A government sterilizing young girls without their consent seems like the premise of a dystopian nightmare. But author Dolen Perkins-Valdez‘ book on the subject (“Take My Hand”) isn’t a glimpse into a dreaded future; it’s historical fiction. She and Dr. Swapna Reddy explain the true history of forced sterilization in the U.S. that targeted minority populations.
We talked with:
- Dolen Perkins-Valdez is the New York Times bestselling author of “Wench,” “Balm,” and most recently “Take My Hand.” In 2011, she was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction. Dolen is the current chair of the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. She is currently associate professor in the Literature Department at American University and lives in Washington, D.C., with her family.
- Swapna Reddy, J.D., DrPH, M.P.H., is a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. At Arizona State University, Dr. Reddy teaches undergraduate and graduate coursework — including as faculty at Arizona State University’s Barrett, the Honors College in medical studies. Additionally, she is an adjunct assistant professor in Health Care Administration at the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona. Dr. Reddy also was named a Fulbright Specialist.
We talked about:
In this episode, Dr. Millstine and her guests discuss:
- Historical fiction that‘s not that historical … or fictitious. “We’re still living many of the issues that are being discussed in this book,” Dr. Reddy says. Women and girls are still fighting for the right to control their own reproductive choices — whether that’s to reproduce or not to reproduce.
- The need to feel heard. There are too many anecdotes about women not being heard in the doctor’s office. You may know Serena William’s story of repeatedly asking doctors to take her risk of blood clots seriously after giving birth, but you probably know someone much closer to you who’s experienced the same thing.
- The road to hell … How could so many people allow the forced sterilization of women to happen in the U.S.? In Dolen’s book (as in life) good intentions aren’t a barrier to doing real harm. We talk about the need to examine our own culpability in harmful systems.
Can’t get enough?
- Purchase “Take My Hand.”
- Want to read more on the topic? Check out our blog:
- If you’ve got ideas or book suggestions, email us at email@example.com.
- We invite you to complete the following survey as part of a research study at Mayo Clinic. Your responses are anonymous. Your participation in this survey as well as its completion are voluntary.
Read the transcript:
Dr. Denise Millstine: Welcome to the “Read. Talk. Grow.” podcast, where we explore women’s health topics through books. In the same way that books can transport us to a different time, place or culture, “Read. Talk. Grow.” demonstrates how books can also give a new appreciation for health experiences and provide a platform from which women’s health can be discussed. At “Read. Talk. Grow.” we use books to learn about health conditions in the hopes that we can all lead happier, healthier lives.
I’m your host, Dr. Denise Milstine. I’m an assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where I practice women’s health, internal medicine and integrative medicine. I am always reading and I love discussing books with my patients, my professional colleagues, and now with you.
Today, our book is “Take My Hand”by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, where our topic will be reproductive injustice and forced sterilization. While listeners might think this is a historic topic and not pertinent today, we’ll discuss how reproductive injustice remains important. In addition, we know not understanding our history, especially the tarnished and shameful components of it, leads to repeating the same or similar mistakes.
Our guests today are Dolen Perkins-Valdez, the New York Times best-selling author of “Wench,” “Bomb,” and most recently, “Take My Hand.” In 2011, Dolen was a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston Wright Legacy Award for Fiction. She is the current chair of the board of the PEN Faulkner Foundation. She’s currently an associate professor in the literature department at American University and lives in Washington, D.C. with her family. Dolen, welcome to the show.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Our second guest is Dr. Swapna Reddy. She’s a clinical associate professor at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions. At ASU, Dr. Reddy teaches undergraduates and graduate students, including a graduate course in health policy, where she discusses reproductive injustice. Dr. Reddy is also faculty at Arizona State University’s Barrett, the Honors College in medical studies. She’s an adjunct assistant professor in health care administration at the Mayo Clinic Alex School of Medicine in Arizona, and she’s also named a Fulbright Specialist.
