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Birth Control & Why Feminists Need It

by Beth Divine 25 Oct 2018

Let’s begin with a disclaimer – this is not a crack about how feminists should be prevented from breeding so their message dies with them… Far from, this is an appeal – once again – to understand just why the things that feminists get passionate about are still vitally important today.

A male birth control pill was invented and trialled. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive the human trials as there were so many miserable side effects. The men taking it felt guilty if they ever forgot to take the daily dose, and found it a trial to include in their daily routines. They also suffered from mood disruption, skin outbreaks, weight gain, muscle aches and emotional disorder. When this result was published women all over the world did a collective eye roll so hard that it may have affected the tilt of the earth. Why? you may ask. The answer is very simple – those symptoms, the ones that made it unthinkable to continue the roll out of the male contraceptive pill, are exactly the same symptoms that women have been experiencing and complaining about ever since The Pill was introduced, back in the 60s. This anecdote highlights a number of issues that show the disparity between the sexes – women are expected to suffer in ways that men are not, but also, the medical profession tends to ignore women’s complaints, often dismissing them as hysteria or fatigue, instead of exploring symptoms properly – as they would for a man. Even when women are acknowledged as being in pain, they tend to be given less pain relief than men receive – almost as though women’s pain is less important to manage than men’s…

But despite the problems with birth control, being able to control the narrative when it comes to pregnancy is an invaluable tool in the fight for female rights. Because men have long used female bodies as an excuse to dominate and control women, disregarding their wishes and needs. It is to be hoped that future generations will be appalled that this was a battle that needed to be fought: men and women need each other. Yes, women are smaller and physically weaker (generally speaking, not individually) but this does not mean that women need to be cosseted and protected ‘for their own good’.

Traditionally, pregnancy has been touted as a tool to keep women occupied and in the household – in line, in other words. Think back to old television shows and books in which doctors say ‘Give her another baby, that will calm her down.’ and you will understand just how pernicious this attitude really was – and still is.

Recent news items in the American press have made it seem as though there is a movement afoot towards making birth control even more expensive, and legislating away the right to seek an abortion. The disturbing thing about these movements is that they are in motion only as another way of keeping (or returning to) that iron grip on women’s freedom. There is an unsavoury bunch of people, predominantly men who, for reasons best known to themselves, hate women, and thus want to keep them down and at a disadvantage. While these people want to make child birth harder to access, they will still disavow all responsibility for the resulting children, refuse to pay equal child care, and will take a great delight in ‘slut-shaming’ women who get pregnant unexpectedly. All the while ignoring the fact that it takes a man to impregnate a woman in this fashion.

Being able to decide whether to have children and when to have children is invaluable to women who want to be present in the workplace full time. Steps to take this freedom away from women is sure to prevent them from gaining full financial and intellectual freedom.