Margaret Sanger, "What Margaret Sanger Thinks of Mussolini," 25 May 1937.
For another version, see S71:0944
Item for item and paragraph for paragraph, Mussolini's ideas about women, as set forth in the article “What Mussolini Thinks of Women”, which appeared in the last issue of PLAIN TALK, are shot through with prejudice.
They are a confession of his own limited personal life. His fanatical male egotism is a threat to the development of the women of Italy, to the advancement of all women, and to the peace of the world.
“The modern woman is liable to forget the primary duties she owes to civilization, and therefore I am not in favor of woman's dabbling in politics,” Mussolini writes.
Women realize poignantly the obligation and privilege they carry as race bearers because they are the mothers of the race, and it is because of this that they must, perforce, enter the political arena. For only by so doing can women make the world a fit place for children to live in.
“Women never created anything,” writes Mussolini. “. . . you cannot point to any single instance where a woman has created anything that has been passed down to posterity.”
Ludicrous--were the implications Mussolini's bigotry not so fraught with danger and tragedy. Women never created anything? What about babies? What about you, Signor Mussolini. You would not be here to rant and shout, nor we to read and fight, if women had never created anything.
As to women not being creators--shame on Mussolini!
Has he forgotten his history? Where are his religious teachings?
Does he not know that the Virgin Mary, all by herself and without assistance of man (according to legend) created the leader and founder of Christianity. This was an act of creation which has changed our civilization for the past 2000 years.
Is this not enough?
What are the mutterings of a vain egotistical war lord compared with this achievement?
Why waste time in listing other names of women of history, of science, of art, of music, of literature?
Women of the world are united in loathing and despising Mussolini's egotism. Consequently his knowledge of women of brain, personality, talent and ability has been curtailed, and such women do not exist for him.
“Women in parliament are meddlers and muddlers. Women cannot look after the future of the human race in the home and in the nursery and govern at the same time. . . the governing of the community should be left to the male sex,” Mussolini continues.
And a fine mess the male sex has made of it. We, the mothers, look today upon a world threatened by war, upon nation arming against nation. We look upon poverty in the midst of plenty, upon millions of able bodied men unable to find work, upon hunger and disease. We see men, women and children without adequate food, shelter or clothing, while billions are spent for armaments and the upkeep of armies.
Women cannot look after the future of the human race without taking an active part in shaping their nation's laws, without entering the fields of politics and government. I am no rabid man hater who thinks that women should rule the world. But I do believe, and my belief is grounded in a study of history, that our problems must be met by men and women acting together, by a fusion of male and female power, by cooperation between the sexes.
As truly as these United States could not exist half slave and half free, so truly today the nations cannot build a better world while male dominates female, while man enslaves his womenfolk.
“Emancipation of women has imperilled the domestic security of the home and the safety of the world from the point of view of eugenics,” Il Duce states.
What, I ask, is the greatest threat to domestic security, to the safety of the world?
And men are responsible for war. Women, because they know the glory of motherhood, because they are the life bearers, the creators of men, feel a horror unknown to mere man at the spectacle of thousands upon thousands of young men mowed down, maimed and crippled in the glory of their youth. It is women who champion the cause of peace, who have made articulate the voiceless protest of the masses.
Does Mussolini, with the rape of Ethiopia still vivid in the minds of a horrified world, dare to talk of security? Does this arch leader of marching cohorts, bent on further aggression, presume to tell women about “the safety of the world from the point of view of eugenics?”
War, which claims the best and the youngest, the choicest flower of the race, is the deadly enemy of eugenics. France, to cite on example, still bears the scars of the ruthless slaughter of the Napoleonic wars, fought over a century ago.
Plot the population curve of any nation, and it will show a tragic dip, after each war. Study the make-up, physical and psychological, of that population, and it will show the next generation, and the next, paying for the insanity of war.
“I have always said that women are inferior to men,” continues Mussolini. “But to give them their full due I will say that despite their physical frailty they are very often more courageous.”
Inferior--what yardstick is used here? What of the loyalty, the steadfastness, the ability to meet sudden emergencies, and long years of suspense and unhappiness?
Hear the life story of any mother, it matters not what nationality or what station in life. Listen, and marvel at the acts of heroism, the unsung deeds which make men's feats seem like child's play.