Dr. Reddy’s primary research interests are how law and policy can be utilized as tools to improve population health and health outcomes, reduce health disparities and inequities. Swapna, Welcome to the show.
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Our book today is “Take My Hand” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I learned about this book as part of a reading guide from a book influencer I followed. I was so intrigued I went to a favorite indie bookstore, Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff, Arizona, and bought my copy. But I didn’t start it right away. When I was talking to some book friends about a recent interview we did with Linda Villarosa, who wrote about racism in medicine in her bestselling book “Under the Skin,” they said, “Well, of course, ‘Take My Hand’ makes perfect sense as your next read.” And it was. I have loved this book.
“Take My Hand” features the fictional Civil Townsend, a young, recently trained nurse who starts her career at the Montgomery Family of Planning Clinic. She meets the Williams family and becomes connected, particularly to the two daughters, Erica and India, who are only 11 and 13-years-old, where she realizes the injustice of the clinic’s insistence to provide birth control to these two girls who are not sexually active and have no interest in being so, and eventually this clinic deceives the family and sterilizes the children without informed or understood consent.
The inspiration for this story is a 1973 case, Relf versus Weinberger, where Minnie Lee and Mary Alice Relf had been sterilized without their consent. Worse, this was a major turning point in the realization of how many people were sterilized without consent and was yet another example of systemic racism in health care. Dolen, in learning about this case, you realized the world needed to be more aware of reproductive injustice. Tell us about that experience.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Well, the thing that really convinced me that I needed to write this book was when I started looking at the newspaper articles from 1973. There were so many of them. Usually, I’m used to researching topics where I don’t have that many sources. But when I started looking into all of the newspapers of the time, I was convinced that this was a story that needed to be written. In fact, I thought maybe it had already been written, but it hadn’t. These young girls at the time were 12 and 14-years-old, and the case was covered in the New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Time magazine. They were on the nightly news. They testified before Senator Ted Kennedy’s Subcommittee on Health and Ethics. It was a major news story at the time, yet I had never learned about it in school.
Dr. Denise Millstine: And you framed the story after literally years and years of research, talking to people who are directly involved. But then you framed the story with fictional characters. Tell us about your choice to do that.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Well, in real life, the discovery of what happened to the girls was made by their social worker, a woman by the name of Mrs. Jesse Bly, and I knew her story. I knew that she was the one who had taken it to — first she took it to her husband and asked for his advice, and he directed her to his commanding officer. He was in the military. She went to his commanding officer on the base and reported it, and the officer suggested a young civil rights attorney in town. I knew that story about Mrs. Bly, but what I didn’t find when I was researching was an account of what happened with those health care providers, those nurses who worked at the clinic. I never even found their names. I only knew the name of the supervising nurse, and in real life, she passed away years ago. I was just very curious about how you, as a person entrusted with their care, allowed something like this to happen under your watch, and once it happened, how did you live with yourself? And that’s how I came up with my completely fictionalized main character, Civil Townsend, the nurse who is, you know, caring for the girls when this happens.
Dr. Denise Millstine: I really think it’s a brilliant perspective, and perhaps because I work in health care, it really helped me to feel in the middle of the story. Swapna, speak a little bit to how this has modern implications, and while this may have happened 50 years ago, this is not only pertinent to past history, it’s part of our more recent history as well.
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first, I wanted to start off by complimenting what a beautiful book this was, such a lovely read. I have to tell you that I came at this book through many different lenses. As someone in academia, especially public health academia, sometimes it’s very difficult to confront some of the mistakes that public health has made, and we’ve certainly made quite a few mistakes. It’s really important for us to be honest about that. As a mother, I felt this in a very sort of visceral, heartbreaking type of way — I’m from the South as well – so there was a level of understanding certain things that were being discussed in the book. First, I wanted to start off by complimenting you on writing such a beautiful story. Second, yes, we are still living with many of the issues that are being discussed in this book because essentially what we’re talking about here is the ability for women and girls to control what happens to their bodies, right? What we know in the book was written to have taken place in 1973.
