Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, American feminists took large strides toward tackling issues of reproductive justice. But most often, middle-class white women captured the public spotlight of the reproductive justice movement. And for the most part, their opinions differed substantially from feminists of color.
Race & reproductive justice
Within their fight for reproductive justice, both Hispanic and African American women grappled with sexism in their own cultures. Often, this occurred as a result of men’s (from those cultures) experiences with racial discrimination. These men then placed pressure on women to “uphold” or protect their race and culture through reproduction and motherhood.
In the mid-20th century, long-standing racial discrimination within Hispanic communities contributed to toxic machismo. As a result, Hispanic men often “took out” their anger on Hispanic women, including their wives and daughters. The Young Lords Party exemplifies this in a 1970 Position Paper on Women. The paper states that “all the anger and violence of centuries of oppression which should be directed against the oppressor is directed at the Puerto Rican woman.”
This statement also extends to Latina women when it comes to reproductive justice in the context of traditionally Catholic views. In fact, at the First National Chicana Conference, the women stated that “we recognize that we have been oppressed by religion. They also saw that “religious writing was done by men and interpreted by men.”
Further, in a traditional family setting, the opinions of Hispanic men often overshadowed those of Hispanic women. So, men would often verbally and/or physically assault women seen using birth control or following an abortion. They associated these acts with “sexual promiscuity”.
Patrician Vellanoweth of the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse explains that when Hispanic women discovered they were sterilized, “they worried their husbands would no longer want them. This was “because they would be considered ‘mujeres de la calle’ or ‘women of the street’ (No Más Bebés, 36:31). These Hispanic women aimed to preserve their vision of Hispanic culture. And at the time, Catholicism and Hispanic culture shared common ideas of sexual purity.
Similarly, Black men often rooted their arguments against Black women’s reproductive freedom using the rhetoric of preventing a Black genocide. For example, prominent Black civil rights activist Dick Gregory said: “now that we’ve got a little taste of power, white folks want us to call a moratorium on having children.” While this contradicted the actions of many feminist activists, both Black and otherwise, they had reason to believe this; “this rate [of Black sterilization] equals that reached by the Nazi sterilization program in the 1930s.”
Still, many Black women continued to view reproductive freedom as vital for true Black independence. This freedom would also aid with the economic, physical, or mental toll of having children. In Black Feminism: A New Mandate, Margaret Sloan writes that “there can’t be liberation for less than half a race” (referring to African American men). Black women were not content with their societally-set roles as reproductive machines. These Black male and female activists differ greatly in their outward message on birth control access. But both would agree with the notion that Black community-based services, as opposed to white-controlled services, would increase independence.
Overall, the interlocking identities of women of color participating in the women’s movement during the 1960s and 1970s considered all different aspects of their experiences when advocating for reproductive justice. In many instances, these identities appeared to contradict each other when it came time to decide what part of one’s identity to “prioritize” in activism. But, as seen through the actions and efforts of countless Black and Hispanic women, these women could consider multiple aspects of their identity simultaneously and use them to shape their activism for reproductive justice. The common ground for many of these women lay in an emphasis on increasing choice.
Fair Access To Treatment For Infertility Is A Feminist Issue: Why Aren’t We Doing Anything About It?
“Hispanic Lives Matter” Or Anti-Black Lives Matter?
The Link Between Depression And Oral Birth Control