On Contraception and the Sexual Emancipation of Women

The controversy surrounding Rick Santorum and his views on birth control has made me think once more about the consequences of those little pills and their friends prophylactic, scary copper-twisty thing, implanon etc. It seems to me that the upcoming U.S. elections are relying increasingly on women and their reproductive rights to provide a battleground for varying degrees of campaign bullshit, and whilst it is refreshing to have people realise that Feminism is still necessary, it is largely INFURIATING.

I should state right out that I in no way support anything Santorum has said about contraception (or pretty much anything for that matter).

ANYWAY, in some of my early feminism lectures, it was put forward that the so-called ‘Sexual Revolution’ of the 60s/70s actually had very few positive outcomes women, and was more or less a rearrangement of the pressures applied to women by The Patriarchy.
Birth control and the ‘sexual emancipation’ of women were said to provide key examples.

The contraceptive pill, vaunted as the be all and end all of liberation for women, provided a means of medical/chemical control over women’s bodies as never before. It headed a storm of technological advancements in the field contraception and fertility that has by no means rained itself out in the 21st century, and continues to deny women real agency in their reproductivity (shut up spell-check that is a real word).

Allow me to extrapolate: birth control may allow women to regulate their fertility, but it did nothing to change the social context of everyday women’s lives. So even though they were now physically able to not have children by choice, they still had to deal with all the rigid cultural norms surrounding sexuality and lady-behaviour. Half a century later we still have  magic pills that allow you to choose how many children you have (you’re still having children just so we’re clear – mustn’t waste that nice broad pelvis!), and still have a culture which fights women tooth and nail for every scrap of reproductive agency. You’re too young to have kids – take this pill! You’re too old to have kids – take this pill! You might want kids later – freeze your eggs! Your uterus has dried up? – lemme stick you with these hormones. Wait, you’re pregnant? – Have an abortion! You’re giving your child away? – you heartless bitch. You’re sixteen and broke? – better give that kid away. You want to have sex with me? – You’re taking the pill right?

You get the idea.
I’m not suggesting that having the ability to regulate your fertility is necessarily a bad thing, it’s more that now, women are expected to regulate it. By extension, I believe this has lead to an increased perception of fault, should a woman fail to regulate it effectively. I can’t know for sure, being only 24, but I feel like The Dance Partner of the 50s would have been more inclined to fulfill his end of the bargain child-rearing wise than the average dude today.
I certainly don’t wish to paint men in general as 100% hit-and-run in the knocking-up department, but you have to admit there are more than a few guys around who seem to feel as though they can take or leave accidental pregnancy because, you know, she should have been more careful.

Coming back to the alleged Sexual Revolution, it seems to me as though the restrictive moral and social code that governed women’s sexuality then (oh god why am I having flashbacks to Footloose) was not dismantled so much as it was medicinalised (also definitely a word). Women’s sexuality is still controlled, if by less overt, and more chemically oriented methods.
If I wasn’t already convinced, the most recent discussions on male contraception make a pretty strong argument for birth control being less about population control, or even pregnancy prevention, than control of women’s bodies.
It is also worth noting that any useful ovary-tech business is only to be utilised by the right kind of women. Old women are OUT. Disabled? NOT FOR YOU. Lesbians, obviously, must not ever reproduce, because everyone knows that will lead to a race of  man-castrating amazonian super-dykes who don’t ever remove body hair.

I hate to even think that Santorum might have been onto something (at any time, on any subject) when he said that contraception was bad for women, but perhaps he might have stumbled, in the dark, to within several hundred kilometers of almost. Now, don’t get the wrong idea – I fully support contraception, and if anyone tried to take it away from me I would do my best to hamstring them with an IUD. But I do hanker for the feminist utopia in which electoral campaigns don’t ignore the economy (in a goddamn GFC) in order to commit all of their time to FUCKING WITH WOMEN’S REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS. And I think at the very least it is clear that responsibility for ‘family planning’ has very little to do with families, and a lot to do with keeping a firm grasp on women’s ovaries.

* When I google imaged ‘contraceptive pill advertisement’ their was this:

Johnny Depp, #1 ladies contraceptive!!


6 thoughts on “On Contraception and the Sexual Emancipation of Women

  1. very interesting take. I don’t know if I feel that I am being controlled by ‘The Man’, because I love my IUD. There’s certainly pressure for the ‘right’ kind of family planning, and for women to be unable to get pregnant from a casual encounter. But I think that it has been liberating – if you did get pregnant from 50s dance partner, you would almost certainly have had to give the child up for adoption, and my IUD has pretty much saved me from period pain (1 period in 2 years, my friend!). I don’t feel that I am as limited by my womanly body as women in the past were.

    While we’re at it, when are they going to make the period optional? I understand some women like having it so they feel connected to their biology/nature/etc but I only want to get mine if I absolutely have to (e.g. when I am trying for children).

    1. I definitely think contraception has it’s benefits. I think my point was actually that the improvement in technology hasn’t done much to change the attitudes surrounding women’s bodies and women’s sexual agency.

  2. also I don’t think google understands contraception. Maybe if you’re a lady, and you look like Johnny Depp, that would be effective contraception because only (mostly) (straight) women would want to have sex with you?

  3. And then you have wankers like Rush Limbaugh (on health insurance covering birth control):

    “So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you feminostis, here’s the deal. What does it say about the college co-ed, Susan Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex?”

    “What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”

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