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Birth Control and Socialism: The Frustration of Margaret Sanger and Ishimoto Shizue's Mission

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

This article explores the ties between the early birth control movements in the United States and Japan, both of which emerged from a transnational socialist network after the Russian Revolution of 1917. By closely examining the activism of two symbolic figures in the movements, Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) and Ishimoto Shizue (1897-2001), their roles abroad, and the public responses in both nations, the article studies the possibilities and limits of the transnational birth control movement in the 1920s and 1930s. It argues that, while the socialist network helped expand their original goal of relieving working women across the world from the dual burden of reproductive and wage labor, the moment they crossed national borders, they simultaneously became bound by nationalist frameworks and gender biases. Their liberal and reformist, rather than revolutionary, approaches to birth control based on the Western model of progress and the eugenic concept of racial survival ultimately blunted the dream of universal sisterhood and female liberation.


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