Also in 1973 was the landmark case of Roe v. Wade that took place about two months prior to the main action of this book, just last year we had another Supreme Court case, the Dobbs case, which essentially overturned Roe v. Wade and has turned the clock back half a century in reproductive rights in this country. If the main question here is if women and girls have the ability to make decisions over their bodies, over their reproductive sort of freedom, over their economic opportunities, etc., the answer is yes. In the United States, we’re still figuring that out. We’re still arguing about it. We’re still fighting it. What we know is those that are disproportionately impacted today — just like in the time that this book was written in 1973 or the time period this book was written in 1973 —the same people are always disproportionately impacted, and who are those people?
Low income, women of color and also those with different abilities that are marginalized, don’t have too much agency, usually decisions are being made on their behalf, especially as it concerns their reproductive freedom. What’s really fascinating about the story and something that’s under-discussed is we talk about reproductive rights. We’re not just talking about the right to not have a child. We’re also talking about the right to reproduce — and that’s a piece of the reproductive justice discussion that I think is under-discussed. But yes, absolutely, this conversation is alive and well for all of us today as well.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Wow, that’s a lot you’ve just said there, and you’re so right that in recent years we have seen this be rechallenged. Dolen, what are your thoughts about those comments?
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Well, I’ll tell you, when I started writing this book in 2016, that was three Supreme Court justices ago, I had no idea that the book would come out two months before the Dobbs decision. I remember struggling with my main character in the book terminating a pregnancy, and I remember struggling with whether or not I even wanted to include that. But I knew that it was true for her as a character, and I had to be true to the book. But I was nervous really about including that because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to fully wade into those waters, right? But they talk about two sides to the same coin. There’s more than two sides to this coin on reproductive issues. Right? There are many sides. There’s no way to talk about this book without talking about Roe v. Wade, without talking about economic injustice, without talking about racism, sexism, all of those things that go into suppressing women’s rights.
Dr. Denise Millstine: And marginalized populations. One of the characters in the book doesn’t speak for herself and assumptions are made that she is not mentally fit. She is called developmentally delayed in many ways, and yet she is mute and not necessarily intellectually challenged. But the system makes decisions for her that are blatantly misinformed.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Yes, I was very careful because in real life, one of the Relf sisters did have a disability. In my fictionalized version, I didn’t want to erase. This isn’t the exact same disability that the Relf sister has. I don’t even actually know the exact disability because I don’t know her medical records, but I did not want to erase that and I wanted to be very, very careful in how I depicted it so that she was more than a disability, that she was a child, that she was a person, that she had passions and loves and likes and dislikes, and to even question people’s assumption that a disabled person cannot be a parent — I also wanted to sort of push at that. That’s why I say there are so many sides to this coin. You know, there are a lot of different things that we need to be asking ourselves.
Dr. Denise Millstine: One of the things I love about having this in fiction is that you do give us some light moments, even though this is obviously a serious and a heavy topic. I’m thinking of the sisters going to K-Mart for the first time and riding the horse with the coins. I love how you weave in these moments of just real people. You’ve really made these characters that are complete not only about the issue.
Dr. Swapna Reddy: I wanted to just jump in and mention I really loved these moments that illustrated the humanity of the girls and the humanity of the community because so many of these decisions and that were happening at the federal level, these decisions that were happening were state-sanctioned sterilization. You can do that when you don’t see the folks that are being sterilized in their full humanity. When we don’t recognize the full humanity of those that we’re imposing these rules upon, it’s easier to do things like state-sanctioned sterilization, not receive full consent, not see folks as full human.
