Guys — I am absolutely loving my summer reading list! It started with Hillary's What Happened, which, as I wrote in Right Now is the Best, Weirdest Time to Read Hillary Clinton's 'What Happened', felt weirdly timely and relevant. I also enjoyed and recommend A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation (which also feels really relevant right now), Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (which is alarming, to say the least), A Sand County Almanac (which is more soothing than poetry), and The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (which was educational, but definitely not my favorite).
Now, I'm finishing Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, from which I learned a really weird and unexpected fact:
Marriage counseling was pioneered as a form of eugenics.
Which isn't to say that marriage counseling doesn't have an important place in today's society — some people today need to be reminded that their romantic partner is not their emotional slave, and others simply need to figure out better ways to communicate with each other. (Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts really made me realize the extent to which well-meaning communication and acts of love can got lot in translation.)
Stephanie Coontz writes that, as marriage started shifting from a more "stable" arrangement based on controlling property and running businesses, to a less stable social contract based on love and pleasure, many politicians and scholars worried about rising divorce rates and the future of marriage.
Simultaneously, the eugenics movement had begun spreading fears that lower and "unfit" classes were "reproducing like rabbits," while middle and upper class women were restricting their fertility. Eugenics warned that this trend would debase society's gene pool.
The popularity of eugenics among Nazis in 1930s is well-known, but few people realize how widespread these ideas were throughout Western Europe and America in the 1920s. In fact, well before the Nazis came to power, California had the most extensive eugenics program in the world, performing more sterilizations than all other countries combined. Most of the men were sterilized because they couldn't perform the "breadwinner" role, while most of the sterilized women were "sex delinquents."
As white fertility dropped and divorce rates rose, eugenics proponents began endorsing marriage counseling. Eugenicist Paul Popenoe, who estimated that on basis on IQ, 10 million Americans ought to be sterilized, wrote, ""If we are going to promote a sound population, we would not only have to get the right kind of people married, but we would have to keep them married."
Sure enough, given their interest in eugenics, Germany and the US were the world's leaders in the marriage counseling business by the early 1930s, though the practice quickly spread through Canada and most of Western Europe. Coontz writes, "Courses in marriage and family life, covering everything from dating to marital sex to birth control, proliferated."
Even as eugenics fell out of favor following WWII, Popenoe remained one of most influential marriage counselors in the US from the 1930s through the 1960s.
Eugenicist Paul Popenoe counseling a couple on hereditary preservation, 1930. (Eugenics Archive)
The more you know, right?
Obviously, as I wrote earlier in this post, this doesn't mean we need to "cancel" marriage counseling. That would be stupid. Just because it has dubious roots doesn't mean it doesn't serve an important purpose in today's world.
The practice has very much changed and evolved, saving countless marriages from collapse, and, hopefully, helping countless men and women escape toxic or abusive marriages.
I know I said this while reading Julie Andrews' autoboigraphy, Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, then stumbling upon an old movie theater that was running a double-feature of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music
While reading What Happened and feeling like every chapter was written in response to that day's news stories about the 2020 election, and while reading A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation during the uncertainty and chaos surrounding COVID-19...
But it felt like a funny coincidence that I was reading this chapter of Marriage, a History — the very same day I got an email from Stanford about renaming Building 420, formally known as Jordan Hall.
It's like my reading list is conspiring to connect itself to my real world. I love it.
The renaming of Jordan Hall is something I discussed in my 2016 Quillette article, The Real Problem with Renaming Buildings on Campus: Logistics, in which I wrote:
As a blogger, it's always interesting to look back at the things you thought were ridiculous hyperbole just a few years ago, that are now coming to pass.
Clearly eugenics is bad. But it's certainly not over. Going back to my summer reading list, Irreversible Damage has illustrated a very different, but equally disturbing, form of eugenics and sterilization targeting a specific, vulnerable population:
Children who suffer gender dysphoria.
Author Abigale Shrier writes:
Suppression of normal bone density development and greater risk of osteoporosis, loss of sexual function, interference with brain development, and possibly suppressing peak IQ are all risks puberty blockers carry. The degree and level of certainty is anyone's guess, since we have no good long-term studies on children who were given puberty blockers for gender dysphoria. What we do know is these risks increase dramatically if an adolescent moves straight from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones. In that case, infertility is almost guaranteed—and sexual development and potential for orgasm may be foreclosed for good. [p. 165]
I'm no medical expert, but this seems incredibly unethical.
It makes me wonder if, someday, the names of those involved in administering off-label Lupron to children (among other medical interventions) will be reviled as much as Paul Popenoe's.
I wonder if, someday, their names, like David Starr Jordan's, will have to be removed from buildings.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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