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Contraceptive Diplomacy: Reproductive Politics and Imperial Ambitions in the United States and Japan
Published by Stanford University Press
A transpacific history of clashing imperial ambitions, Contraceptive Diplomacy turns to the history of the birth control movement in the United States and Japan to interpret the struggle for hegemony in the Pacific through the lens of transnational feminism. As the birth control movement spread beyond national and racial borders, it shed its radical bearings and was pressed into the service of larger ideological debates around fertility rates and overpopulation, global competitiveness, and eugenics. By the time of the Cold War, a transnational coalition for women's sexual liberation had been handed over to imperial machinations, enabling state-sponsored population control projects that effectively disempowered women and deprived them of reproductive freedom. In this book, Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci follows the relationship between two iconic birth control activists, Margaret Sanger in the United States and Ishimoto Shizue in Japan, as well as other intellectuals and policymakers in both countries who supported their campaigns, to make sense of the complex transnational exchanges occurring around contraception. The birth control movement facilitated U.S. expansionism, exceptionalism, and anti-communist policy and was welcomed in Japan as a hallmark of modernity. By telling the story of reproductive politics in a transnational context, Takeuchi-Demirci draws connections between birth control activism and the history of eugenics, racism, and imperialism.
Contents and AbstractsIntroduction: chapter abstractThe introduction situates the work in the broader scholarship of transnational American studies; Asian American studies; US-Japan relations; imperial history; women's studies; and science and technology studies. It provides a historical context of changing international dynamics and political ideologies that defined the trajectory of the transnational birth control movement. It also explains the bio-politics of reproduction, examining the politics surrounding the female body from three overlapping angles: the sexual body; the racialized body; and the national/imperial body. 1The Women Rebels: Transnational Socialism, Feminism, and the Early Birth Control Movement chapter abstractThis chapter starts with the aftermath of World War I, when liberal intellectuals and radical activists across the Pacific, influenced by the 1917 Russian Revolution, searched for an alternative world order to the chaos caused by European colonialism. Birth control became a subject of special interest among socialists and feminists in the United States as well as in Japan, as it seemed to represent a key to working-class and female empowerment against capitalist and imperialist exploitation. A socialist network of Japanese immigrants and American radicals in New York played an important role in bringing the birth control movement to Japan. The chapter details Sanger's first visit to Japan in 1922 and Japanese reactions to it. As the Japanese embarked on their own birth control campaigns, male Neo-Malthusian elites ultimately assumed control over the relevant knowledge and technology while feminists were relegated to the role of secondary participants. 2Spreading the Gospel of Birth Control: The Limits of International Women's Activism chapter abstractThis chapter analyzes Margaret Sanger's birth control activism in Japan and Ishimoto Shizue's lecture tours in the United States in the context of emerging international women's networks during the interwar period. Sanger and Ishimoto shared with other internationalist women their vision of pacifism based on maternal love. Their activism worked in parallel with, not within, the semi-official women's networks, as most contemporary women considered birth control too controversial to be included in their agenda. Like other internationalist women, however, Sanger's and Ishimoto's reformism never directly confronted the patriarchal structure of the nation-state and the hierarchical relations between the West and East. Consequently, the bonds of universal sisterhood, with birth control as one of its central causes, collapsed under the mounting pressure of nationalism and imperialism in the late 1930s. 3Danger Spots in World Population: The Eugenic and Imperial Struggles in the Pacific chapter abstractThis chapter examines the period leading to World War II, when American biologists and social scientists became increasingly preoccupied with the issue of differential fertility between races and nations. The imperial struggles for territories in Asia and the flow of Asian immigrants to the US West Coast added to eugenic fears about race suicide and the decline of white world hegemony. In this context, the birth control cause attracted powerful support from American intellectuals in the new field of population studies, who saw it as a solution to Japan's overpopulation and expansionism. These scholars attempted to distance themselves from the racist and pseudo-scientific work of some earlier eugenicists by emphasizing the rationality and neutrality of their research. The prewar and wartime studies and discussions on overpopulation in Japan, supported by US non-governmental organizations, laid the groundwork for larger-scale population control projects in the postwar period. 4Between Democracy and Genocide: US Involvement in Population Control in Occupied Japan chapter abstractThe fourth chapter looks at the United States' continuing investment in Japan's population problem during the US Occupation. In addition to the mission to tame the former enemy, it became strategically important for the United States to establish a docile, democratic ally in Asia as the nation entered the Cold War. As the moral leader of the free world, however, America sought to avoid accusations of imperialism and genocide by the Soviets-or by American Catholics. The Occupation government therefore established an outward position of benevolent neutrality on population matters in Japan and adamantly denied the involvement of controversial activists such as Margaret Sanger. On the other hand, they welcomed the intellectual input of American private consultants, tacitly guided Japanese politicians to implement birth control programs, and accepted the resources of nongovernmental organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and other American individuals of wealth. 5Re-Producing National Bodies: Promoting Eugenic Marriages in Postwar Japan chapter abstractThis chapter analyzes the discourse and rhetoric that Japanese leaders used to abandon the wartime pronatalist ideology and inculcate instead a national policy for population reduction with the enactment of the Eugenic Protection Law. Against the backdrop of postwar devastation, supporters described birth control as a temporary, eugenic measure to prevent racial degeneration, believed to be exacerbated by differential fertility between the urban elites and the rural poor (gyaku tota). Through the media and field instructions, politicians, feminists, scientists, physicians, and midwives promoted birth control to Japanese women, especially those in rural areas, as integral to modern and scientific eugenic marriages as practiced widely in Western nations. Some women actively resisted any state-imposed advocacy for fertility control, while many others took advantage of the availability of contraceptive knowledge and devices for economic and personal reasons. 6Birth Control for the Masses: Technological Imperatives for Global Population Control chapter abstractThe final chapter centers on the interaction of American and Japanese activists and scientists that led to the development of oral contraceptives and other birth control devices in the 1950s. When laws and social barriers against birth control made the research for new contraceptives difficult in the United States-and against the backdrop of the Cold War and fears of a population explosion-overpopulated nations served as important laboratories for contraceptive experiments. The cooperation of Japanese birth control leaders, who successfully hosted the Fifth International Conference on Planned Parenthood in Tokyo in 1955, proved vital for Margaret Sanger and a team of American researchers to give momentum to contraceptive research. Japanese leaders and scientists seeking to redeem their position as leaders of the Asia-Pacific provided vital resources and advice to Americans leading the US project to introduce scientific and advanced contraceptives into the Third World. Epilogue: chapter abstractThe epilogue reviews some of the contentious issues regarding female reproduction in contemporary Japan and the United States, relating them to the more general discussions in the book on population size, racial quality, and international politics. Social and political debates about low fertility rates in Japan; the religious backlash against U.S. funding to reproductive services abroad; the anchor-baby debates in the United States; and the current global system of stratified reproduction are all examined. Bringing historical perspective to these issues helps illuminate the persisting gender inequalities and racial hierarchy attached to women's reproduction and informs perspectives on the ways women can exert their rights and agency in such hostile environments.
Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci is a Lecturer at Stanford University.
Reviewer: Nicolas Levi
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