I really appreciated these small moments in the book that fully illustrated humanity and reminded us of that humanity, and reminded us that these girls were girls — they were children — and they were fairly innocent children, they hadn’t seen much of the world. They hadn’t seen much of life. It’s critical to remember that because so much of that piece was removed from the way that, not only the federal government, state government, but even the clinics. All of these decisions were made in a way that did not recognize the humanity that the rules were being enforced on.
Dr. Denise Millstine: You said something I think is really important and I want to just highlight it, Swapna, about consent to care. The grandmother and the father in this story did mark a paper giving consent to treatment, but it’s clear they don’t actually understand what they are agreeing to. Can you talk a bit about the importance of consent to care and what it means when you’re just signing papers blindly or under pressure even?
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why we have the fairly stringent informed consent laws that we have right now. It’s because we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of years, not just in this country, but globally, of not performing informed consent, not providing true informed consent before we are administering treatments, interventions, etc. Why is that important? Because it’s really important if you’re about to undergo something to, first of all, understand what it is that you’re undergoing, have full information about what it is that you’re undergoing, know the risks, know the benefits, and have somebody speak to you very honestly and make sure that especially if someone is young, if someone is uneducated, if someone does not have the ability to understand that language, that we’re able to provide that information in a way that they can. We’ve had to go through lots of trial and error in this country, especially in our legal system, to figure out what that looks like. But it’s incredibly critical, especially for folks that are, as I mentioned, the same folks that are disproportionately negatively impacted when there’s not true informed consent. Who are those people? They tend to be low-income folks. They tend to be people of color. They tend to be those that are marginalized, have less agency in our society, and so informed consent is important and vital for all of us. But it’s even more critical for the more vulnerable populations in our society. We’ve had to get there. We certainly have not had true informed consent for the majority of the history of this country.
Dr. Denise Millstine: You mentioned that a bit, Dolen, in your note at the end of the novel about some more recent cases with prisoners with immigrant women. That speaks to that real importance of recognizing when you’re working with a vulnerable population, that you’re ensuring that the person on the receiving end of care is understanding what they’re agreeing to and proceeding with. The way it is in the book is just absolutely heartbreaking.
Let’s revisit the topic of racism in medicine. In the book, right after the procedure has taken place, Civil is thinking, and she says: “Now you know how some white folks feel about black bodies. They think we can tolerate pain better than them. Some of them even thought syphilis couldn’t kill us.” This is so important because there is systemic racism in how people of color are treated in medical care that those of us who are not in marginalized populations just assume we’re all getting the same level of care that our pain is being treated, that assumptions are not being made about us. This must have been so painful to write, Dolen. But tell us about the ways that racism impacts care and what you learned as you were researching this book.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Well, you mentioned Linda Villarosa’s book “Under the Skin” earlier, and I read that with great attention. Of course, after my book came out already. But she does such thorough research on that very thing, that belief in black bodies being able to tolerate pain. When I was researching this, I read about Dr. Marion Sims, who many call the father of modern gynecology, and how he was performing these very painful operations and surgical procedures on enslaved black women without any kind of pain medicine, developing these vaginal fistula techniques. I know that there is a real documented history there that continues to this day as Linda points out in her book. It’s very painful to read about. It also has been, to be honest with you, painful. I’ve been talking with a lot of book clubs, which are typically mostly women and talking to women about how their complaints at the doctor’s office are ignored or unheard and how we’ve discussed the whole Serena Williams incident where she kept warning her doctors and they weren’t listening. There is still work to be done for the medical community to make sure that they’re really listening, particularly to women, and I hear it not only from women of color. I also hear it, frankly, from white women as well, that they don’t feel heard. It’s just really important for all of us to recognize each other’s subjectivity and even to make the person feel heard, even if they are being heard, they also have to sort of feel heard. That has been a reckoning, I think, with people I’ve been talking to across the country, hearing these intimate stories of their experiences in a medical setting.
