life upon the wheel of toil.
Voluntary motherhood will not be pa.s.sive, resigned, or weak. Out of its craving will come forth a fierceness of love for its fruits that will make such men as remain unawakened stand aghast at its fury when offended. The tigress is less terrible in defense of her offspring than will be the human mother. The daughters of such women will not be given over to injustice and to prost.i.tution; the sons will not perish in industry nor upon the battle field. Nor could they meet these all too common fates if an undaunted motherhood were there to defend.
Childhood and youth will be too valuable in the eyes of society to waste them in the murderous mills of blind greed and hate.
This is the dawn. Womanhood shakes off its bondage. It a.s.serts its right to be free. In its freedom, its thoughts turn to the race. Like begets like. We gather perfect fruit from perfect trees. The race is but the amplification of its mother body, the multiplication of flesh habitations--beautified and perfected for souls akin to the mother soul.
The relentless efforts of reactionary authority to suppress the message of birth control and of voluntary motherhood are futile. The powers of reaction cannot now prevent the feminine spirit from breaking its bonds. When the last fetter falls the evils that have resulted from the suppression of woman's will to freedom will pa.s.s.
Child slavery, prost.i.tution, feeblemindedness, physical deterioration, hunger, oppression and war will disappear from the earth.
In their subjection women have not been brave enough, strong enough, pure enough to bring forth great sons and daughters. Abused soil brings forth stunted growths. An abused motherhood has brought forth a low order of humanity. Great beings come forth at the call of high desire. Fearless motherhood goes out in love and pa.s.sion for justice to all mankind. It brings forth fruits after its own kind. When the womb becomes fruitful through the desire of an aspiring love, another Newton will come forth to unlock further the secrets of the earth and the stars. There will come a Plato who will be understood, a Socrates who will drink no hemlock, and a Jesus who will not die upon the cross. These and the race that is to be in America await upon a motherhood that is to be sacred because it is free.
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