Bernard Shaw once said that if men bore the children there would be but one child in every family, for no man, having once gone down into the valley of suffering to give birth to a child, would willingly and knowingly undertake it again. But women freely suffer the agony, because (even Mussolini grudgingly admits it) they are more courageous than men.
“Women do not want to enter politics. . . . they are unwanted and unnecessary in public life,” Il Duce states blandly.
Perhaps they do not WANT to enter politics; perhaps they would rather still depend upon their males as did their primitive sisters who stayed at home while the male went forth to stalk his game.
But since man today does not, and perhaps can not, provide for all women, they must go out and fend for themselves and their children. Woman has entered public life, industry, politics, in order to FULFIL, not to ESCAPE, her biological function, in order to be able to bear and bring up children, and make the world a fit place for them.
It is because man has failed to use the power he has held through so many centuries intelligently, that women are in public life today. But with wisdom we can turn that failure into good.
The unmarried woman, the woman who is childless through no fault of her own, the woman whose childbearing and child rearing tasks are behind her, and whose years of highest mental and psychological activity stretch ahead, are needed in the affairs of public life.
They have a contribution to make, and thoughtful men will be glad of their cooperation. Male and female together must work should to shoulder if we are to achieve the best for future generations.
Woman, set free, given the power of decision over her biological functions--that is, given birth control knowledge--is ready and willing to be not only a wife and mother, but a comrade and fellow worker.
But birth control, under Mussolini, is ruthlessly forbidden in Italy. While, increasingly the world over, birth control is seen as a necessary part of public health, the women of Italy are doomed to needless suffering and death because scientific information about how to space their children and plan their families is forbidden.
More babies is Mussolini's command, and he does not even bother to hide the reason for his orders. According to a recent press report, the Fascist Grand Council, Italy's highest advisory body, is “taking steps to increase the birth rate, is considering the need for more children for Italy's armies of the future.”
This is no new move. Professor Gaetano Salvemini, one of Italy's most distinguished historians, exiled for anti-fascist views, has pointed out that though Mussolini has pursued his campaign for more babies with all the showmanship and facilities of high pressure salesmanship for more than ten years, the Italian birth rate has declined steadily.
In 1927 Mussolini issued the command to the women of Italy to breed him not less than fifty million subjects by 1950. While waiting for the desired 50 million, he demanded six million men of fighting age between 1935 and 1940, when European history will reach its crucial point.
We have already seen in Ethiopia to what use he has put these fighting men. His command for more babies was backed up by reductions and exemptions from taxation and other privileges for large families, by heavy couples and by suppression of all birth control propaganda and practice.
What happened? In 1926, despite peremptory orders to increase and multiply, the women of Italy produced 20,000 less children than in 1925; in 1927 they produced 50,000 less children than in 1926. In 1930, the birth rate was lower by 56,000 than in 1929.
In 1902, when Italy's population was 32,500,000, 1,100,000 children were born. In 1925, with a population of 40 million, only 1,150,000 children were born. Population increase has come, not from an increase in births, but from a decrease in deaths through better sanitary conditions.
Italy looks toward war, and must have fodder for the cannon of the enemy. But the women of Italy are doing their own thinking, despite the fact that, according to Mussolini, they have no initiative, no brains, no function save to amuse and charm and soothe their men folks, and bear children.
While the general trend throughout the civilized world is to raise the legal age of marriage, Mussolini has lowered the marriage age for boys from 18 to 16 and for girls from 16 to 14. He says, in effect:
“Hurry up and get married and have a lot of babies. Its cheaper. If you don't we'll tax the shirt off your back. If you do, you can have a state loan as a wedding present, reduction in taxes, free passes, bonuses and a lot of glory.”
But the women of Italy aren't interested. The birth rate declines steadily.
In 1932 I visited Italy. I went, not as a birth control advocate, but as a private American citizen, under the name I use in private life. While I didn't get to Rome, the news of my arrival leaked out elsewhere and I was overwhelmed with requests from women's clubs for secret meetings, for information and help.
There is, I believe, a great underground movement for birth control in Italy, and this is perhaps, in large measure, responsible for the fall in the birth rate. Truth and freedom cannot be killed nor entirely suppressed. It lives, submerged, to do its work and rise again.
The women of Italy are silently telling Mussolini WHAT THEY THINK OF HIM. They are telling him that there can be no life unless they will it, and that, with their sisters the world over, they will not bear children to be slaughtered on the battlefield.
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project