If you could encapsulates women’s progress in one small object it would be, yes, the pill. With birth control we were given the keys to the car, a Eurorail pass to the stars — with our bodies (and therefore our lives) under control, we could go whatever we wanted. (Okay, not whatever, but much, much more than before.)
Because the birth control pill is so tangled up with our relationship to both our bodies and sense of empowerment, it’s not totally surprising that a backlash has emerged.
At Slate, Lindsay Beyerstein reviews “Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control,” a new book by Holly Grigg-Spall which presents itself as a feminist critique of the pill. In it, Grigg-Hall explains why It’s addictive, why capitalist marketers are keeping it that way and how it is making us sick.
Beyerstein discredits most of the scientific claims made in book about the pill causing depression, headaches and weight gain, while taking issue with a larger movement among some feminist to reclaim the woman’s body and its many, inconvenient physiological functions. She writes:
It would be tempting to dismiss the author as an isolated crank, but she is part of a disturbing effort to reduce women to their biological functions in the name of feminism. Sexists have been trying to reduce women to incubators since time immemorial, but recently some self-proclaimed feminists have jumped on the bandwagon, arguing that true liberation means being left alone to experience feminine bodily functions like ovulation, childbirth, and breast-feeding in all their natural glory. To these “feminists,” tampons and epidurals are keeping women down. And now, the birth control pill is, too.
As someone who was recently pregnant in alt-leaning Brooklyn, I know just what she is talking about. There is indeed a push from certain women, many of whom identify as feminists, for all things “natural.” They encourage women to eschew any technological advancements, in favor of the glorious female body and all the she can produce. Things like epidurals, formula and, now apparently, the pill, are no-no’s. But by prioritizing the natural, all they are doing is reinforcing these old-school, essentialist notions of defining women by their biological functions. I had a hospital birth, with an epidural and supplemented breastfeeding with formula — so you know where I stand on all this.
Still, as much as I have little patience for natural childbirth proponents and their ilk, I don’t think we should just dismiss this anti-pill, anti-epidural movement entirely. (Though you can dismiss the anti-tampon cohort. Because, come on!) Doing so would suggest that we are really in total control when it comes to birth control and childbirth choices, and I am not sure that we are.
Right now there is little dialogue challenging the way we avoid pregnancy and birth our children outside of what is coming from the “breast is best” bunch, and that is a problem for all women, no matter how glorious and magical we believe our biological forms to be, or not. Somebody needs to ask questions about the things like the pill and epidurals, while still believing them to be the lifesavers and game-changers that they are. Too bad it didn’t happen this time.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.