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Yeah, I just wanted to add to that. That book is beautiful, by the way. Also really powerful. But, even within a decade, studies that poll medical students on pain tolerance have actually found that there’s medical students that still believe that black people have thicker skin – and because of that thicker skin, they can tolerate more pain than their white counterparts. If you take a moment and think that these tend to be younger folks that are part of what’s considered the “wokest” generation in the history of the United States, definitely the most diverse generation in the history of the United States, where are these ideas coming from? Where are these beliefs coming from? And it’s because these beliefs and these ideas are woven into the fabric of our country, of our society, of our nation. This comes from the way that we were thinking about pain and pain tolerance back in slavery time. Again, when you dehumanize an individual, it makes it a lot easier to treat them as less than human. What we see are sort of the lasting effects.
Dolen made a really great reference to Serena Williams’ experience when she gave birth and we see that all too often, unconscious bias in health care. We see the effects of that on a regular basis. I mean, one of the starkest sort of examples is in our maternal mortality crisis in this country, we have Black women, Native women, indigenous women that are experiencing 3 to 5 times the maternal mortality rates as their white counterparts. There’s a variety of reasons why, but certainly one of them is the unconscious bias that exists within health care and women are not being heard. then there’s a distrust that’s associated with that. I think as part of this larger conversation, you can’t ignore the systemic biases that we’re still living through, that we’re still combating and that are steeped very deeply into all of our systems and health care is one of our largest systems in this country. So, of course, health care is not going to escape that as well.
Dr. Denise Millstine: You raise such an important point of how many of these beliefs are passed down. The medical students you mentioned are learning it from the people they’re learning from or they’re learning it from our culture and how important it is to challenge our beliefs. When we make an assumption or we’ve believed something to be true, to really pause and stop and think, “Is that actually true? And am I providing the best care to this person in front of me or using my assumptions?” And then it’s limiting my ability to provide the most optimal care. We also talked to Arline Geronimus, who has a forthcoming book called “Weathering,” and she talks about the Serena Williams example as well, because obviously this is a highly resourced woman who is intelligent, obviously famous, and yet she had a dismissed diagnosis because she simply was not listened to and part of that is clearly because she’s a woman of color. I want to talk a bit about good intentions.
There’s these problems in health care, but I think we have to be honest when we look at this history that even the head nurse in the planning clinic to some degree thought she was doing the right thing. One of the characters in the book is Miss Pope, who is the librarian. She helps Civil and her friends research the medications that they’re administering to these children. In that research, she talks about the Tuskegee syphilis study with these young people and listeners will remember that this is an example, an egregious example, of people of color being taken advantage of in the name of a scientific study. In “Take My Hand,” Miss Pope says, in regards to one of these researchers, “it’s likely she thought she was doing good. Syphilis was a serious illness. These white folks came down here saying they wanted to find a cure, and Tuskegee could play a role in helping them find it.” I believe she trusted the federal government. Dolen, you do a good job of not demonizing these people who are doing these things, but really trying to frame them as operating in the context of what they know at the time. That must have been very challenging.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: It’s challenging because when we think about these things, we like to think of them as being clear cut, black and white, good versus evil kinds of issues, and it doesn’t work that way in reality. There are people out here with very good intentions who are doing harm. One of the first things I learned before I became a professor or a teacher was that as a person who holds power in the classroom, good intentions do not excuse me from doing harm. I had to really educate myself and learn how to teach. In the book, I really thought about Civil as being like all of us – and when the book begins, she and Mrs. Seager, the supervising nurse, are on the same team. They want to give women more reproductive control. They want to provide free health services. They want to do good in the community. But when we are in a position of power, there’s a line that it’s very easy to cross.
