Opposition arguments to birth control were similar in Japan and in the U.S. Opponents were apt to conflate abortion and birth control, blame contraception for increased promiscuity, and accept race suicide theories. In her opposition to birth control, espoused in "Voluntary Motherhood," Yamada, a feminist who escaped a life of prostitution, resembled many nineteenth-century American feminists and purity advocates who recognized women's sexuality but emphasized the spirituality of sexual relations. For them, birth control left women vulnerable by eliminating the one circumstance under which women could deny husbands sexual advances--the risk of pregnancy. As the following article shows, for Yamada birth control undermined the need for everyone to strengthen themselves morally through self-control and personal responsibility.
AGAINST BIRTH CONTROL
Condemns Mrs. Sanger's Propaganda.
Miss Waka Yamada, one of the leading women writers in the Japanese press, has an article in the Sunday magazine of the Tokyo Nichi Nichi in which she severely criticizes birth control. A translation, slightly abridged, follows:
The birth control propaganda is liable to kill the continence which is necessary for spiritual advancement. In short, the theory of birth control treats mankind like animals. It disregards the fact that the value of human beings is that the spirit can control the body, and it is an attempt to make man surrender to the sexual desire. It is reported that there are from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 cases of abortion annually in America. Everybody knows that abortion endangers the life of the mother and is a criminal act. If a method be allowed by which the animal instinct can be satisfied without involving suffering or crime, to what extent would the abuse of sex be indulged in? There would then be no spiritual advancement to be seen and man would become like the animal, and in most instances woman would be made the sacrifice.
With a few exceptions, generally the weaker sex is the owner of a spiritual love and the stronger sex of a sensual love. The spiritual love of the tender sex will be trifled with as the result of unrestrained practice of the sensual love on the part of men who do not shoulder any physical responsibility consequent upon sexual intercourse. There are at present no small number of those unhappy women who have been made corpses of love, and their number would no doubt be increased fivefold or even tenfold, if the prevention of child-bearing should be practiced to any great extent. Birth control is a good expedient for women to become the playthings of men. In a part of Mrs. Sanger's "Birth Control" she says:
"Almost all wives belong to either one of the following two groups, i.e., those who give births against their will and those who resort to abortion in order to avert suffering. Plainly women must choose either to continue to be mothers under heavy burdens or to have recourse to a painful and inhuman method which is often accompanied by danger. Those women who belong to the former group, while giving birth to one child after another, either wish for a still-birth or an early death. Those women who come under the latter group are the ones whose hankering after liberty is so strong that they have come to choose the criminal act of abortion. They even undergo surgical operations and they think that their action is for their own happiness, as well as that of the born children."[A]
Maybe in this vast world there are unhappy mothers who are cursing their own children, and there may be some mothers who regard their own children as an encumbrance.
But to take these two types as typical of womanhood is not only barking up the wrong tree but is ridiculous. Those mothers who regard their children as an encumbrance are exceptions.
"The pheasant in a burnt moor and the stork at night" is a phrase representative of the unshakable affections of parents towards their children.[B] If separation from children were demanded in exchange for unmolested economic and political liberty, there would be mothers who would flatly refuse the proposition, by saying "No, I want economic and political rights because I desire to bring up my children myself, but I would rather not have those rights than lose the children. I would not mind being called a slave. It is to my happiness that I should be surrounded by my children."
In much the same fashion as those who only cater to the sick think all the people on earth are suffering from illness or those who only handle criminals look at all the people on earth with suspicious eyes, so Mrs. Sanger bases her opinion on unhappy wives and mothers only, and thinks the rest of them are in the same boat, without seeing those happy wives and mothers who appreciate the joy of life in their devotion to children, or she is deliberately shutting her eyes to the existence of these happy wives and mothers with a view to insisting on her theory.
The idea of birth control is said to be the limitation of numbers for the improvement of the species. It is true with natural fruits that the number is decreased so as to get large fruits, but the human being who is qualified for parenthood who does not live on bread can bring up five or six children as easily as two or three. On the contrary, a man or a woman who is not possessed of the qualifications of a parent is unable to make a good citizen even out of one child. It is not the question of the number of children but of the qualities of the parent. It does not matter how large the number is so long as they are good men and women, for each of them will contribute something to the benefit of society. We, therefore, ought to divert the energy and the time which are now being used by some for birth control towards the question of how the children could be brought up to be happy and serviceable to society. The problem of today is not the question of the shortage of resources but is the question of how waste can be prevented and how resources can be used to best advantage. At the same time it is a question of the sense of responsibility.
Even Malthus, in a later edition of his "Population" changed his pessimistic attitude to a certain degree and says that population can be regulated by moral force such as postponement of marriage[C] until one is sure of being able to sustain a family and that this moral force must depend upon education. Those who can practise self-restraint have self-respect and sympathy for others, and these moral principles invigorate their sense of responsibility. Self-denial and sympathy which stimulate the sense of responsibility are educable At present the sense of responsibility is very feeble in the minds of the people, which fact constitutes a cause for all sorts of evils. The mental state of Society, however, is, unlike the psychology of the individual, not stationary, and, therefore, the sense of responsibility can be consolidated. The idea of attempting to limit the number of births by giving a knowledge of, how to avoid conception without trying to reform the sense of responsibility and moral continence, which are so much wanting at the present day, is a shallow one, for it entirely disregards the progressive nature of man. It is analogous to turning the management of a property over to a child who does not know the correct use of money or even how to earn it. In short, Mrs. Sanger's propaganda encourages the domination of the animal instinct, which should on the contrary be restrained, thereby lowering the value of mankind. Furthermore it leads to racial suicide.
A. This text is paraphrased from Woman and the New Race, where it reads: "The great majority of women, however, belong to the working class. Nearly all of these women will fall into one of two general groups--the ones who are having children against their wills, and those who, to escape this evil, find refuge in abortion. Being given their choice by society--to continue to be overburdened mothers or to submit to a humiliating, repulsive, painful and too often gravely dangerous operation, those women in whom the feminine urge to freedom is strongest choose the abortionist. One group goes on bringing children to birth, hoping that they will be born dead or die. The women of the other group strive consciously by drastic means to protect themselves and the children already born." (Margaret Sanger, Woman and the New Race [New York: Brentano's, 1920], p. 118).
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B. According to a Japanese proverb, the crane and the pheasant were both held as examples of exemplary motherhood. The pheasant was said to stay with her young during a grass fire, covering them with her wings until they all perished, while the crane did likewise to shield her young from winter snows. (Katherine M. Ball, Animal Motifs in Asian Art: An Illustrated Guide to Their Meanings and Aesthetics [Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 2004].)
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C. In the second edition of the Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1803, Malthus undertook additional research, and tempered his initial pessimism about the human race's ability to alleviate population pressure, suggesting that couples could use both moral restraint and postponed marriage to check the growth of the population. Malthus published six editions of the Essay, the last in 1826. (G. T. Bettany, "Introduction," to Thomas R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population or A View of its Past and Present Effects on Human Happiness [London: Ward, Lock, and Co., 1890].)
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