Thursday, June 5, 2014

Marie Stopes--Feminist Icon

Can a movement ever divorce itself from its founders and their intellectual and philosophical foundations? Can the founder, through his or her writings, selection of leaders and followers, and central mission, continue to influence a movement long after his or death?

Marie Stopes is a feminist icon. She was a scientist who distinguished herself in the field of coal and coal research.  However, it was her role in writing about birth control and founding a birth control clinic in London for which she is remembered today. Marie Stopes International still offers "family planning services"--including abortions--in England and in the third world.

She was, however, a failure as a human being. The Daily Mail writes of her:
She was anti-Semitic and believed fervently in eugenics — or “improving” the human population through selective breeding. Though she made her name as a marital expert she publicly humiliated her two husbands.  
The greatest irony of all though, was that the woman who wrote another bestseller, Wise Parenthood was an atrocious mother. 
She treated her only son as a social experiment, dressing him up in girl’s clothes, choosing, and then discarding, adoptive brothers for him, and later cruelly victimising his wife.  
When Marie Stopes died in 1958, at the age of 77, her son found she had cut him out of much of her will, she had remained so angry at his marriage. 
That son, Dr Harry Stopes-Roe has just died aged 90. Remarkably, not only did he survive his mother’s wicked treatment, but he flourished as a philosopher and remained happily married to his own wife for nearly 70 years. He even defended his mother against riticism and censure.

... When Harry fell for childhood friend Mary Eyre Wallis, daughter of Sir Barnes Wallis, inventor of the bouncing bomb, his mother reacted with fury. 
Mary was short-sighted — a sign of terrible genetic weakness, according to Stopes’s unpalatable eugenicist views.  
She wrote: ‘Mary and Harry are quite callous about both the wrong to their children, the wrong to my family, and the eugenic crime.’ 
Stopes was a fellow of the Eugenics Society and, in 1921, founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress.  
Its aim was to promote eugenic birth control. She backed ‘the sterilisation of those totally unfit for parenthood [including] the inferior, the depraved, and the feeble-minded’. She believed, too, in the idea of ‘racial degeneration’, caused by sexually-transmitted diseases and ‘overcrowding’.  
She refused to have a Jewish refugee child to lunch during World War  II, saying it would offend guests. In 1942, she wrote a poem which said: ‘Catholics, Prussians / The Jews and the Russians / All are a curse / Or something worse.’ 
She even sent a copy of a collection of her poems, Love Songs For Young Lovers, to Hitler, whom she greatly admired.  
She wrote: ‘Dear Herr Hitler, Love is the greatest thing in the world: so will you accept from me these [poems] that you may allow the young people of your nation to have them?
‘The young must learn love from the particular till they are wise enough for the universal. I hope too that you yourself may find something to enjoy in the book.’
So incensed was she by her daughter-in-law’s supposed genetic weakness, that she refused to attend the wedding. And, when Stopes died of breast cancer a decade later, she cut Harry out of her will almost entirely because she believed ‘he had betrayed her by this marriage’.

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