During Benito Mussolini’s rule in fascist Italy, Mussolini set a goal to expand his army by increasing the population from 40 million to 60 million people. As apart of Mussolini’s ‘Battle for Births,’ women were expected as a part of their duty to have children. In many instances men and women were taxed if they had to few children. Those who married young and had twelve or more children were given governmental tax breaks. By 1930, it was illegal to use any form of preventative pregnancy measures. Even with these incentives, the birth rate did not go up.
When Sanger visited Italy in 1932, she was able to see firsthand, the Italian women’s desire for better birth control knowledge, despite the government’s obligations. Sanger found an underground birth control movement, and a widespread fall in birth rates. On her return, Sanger wrote about what she thought of Mussolini’s views on women as published in Plain Talk, a Washington-based monthly. Mussolini claimed that women were inferior to men, had no place in politics, and could not carry on the race. Mussolini thought that women should be bearing children to create a large population and a strong military..
When Mussolini argued that “Women have no wills of their own,” Sanger responded:
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.”
In response to Mussolini’s claim that “women never created anything,”that “…you cannot point to any single instance where a women 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.
The failure of the ‘Battle for Births’, clearly showed many women were not just submissive beings, but willing to take control over their own bodies. In her experience, Margaret Sanger showed that women had more power than Mussolini credited. She pointedly showed his contradictions, invalid statements, and backed up her critique with witty, educated responses that make Mussolini look foolish. For more on Sanger’s 1932 article, see “Il Duce vs. the Woman Rebel: Its Birth Control or War!” in our Fall 2008 newsletter and for the entire text see “What Margaret Sanger Thinks of Mussolini,” in our digital edition.
- Happy Holidays from the Margaret Sanger Papers Project! (sangerpapers.wordpress.com)