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Tuesday 18 January |
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Sweetening the Pill

Holly Grigg Spall

Carolyn Moynihan - MercatorNet - published on 10/16/13

But you need not accept the details of Grigg-Spall’s analysis to agree with her general thesis. It is no accident that The Economist once named the pill one of the seven wonders of the modern world. It clearly suited twentieth century capitalism to have women in the workforce earning the wherewithal to boost consumption, rather than at home raising children – and to have socialists providing an added rationale.

The fear, of course, was largely on account of poor and lowly women both at home and in the developing world who threatened peace and prosperity with their “excessive” childbearing – an attitude which still drives the global commitment to birth control. Grigg-Spall has perceptive commentary on population control and the risks its chief agents are willing to take with the health of the world’s poor – including the drive to get women onto the contraceptive injection even though there is evidence that it is facilitating the spread of HIV/AIDS. The WHO and Bill and Melinda Gates get a special mention here.

None of this would have happened, however, unless women themselves had bought into contempt for their fertility. Feminists embraced the pill because it gave women “control” of their own bodies within a sexual relationship. Ironically, says Grigg-Spall, they have handed this control to a misogynistic medical fraternity who dole out pills like candy, withholding the full story about what it does to the body.

In agreeing to this radical manipulation of female bodies for the sake of sex without consequences feminists end up endorsing the male mode of being as the ideal one. Women can now have sex “like a man,” though Grigg-Spall questions the male stereotype implied here. From this comes “sex positive feminism” with its liberal ideology and embrace of pornography, and radical gender politics dedicated to “smashing the binary” system of male and female. If being female is a disease, here is the ultimate answer.

Grigg-Spall’s answer to this whole trend is for women to get to know their bodies, reclaim the natural menstrual cycle and insist on living and working according to its rhythms – something she believes will benefit both women and the marketplace. There’s a lot about this in her book, ranging over a wide field – from “Catholic” natural family planning to menstrual activists who track their cycles by the moon – and some of it is rather far-fetched (taking days of work during your period, doing different types of tasks at different times of the month…) but the basic idea of the marketplace adapting itself more to women is no more than many mainstream feminists are also advocating, and is sound.

“We are addicted to the pill”

Does she really mean that the pill is an addictive drug? The Slate critic thinks so – and that the idea is ridiculous. But there are ways in which it rings true. The pill – and even more, LARCs – are the fast-food version of contraception, advertised as “safe, easy, reliable.” Above all easy, because, you know, women… you can’t expect much of them… Take and forget. Get an implant and never think about birth control for another three to five years. This kind of sales talk, which minimises responsibility, also creates dependency, and, after Sandra Fluke and the Obamacare-contraceptive mandate debate, who can doubt that women are utterly dependent on contraception? Some 80 percent of women in the US born after 1945 have used the pill.

The medical and pharmaceutical industries certainly act like drug pushers, says Grigg-Spall. “For every dollar spent on basic research, $19 goes to advertising and marketing,” she writes of Big Pharma. More and more the “hook” for the latest pill is about its lifestyle benefits: better hair, clearer skin, no weight gain – things no young woman can do without. The media, from women’s magazines to national television networks, do well out of this advertising, which helps to explain their uncritical attitude to the pill. Doctors also are susceptible to drug company pitches and incentives.

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