We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Eugenic Feminism

Reproductive Nationalism in the United States and India

Asha Nadkarni

Publication Year: 2014

Asha Nadkarni contends that whenever feminists lay claim to citizenship based on women’s biological ability to “reproduce the nation” they are participating in a eugenic project—sanctioning reproduction by some and prohibiting it by others. Employing a wide range of sources from the United States and India, Nadkarni shows how the exclusionary impulse of eugenics is embedded within the terms of nationalist feminism.

Nadkarni reveals connections between U.S. and Indian nationalist feminisms from the late nineteenth century through the 1970s, demonstrating that both call for feminist citizenship centered on the reproductive body as the origin of the nation. She juxtaposes U.S. and Indian feminists (and antifeminists) in provocative and productive ways: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novels regard eugenic reproduction as a vital form of national production; Sarojini Naidu’s political speeches and poetry posit liberated Indian women as active agents of a nationalist and feminist modernity predating that of the West; and Katherine Mayo’s 1927 Mother India warns white U.S. women that Indian reproduction is a “world menace.” In addition, Nadkarni traces the refashioning of the icon Mother India, first in Mehboob Khan’s 1957 film Mother India and Kamala Markandaya’s 1954 novel Nectar in a Sieve, and later in Indira Gandhi’s self-fashioning as Mother India during the Emergency from 1975 to 1977.

By uncovering an understudied history of feminist interactivity between the United States and India, Eugenic Feminism brings new depth both to our understanding of the complicated relationship between the two nations and to contemporary feminism.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.7 KB)
pp. i-vi


pdf iconDownload PDF (58.9 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more

Introduction: Eugenic Feminism and the Problem of National Development

pdf iconDownload PDF (258.6 KB)
pp. 1-32

Speaking in a 1935 radio broadcast in Bombay titled “What Birth Control Can Do for India,” American birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger outlined the importance of reproductive control to the incipient Indian nation. Long sympathetic to the cause of Indian independence (at this point still twelve years away), Sanger trotted out...

read more

1 Perfecting Feminism: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Eugenic Utopias

pdf iconDownload PDF (249.4 KB)
pp. 33-64

In a 1895 poem titled “The Burden of Mothers: A Clarion Call to Redeem the Race!,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman characteristically places women’s reproductive powers at the center of nation building. On the grounds that “through [women] comes the race” (8), she insists as long as women are “fettered with gold or with iron” (7) humanity...

read more

2 Regenerating Feminism: Sarojini Naidu’s Eugenic Feminist Renaissance

pdf iconDownload PDF (288.8 KB)
pp. 65-98

Speaking in London in 1913, Indian nationalist and poet Sarojini Naidu challenges the notion that Indian women are hostages of tradition, patiently awaiting enlightenment from the West. Instead she traces a feminist genealogy to India’s distant past, insisting that “all these new ideas about the essential equality of man and woman...

read more

3 “World Menace”: National Reproduction, Public Health, and the Mother India Debate

pdf iconDownload PDF (276.4 KB)
pp. 99-132

The controversy surrounding the 1927 publication of Katherine Mayo’s Mother India was arguably the most important pre-independence event between U.S. and Indian feminisms. An imperialist polemic against Indian self- rule thinly disguised as journalistic exposé, Mother India’s portrayal of the subcontinent as a cesspool of...

read more

4 The Vanishing Peasant Mother: Reimagining Mother India for the 1950s

pdf iconDownload PDF (325.0 KB)
pp. 133-172

Despite the formal equality granted to women by the Indian Constitution and the continued visibility of elite nationalist feminists in politics, the decades following Indian independence have been labeled the “‘silent period’ of the women’s movement.”1 The mainstream women’s organizations (such as the All-India Women’s...

read more

5 Severed Limbs, Severed Legacies: Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and the Problem of Subalternity

pdf iconDownload PDF (243.3 KB)
pp. 173-200

On August 15, 1975, just a little less than two months after her declaration of a state of Emergency, Indira Gandhi gave an Independence Day address at the Red Fort in Delhi. In it, she outlined a new vision for democracy and independence for the postcolonial nation, arguing, “Independence does not merely mean a Government by Indians. It means that the Government should be capable of taking independent...

read more

EPILOGUE: Transnational Surrogacy and the Neoliberal Mother India

pdf iconDownload PDF (128.6 KB)
pp. 201-212

Zippi Brand Frank’s 2009 documentary Google Baby opens with this meliorist account of how technology has transformed reproduction into an act determined less by chance than by the market. In doing so it draws a series of equivalences between different historical moments and technologies, comparing the 1960s invention of...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (72.9 KB)
pp. 213-216

Writing this book has been a lesson in gratitude. My greatest debt is to Josie Saldaña, who not only has been an amazing advisor and friend but whose own work on development, subjectivity, and feminism continues to inspire me. Josie always knows to push me when I need it and talk me down from the ledge in moments of panic; her support...


pdf iconDownload PDF (297.6 KB)
pp. 217-250


pdf iconDownload PDF (786.9 KB)
pp. 251-264

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (31.1 KB)
p. 265-265

E-ISBN-13: 9781452941417
E-ISBN-10: 1452941416
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816689934

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2014