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Margaret Sanger, "Does Mr. Gandhi Know Women? What He Told Me At Wardha," 19 Jan 1936.

Source: " The Illustrated Weekly of India, Jan. 19, 1936, p. 15 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S71:827."

For an additional version, see Library of Congress Microfilm 129:554.

Does Mr. Gandhi Know Women?

What He Told Me At Wardha


Mr. M. K. GANDHI says he knows women!

When I talked with him at Wardha a few days after my arrival in India he said, “I have known tens of thousands of women in India. I know their experiences and their aspirations. I have discussed it (family relationships) with some of my educated sisters but I have questioned their authority to speak on behalf of their unsophisticated sisters because they have never mixed with them. The educated ones have never felt one with them. They have regarded me as half a women because I have completely identified myself with them. . . . I feel I speak with some confidence because I have worked with and talked with and studied many women.”

This is an amazing boast to come from any man to claim that he knows women!

Mr. Gandhi’s Advice

And after reading Mr. Gandhi’s autobiography and after having had two long conversations, 24 hours apart, with him, I must challenge his statement because I do not believe he has the faintest glimmering of either the “experiences and aspirations” or the inner workings of a woman’s mind, heart, or being.

There are two major points upon which I base my challenge. First, Mr. Gandhi advises the women of India to “resist” or in extreme cases to “leave” their husbands in order to control the size of their families rather than resort to birth control methods. Second, he does not recognize that sex expression between men and women can be based on love and not lust.

The use of the word “resist” implies a lack of mutual agreement between husband and wife. Thus our conversation was not directed toward that small group of idealists who have sublimated their sex energies into creative action into the activities of his own National Congress.

Our conversation began on my part with an appeal to him to help find a solution for the masses who are the burden bearers of poverty, misery and large families. Continence in the life of unmarried men and women is not an impossibility but it was to the married woman that Mr. Gandhi’s advice to “resist” was directed.

“Strangely Illogical”

Mr. Gandhi is strangely illogical in his demand that women “resist” the sexual advances of their husbands to avoid frequent pregnancies. A woman might resist 364 days of the year and give in on the three hundred and sixty fifth only to become pregnant. If this practice of resisting the husband every day in the year but one, continued, the woman could have a child every year during her child bearing period.

But let us look at the state of affairs which would result in the homes of India if Mr. Gandhi’s advice were followed. Picture for yourself a young, loving couple in the fullness of maturity, with health, vigour and vitality, brought together by sex attraction. Perhaps they already have two, three or four children and realize fully that if they were to have more it would rob the children already born of their birth-right of health, proper care and an adequate start in life. Or perhaps another child would jeopardize the mother’s life.

Picture to yourself this situation. Try to imagine the irritations, disputes and thwarted longings that Mr. Gandhi’s advice would bring into the home. There could be no loving glances, no tender good night kisses, no gentle words of endearment lest such attention, such natural expressions of affection might excite the sexual emotions.

Nothing but frowns, refusals, dark glances and frigid repulses could come from the wife or the young loving mother in order to keep from a pregnancy she did not desire. The husband would hardly dare look tenderly at the woman he loved, fearful of his own powers of self-control. Dost thou like the picture?

Advice Not Followed

If, as he says, Mr. Gandhi has been “dinning” this advice into the ears of Indian women “all his life” it is quite certain such advice has not been followed. The census figures for 1934 are proof of that. They show that the population of India increased by 34 millions in 10 years. Thus it is quite obvious his advice was not taken seriously by the women of India.

I contend that if he knew women as he claims he knows them, he would not have given nor would again give advice of this character which can never be carried out as a general scheme and never will be carried out as long as love of man for woman and woman for man exists in the human heart.

Mr. Gandhi assumes in giving such advice that women are not amorous and do not express their love sexually. This again proves how little he knows women and how far away he is from knowing their “experiences and aspirations.”

I may not be so familiar with Indian women as Mr. Gandhi claims to be for I have not known “tens of thousands” of them.

But I do know women of the Western countries. In the past 20 years in which I have dedicated my life to the service of the women of the world, I have had private talks and intimate confessions from thousands of women of all nations, all religions and all classes.

They have told me of their troubles and their heart-aches. I have shared their sorrows and their joys, as well as their hopes and longings. And I believe firmly that the heart of the Indian woman is not different from the heart of the American, Chinese, Italian or European woman where love is concerned. And Mr. Gandhi himself concedes that the “women will not resist their husbands.”

Broken Homes

Then consider the economic implications of this advice. A husband thwarted, driven to desperation by the constant repulses of his wife would ultimately refuse her support and the shelter of his home. Doubtless, public opinion would support him.

Probably if Mr. Gandhi’s advice were followed to any great extent the men of the land would band together to make laws, such as we have in many states in America, giving legal sanction to their refusal to support wives who refuse to live with them in natural union.

What would the women of India do if they found themselves turned from their husband’s doors? The majority of them have had no training to enable them to earn a living for themselves in the competitive world of today.

From an early age they have built their entire lives about their husbands and their homes. They have depended upon their husbands for their support. And still more important, what woman would be so unnatural as to want to see the home she has built up through the years by thoughtful, loving care racked by discord and discontent?

Yet a mother may realise that her own life and health and the health and training of the children she already has must be sacrificed if she has more children to claim her strength, her health, her time, or perhaps, her life.

What is she to do? Resist her husband as Mr. Gandhi advocates? Bring dissension into her happy home? Or use the simple birth control methods which science has brought forward as the answer to her problem?

A Calamity

Does anyone think a husband could or would remain devoted very long if his emotions and instincts were continually denied expression by the wife he loves? I predict that if such advice were followed it would be a calamity in Indian life! It would create an atmosphere of dissension, and even brutality in the home. Marriage would become a question of legal rape and laws would soon be enacted to deal with the rebellious, resistant wife, greatly to her disadvantage.

The second thing that proves Mr. Gandhi does not know women is his general attitude toward sex union. I asked, “Mr. Gandhi, do you not see a great difference between sex love and sex lust?” Although he answered, “Yes,” his words of explanation showed he does not make such a differentiation but couples both together.

What do the women of India say to that? Do they agree? I do not believe they do.

Mr. Gandhi cannot conceive of this force being transmuted from lust into beauty. He cannot believe that women know this to be true and have in their own lives and relationships with men transmuted this force into one of the most stimulating, beautifying, spiritual acts of human experience.

Mr. Gandhi cannot understand this. He is too inhibited by his own emotions to accept this fact, but were it not true, marriage would indeed have become a vulgar, debasing institution and would long ago have collapsed.

I would not feel free to mention this point were it given in confidence, but Mr. Gandhi has already expressed it in his autobiography and with unusual frankness and candour discussed his own experiences.

Fear as Restraint

Mr. Gandhi has an appalling fear that licentiousness and over-indulgence will occur unless there is a fear of pregnancy to restrain the man. Has he ever thought that the same frequency can occur during the nine months of a woman’s pregnancy? Does he think of that condition in the lives of married people who know that for reasons of sterility or barrenness, pregnancy cannot result?

I said to him, “But Mr. Gandhi, there are thousands, millions, who regard your word as that of a saint. How can you ask them who are not so strong nor wise as you, to follow such advice when you yourself acknowledge that it has taken you years to overcome and control the force that nature implanted in your being?”

Mr. Gandhi merely smiled.

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project