I just wanted to illuminate that line, and I wanted people not to judge Civil, and some readers still do judge her, but I wanted readers to see a little bit of themselves in her, particularly at that young age, where you want to try to change the world, and then also asking yourself, wouldn’t you have done the same if you had this impoverished family as your patients? Wouldn’t you have tried to get them into an apartment if your mom could help? Wouldn’t you have tried to get them furniture? Wouldn’t you have tried to take them to Kmart so they could get clean underwear? Wouldn’t you have done that? But then you ask yourself, but do you think that they wanted all of — Did they ask you? I tried to just approach the line very, very carefully, until one day Sybil realizes they hadn’t asked for a television. Why am I sitting here thinking about giving them a television? So I wanted us all to think about how we’ve walked that fine line between help and harm. I hope that we think about that in this discussion over reproductive justice too. We want women to have reproductive control over their bodies. But that also means that we have to listen and we have to respect the very women that we’re trying to help. What else do they need from us other than, for example, the right to terminate a pregnancy? They also need, when they do have kids, help with daycare and with safe childcare. My daughter had a tummy ache last week, a very, very bad tummy ache. I called the pediatrician’s office in the middle of the night and they said, “Oh, we’re concerned that this could be appendicitis.” They told us to go to the emergency room and we went to Children’s Hospital and it was full of kids and very, very sick kids in the middle of the night. It was so sad to me. I just thought, this is not good, that all of these sick children are here. The wait was five hours. It was a five hour wait.
Dr. Denise Millstine: And hopefully she’s okay.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: She’s fine. It wasn’t appendicitis. Thank goodness.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Yeah, I love the way you said that, that it’s so easy 50 years later to paint this as who is wrong and who is right. But it’s not so easy when you’re living in the middle of it or operating in the middle of it. Swapna, I’m a little fearful to ask you this question, actually, but I’m wondering what are we doing now that in 50 years we’re really going to wonder, how did we think that was okay?
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Oh, my gosh, what a question. I want to answer that by saying how much time you got. Dolen just brought up a great point, which is, in the conversation about reproductive justice and the continuing conversation we’re having about the ability for women and girls to control their bodies and control their destiny, often we limit the parameters of that conversation all around the time of pregnancy; limiting pregnancy, avoiding pregnancy, what to do if you’re pregnant, what to do during pregnancy? As if you only exist during those times — as if families only exist during that time.
Where I hope we are 50 years from now in the United States, is looking back and saying things like, how were we expecting women and families and children to thrive when we were not providing programs and support in order to make that happen? Things like why was childcare so expensive 50 years ago and why was it so inaccessible? Why were there still folks without health insurance 50 years ago in the United States? Why was it so difficult to access affordable, comprehensive health insurance? Why was there so much disparity in the type of education that we had? Why did it depend what state you lived in, in terms of what type of rights you had as a woman? I hope that those are the conversations that we’re having 50 years from now because those things are not happening anymore. I will say, though, if we look at where we are today and we look at 50 years ago in the United States when Roe v. Wade was decided half a century ago, I always talk about this in class with my students as well. I was born shortly a few years after Roe v. Wade. I’ve never lived in the United States prior to last year where I did not have a right to an abortion if I sought one. I’ve been around for a minute. Now I’m on my second generation of students that I teach. I think of millennial students, they’ve never been alive in an America where that was not available to them. Often, a lot of that gets taken for granted. Then I look at my current students and students in college, and also I have a 15 year old daughter… never been alive in an America where this was not a right. At minimum, three generations of women, girls, boys, men, where we have where we took a lot of this for granted. Now where are we half a century later, we’re still having this conversation.
I would hope that 50 years from now, we will have figured some of this out, recognize the humanity and the injustice. A lot of this conversation recognizes who is disproportionately impacted and who makes decisions, again, not just around the parameters of pregnancy and childbirth, but really trying to support women, children, families as a whole and being honest about what that takes. My answers are so long. I’m so sorry. I just can’t stop talking about this. I’m so sorry.
