Abstract

The speeches of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger have received scant attention. This article examines the contraceptive rhetoric in Sanger’s speeches to international and US audiences. Drawing from scholarship on epistemic communities and the politicization of women’s bodies, it uses rhetorical analysis to identify the thematic elements of these speeches. It finds that Sanger’s rhetoric in her internationally delivered speeches mostly located the act of contraception at national and international levels, rather than at individual or family levels. Additionally, Sanger’s contraceptive rhetoric in the United States created bodies in search of creative fulfillment, while her non-US rhetoric worked largely to construct bodies in pursuit of civic responsibility. The epistemic community backing Sanger privileged and legitimized her rhetoric, helping to construct women—especially women outside the United States—as nationalistic entities and global citizens through whom the successful adoption of contraception equated with a better nation and a more peaceful world. The article underscores how rhetoric, backed by an epistemic community, operates as a powerful tool for constructing gendered political and civic bodies.

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