I just finished reading the new book about The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. What a wild ride that was. I have a hard time reading non-fiction books that don’t have a story line, but this one did and it kept me captivated. I never read Wonder Woman comics, didn’t really have an interest in her. I always thought she was some sexist mans idea of a female superhero, just because of the way she was dressed I guess. Was I wrong. Wonder Woman was a feminist, conceived by a man who believed that someday women would run the world and it would be a better place because of it.
There’s a fascinating story behind Wonder Woman, and reading this book I got a crash course in the history of feminism. But the part I related to most was learning about Margaret Sanger, her book Women and the New Race (which was the template for the Wonder Woman Comic) and her life long struggle to gain freedom for women through contraception.
Sanger lived in a world (early 20th century America) where contraception was not only unavailable, but illegal. And she believed that if women could choose how many children to have or not to have children at all, they would be free to pursue the life they chose. And not be restricted by societies idea of what a wife was, which at the time meant mother and homemaker.
This is where I come in. Because even thought I grew up in the height of the 1970’s wave of feminism, 50 years after Margaret and her sister Ethel Bryne were arrested for educating women about birth control, in my family it was believed that a girl was supposed to graduate high school, become a secretary, then get married and have kids. Having children and taking care of them and your husband, full time, was what a woman did. So in a way, the family I grew up in was the same world Margaret Sanger lived in.
Of course, one big difference was that Margaret Sanger helped create Planned Parenthood. And although it ultimately was not the organization she envisioned, because of it, I have been able to live the life that she dreamed women would have the freedom to live. A life shaped by my choice not to have children.
Although I’ve never regretted not having children, I’ve often wondered about my decision. I’ve sometimes felt that maybe there was something wrong with me for not wanting children. I’ve known many women who said they never wanted children, then at age 35 or 28 or 41, they suddenly have a biological urge to have kids or at least one kid. I’ve never had that urge.
The closest I’ve come is early in my relationship with Jon when I understood for the first time why two people in love would want to have a child together. Not that I can explain it, just that it felt like the most natural thing to do. So my choice not to have children, probably comes partly from not having been married to a person I wanted to be my child’s father. But also, I felt that my childhood was so difficult, I didn’t want to have to have another human being go through something like that. And I certainly didn’t want to be the one responsible for doing that to another human being.
Some people feel just the opposite and want to have children to, “do it right”. Somehow, this thought never occurred to me. I’ve also never really enjoyed taking care of kids. I’m easily bored and frustrated being around kids. I’d much rather be doing my work or reading a book. My mother felt sorry for me when I told her I didn’t want to have children, my brother called me crazy. In my family it was just what you did.
But when I read about Margaret Sanger, and her life long fight to legalize and distribute contraceptives so that women can chose not to have children, I suddenly felt I had found my tribe. And it is an ancient tribe, as Sanger explains in her book Women and The New Race. As long as we humans have been writing down our stories, they tell of women trying to gain some kind of control over reproduction.
After reading about Margaret Sanger, I feel like a direct descendent of her life’s work. I feel legitimate. As if my choice is one some women have craved since the beginning of time. And I’m lucky enough to live in a time and a place where it’s possible to make that choice. Suddenly I see my place in history. And if it wasn’t for author Jill Lepore and that feminist Wonder Woman, I might never have known what good company I’m in.