A new exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution (SI) titled “Girlhood (It’s Complicated)” features Jazz Jennings, a male who identifies as a female, and Margaret Sanger, whom SI describes as a “complicated” figure.
The exhibition, which opened Friday at the National Museum of American History, intends to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage “by exploring the concept of girlhood in the United States.”
SI states it also wants to show how girls have changed history, specifically in five areas: politics, education, work, health, and fashion.
Although definitions of girlhood have changed, what it means to grow up as a girl in the U.S. has always been part of the American conversation. “Girlhood (It’s Complicated)” opens Oct. 9 at our @amhistorymuseum. Explore online: https://t.co/gfe6TcbrWH
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) October 8, 2020
In a subsection of the exhibition titled, “Embracing Yourself,” SI states “girls break barriers every day to change our culture’s definitions of girlhood,” and asserts, “Jazz Jennings is one of those girls.”
SI continues about Jennings, who is biologically male:
Jazz always knew she “was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.” As a toddler, she felt a roar of emotions at not being able to communicate what she was experiencing. Jazz’s family listened, learned, and supported her. Together, they work to support all transgender children through the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation.
The exhibition features some of Jennings’ artwork and her comments about being transgender.
Girlhood (It's Complicated)
A conference about girlhood featuring a male speaker (Jazz Jennings) on girlhood. https://t.co/2T9L3Wlvnh
— Jennifer Bilek (@bjportraits) October 8, 2020
SI also includes in its “Girlhood” exhibition a section on “intersex” to demonstrate that “checking boxes as male or female is limited.”
“Those boxes could never fully capture the complex realities of one’s gender and sexuality,” SI asserts.
The section containing Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger is subtitled “Girls as a Health Hazard, 1910s,” and begins with the perspective that girls have historically been told by others what to do with their bodies.
SI states on the exhibition’s website:
A national worry about young women’s sexual expression has informed and motivated much advice, instruction, and popular discussion about girls’ bodies and what they should and should not do with them. That concern also led the federal government to launch a national campaign for sex education in the 1910s.
Sanger is described as “a writer and nurse” who “advocated for girls to know and control their own bodies – but only certain girls.”
While SI acknowledges Sanger “believed that women who were poor or who had mental disabilities should not have children in order to promote a ‘healthy’ society,” the exhibition never specifically mentions her views about blacks. There appears to be some content in the exhibition about birth control experimentation and “forced sterilization” programs, including a photo showing black women protesting such campaigns, but no clear mention of Sanger’s now well-known attitudes toward blacks.
“While eugenics was popular in Sanger’s time, today such ideas are offensive for devaluing certain lives,” is how SI deals with the subject. “How do we reckon with this important but complicated historical figure?”
While the left’s “cancel culture” has attempted to obliterate some of the nation’s revered historical figures, who, though imperfect, have contributed greatly to America’s highly valued foundational principles of freedom for all, SI appears to simply dismiss Sanger’s condescension and intolerance for blacks with the allowance that “eugenics was popular” in her time, and that her contributions to the concept that women should have control over their bodies still makes her an “important,” if “complicated,” figure.
In 2015, a national group of black ministers led by Bishop E.W. Jackson, did not go along with the idea that Sanger’s support for eugenics should be understood simply as a “popular” view of the time. They called for the removal of Sanger’s bust from SI’s National Portrait Gallery.
In a letter sent to the director of the gallery at the time, the ministers wrote:
Perhaps the Gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward black and other minority babies; an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as “the feeble minded;” speaking at rallies of Ku Klux Klan women; and communications with Hitler sympathizers. Also, the notorious “Negro Project” which sought to limit, if not eliminate, black births, was her brainchild. Despite these well-documented facts of history, her bust sits proudly in your gallery as a hero of justice. The obvious incongruity is staggering!
SI states the “Girlhood” exhibition will tour the country through its Traveling Exhibition Service from 2023 through 2025.