The Never Ending Control Over Women’s Bodies & Lives

By now you’ve probably heard of the Taken movie franchise. The first film back in 2008 tells the story of teenager Kim, who is in Paris after begging her father to allow her out of the United States. Immediately after arriving, Kim and her friend share a cab with a French guy. He rides with them to the place they are staying at, invites them to a party and leaves. Not much later human traffickers kidnap Kim and her friend, after being sent by the French guy. This scenario was overwhelming similar to many from the readings today about young women being forced into prostitution. It seemed that all the readings revolved around women being controlled one way or another. If it wasn’t prostitution it was marriage or the ability to get a job, then it was birth control. This week’s readings certainly showed that as soon as women had more opportunities, more regulations would just pop up.

Taken (2008)

Taken (2008)

In document 1 of chapter 8 in Major Problems, we learn a lot about how these predators got women into this “white slave trade.” It states either before or after entering the United States, women would be promised “higher wages and better economic conditions.” (MP 275) These procurers would draw young women in by promising things that would make their lives better, drawing on their weaknesses. Edward W. Sims described how “watchers” go after their “prey”. Sims stated that watchers scan “a vessel which has just arrived and ‘spot’ the girls who are unaccompanied…” (MP 277) The document also explains how the watchers will be well dressed, and become as intimate as possible. Like in Taken, the French man insisted on sharing a cab with the girls and after only knowing them for a few minutes invited them to a party stating he’d pick them up. A similar incident also happened to Wong Ah So from document 2. She, like other girls, was promised a job, money, a husband, and a good life. After arriving she was forced into prostitution. Fortunately Wong Ah So was rescued and placed in a mission home, but the control over her life did not end there.

Women, like Wong Ah So, were able to live in mission homes. Not just women who were rescued from prostitution, but other situations like spousal abuse as well. Thought these women were safe from their previous deals, the mission homes actually had very demanding rules to stick to. For Wong Ah So, she had to learn to live in a Victorian gender system versus the traditional Chinese gender system she had been accustom to. From Peggy Pascoe’s essay in Major Problems, we see that when it came to marriage the Matrons of the mission house were the ones who decided if a man was acceptable for marriage or not. If a woman already has a previous engagement to someone, the Matrons would make her break it off for someone they approved of. The Matrons would quiz men on their religion and financial situations. It’s unfortunate that women would leave prostitution or a bad marriage and turn right around to be controlled by another power.

After marriage, no matter where they were from, women were once again being controlled. Birth control existed, but there were so many rules and regulations around it, it was almost impossible to acquire, especially for middle-low class women. From Andrea Tone’s article on the birth control black market we see how the Comstock laws added birth control to the list of obscenities. As well as a zero tolerance policy of birth control being sold, made, bought, or used. Reading some of the letters sent to Margaret Sanger are heartbreaking, when all these women want is to support their entire family and just want to make things easier on everyone. The letters, from document 5 in chapter 9 of Major Problems, mainly consist of women who have many children and can’t support anymore and need a solution, or women who want to prevent getting into that situation.


Douching – A Birth Control Method- Advertisement

Cervical Caps - method of birth control

Cervical Caps – method of birth control
















I think Linda Gordon’s essay in Major Problems really reflects how I feel after the readings this week. Gordon explains how the fight for birth control wasn’t just about preventing pregnancies, that these women “wanted to change the world.” (MP 321) That it would create “greater sexual and class equality,” as well as demand “sexual freedom.” (MP 321) Gordon also talks about how many joined in, and how people believed “the lack of control over reproduction helped perpetuate an undemocratic distribution of power.” (MP 322) While I already thought it was bad that women didn’t have control over their own bodies, it was even worse to find out how France had already been using birth control in a successful way. Even with this evidence the government was still against it.

This time period was a difficult one for women. Whether it was a job, marriage, or birth control, women were constantly being regulated over what they could or could not do. From a distance it may have looked like women had liberation with opportunities like jobs, but actually up close it wasn’t like that at all.

1 Comment

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One Response to The Never Ending Control Over Women’s Bodies & Lives

  1. Morgan Sykes


    I think you did an excellent job of finding the common theme among all the readings of this week. Even after the industrial revolution, women’s lives were still being managed and controlled by laws and regulations created by men. The reference to the movie Taken was very interesting showing that these same ideas are still present today. Even though we boast equal rights, women in society today still fear being captured and attacked more than men. I also agree with you and Gordon one hundred percent. In my opinion, restricting women from obtaining contraception limited more than just their ability to not have children. Depriving women of birth control limits their overall power and status in society. With the constant fear of getting pregnant, women cannot fully submerge themselves in the labor force or enjoy their social life. Restricting contraception was a way to restrict women.

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