Dr. Denise Millstine: Well, it’s because these are important topics. I think you’re absolutely right that women are often categorized as these fertile vessels and outside of pregnancy have not been particularly interesting to medicine and we’re seeing that change, thankfully. But there’s a lot of room to grow. In order to treat women well through medical care, through health care. For our listeners who think that we have talked about all of the issues in this book, I want to comment that Dolen goes so far as to talk directly about abortion and healing the grief from abortion. She touches on depression. She touches on weight issues. She touches on how women appear as they age. There are so many layers to this book that we have barely scratched the surface of. In your author’s note at the end of the book, you write, “My hope is that this novel will provoke discussions about culpability in a society that still deems poor, black and disabled as categories for motherhood. I still believe in the power of the novel and its readers to raise the alarm, influence hearts and impact lives.” I want to hear from both of you what you really are hoping the readers of this novel walk away with and are inspired to look at more closely.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: One thing I would like is in 1994, President Clinton issued a presidential apology to the victims and descendants of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Yet the tens of thousands of women in this country who were sterilized by the federal government have never received a presidential apology. I would like to see that. I would like to see that to all of the victims, including the Relf sisters. I would like to see that soon. That’s one thing I would hope that we can do collectively – I always say if there’s anyone here listening who can help me make that happen. With ties to the White House, I think that it’s beyond overdue.
Dr. Swapna Reddy: Yeah, I think right on. This is a topic, again, completely under-discussed. Completely under-discussed. I don’t even think most folks in the United States who’ve probably heard of Tuskegee. Lots of folks have heard of Tuskegee, have never even heard of not just this case, but this larger issue. This feels like something from hundreds of years ago where what we know what this is, as reality is remnants of a eugenics movement that was alive and well in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We have a Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell, that affirmed basically eugenics and forced sterilization of women in 1927. Basically, the three categories were imbeciles, epileptics and feebleminded folks, not my words. That’s the language that’s in the Supreme Court ruling. Where this comes from is again, this categorization that we’ve become all too comfortable with in the United States. And yes, that was a 1927 case. This case, Ralph v. Weinberger is 1964 is when it was decided. We’re still seeing some forced sterilization and issues happening as recently as 2022. This is not just ancient history in our country or in the world. This is something that we’re still grappling with.
Fundamentally it forces us to reexamine how we think about women, how we think about especially marginalized populations, making decisions for folks who sometimes don’t have the agency or the voice to always be able to stand up for themselves. There’s a lot also to be said about what the book was even talking about and what’s been spoken about for decades in this country is who we think are the deserving poor and how we think we should treat the deserving poor if we’re going to provide, quote unquote, welfare programs. What are the conditions of those programs? It really forces us to reexamine those things. I 100% agree with Dolen. It’s needed and it would do a lot in terms of beginning healing. There was a formal apology placed, but I think we as a country need to be very honest in learning this history. We’re going, in many cases, backwards in terms of being honest and learning history. We need to learn this history and recognize the misogyny, the racism, the ableism and the socio-economic factors that go into why we have made decisions like this. We don’t completely keep repeating ourselves.
Dr. Denise Millstine: This has been such a powerful conversation. I hope that our listeners will pick up “Take My Hand,” and then use it as a platform to have their own conversations in the similar vein about these incredibly important, challenging and difficult topics. Thank you both for being on “Read. Talk. Grow.”
Thank you for joining us to talk books and help today on “Read. Talk. Grow.” To continue the conversation and send comments, visit the show notes or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Read. Talk. Grow.”is a production of Mayo Clinic Press. Our producer is Lisa Speckhard Pasque and our recording engineer is Rick Andresen.
The podcast is for informational purposes only and is not designed to replace the physician’s medical assessment and judgment. Information presented is not intended as medical advice. Please contact a health care professional for medical assistance with specific questions pertaining to your own health if needed. Keep reading everyone.
Your Sexual Health
This book is intended for people with a vagina, of any identity or orientation. Gain a better sense of what your body’s telling you — and how to know when not to worry about what you feel or see. A crash course in sexual, reproductive and pregnancy health.Shop Now