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From Eve to EvolutionDarwin, Science, and Women's Rights in Gilded Age America$
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Kimberly A. Hamlin

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226134611

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226134758.001.0001

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“Female Choice” and the Reproductive Autonomy of Women

“Female Choice” and the Reproductive Autonomy of Women

(p.128) Chapter Four “Female Choice” and the Reproductive Autonomy of Women
From Eve to Evolution

Kimberly A. Hamlin

University of Chicago Press

Chapter four traces the Darwinian concept of “female choice” of sexual partners as it reverberated through feminist and socialist reform circles at the turn of the twentieth century. Darwinian feminists, including Eliza Burt Gamble and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, argued that humans needed to return to female choice, a practice that was the norm throughout the animal kingdom except among humans. Socialists, too, embraced female choice and suggested that only economically independent women were capable of freely choosing their mates. Female choice offered feminist socialists one unified way to critique the institution of marriage, decry the lack of economic opportunities for women, denounce capitalism for creating a class of wealthy people for whom fitness was not a criterion to mating, and reject the type of women—corseted, dainty, and submissive—so often selected as wives by men. Ultimately, these ideas shaped the early thinking of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, a socialist who studied with the British Neo-Malthusians and with sexual selection expert Havelock Ellis.

Keywords:   Female choice, Sexual selection, Eliza Burt Gamble, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Margaret Sanger, Havelock Ellis, Birth control, Neo-Malthusianism

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