Lynne Murray says:
Social futurist Sara Richardson recently wrote a piece so profound that I felt I should have known her points all along. I lived through the change in attitudes she’s describing. Her conclusion surprised me because it’s so true and yet so invisible. Richardson explains:
When people look back on the 20th century from the vantage point of 500 years on, they will remember the 1900s for three big things…. One was the integrated circuit …. The second was the moon landing ….
But the third one is the silent one, the one that I’ve never seen come up on anybody’s list of Innovations That Changed The World, but matters perhaps more deeply than any of the more obvious things that usually come to mind. And that’s the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception. Far from being a mere 500-year event, we may have to go back to the invention of the wheel or the discovery of fire to find something that’s so completely disruptive to the way humans have lived for the entire duration of our remembered history.
Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options.
This set me to thinking how difficult it was to get a prescription for birth control pills in suburban Southern California in 1967. The pill was legal but you had to find a doctor who would write a prescription for you. I wasn’t about to ask my family doctor, who was my parents’ age and kind of creepy. Worse yet, he might have told my parents, who had made it plain that they did not want me to be sexually active. I knew the Pill existed, but information about where and how to actually get a prescription was not easily found.
A girlfriend in our little theater community suggested I go to a public health clinic. She outlined a strategy: tell them I was going to get married in another month and needed the pill. The song and dance she suggested made it clear that asking for a prescription without pretending to be almost-as-good-as married might not work. I didn’t feel equal to that deception and finally ended up honestly asking and getting a prescription from my dermatologist, who said he prescribed it for acne and would be glad to furnish a scrip. He was 10 years older and quite amused that I was interested in contraception. In fact. when he heard I was moving to San Francisco, home of sex and drugs and rock and roll, he asked if I could get him some marijuana. Although he was perfectly nice about it, he demonstrated how women are divided into good girls–owned by and obedient to a father or a husband–and bad girls–who want to have sex without consequences. Bad girls, being outlaws, are reasonable people to ask for illegal drugs.
Once I moved to San Francisco, I discovered Planned Parenthood and my problems getting reliable birth control simply by asking for it were over
Robinson describes the dangers of complacency:
If you’re a woman of childbearing age in the US, you’ve had access to effective contraception your entire fertile life . . .[I] t feels like we’ve had this right, and this technology, forever. We take it so completely for granted that we simply cannot imagine that it could ever go away. It leads to a sweet complacency: birth control is something that’s always been there for us, and we’re rather stunned that anybody could possibly find it controversial enough to pick a fight over.
She reminds her readers that the backlash is real and the threat is not imaginary:
Modern industrial economies have undermined the authority of men both in the public sphere and in the private realms; and since they’re limited in how far they can challenge it in the external world, they’ve turned women’s bodies into the symbolic battlefield on which their anxieties over this play out. Drill down to the very deepest center of any of these movements, and you’ll find men who are experiencing this change as a kind of personal annihilation, a loss of masculine identity so deep that they are literally interpreting it as the end of the world. (The first rule of understanding apocalyptic movements is this: If someone tells you the world is ending, believe them. Because for them, it probably is.)
They are, above everything else, desperate to get their women back under firm control. And in their minds, things will not be right again until they’re assured that the girls are locked up even more tightly, so they will never, ever get away like that again.
These things can take a loooong time to work all the way out.) Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will, in all likelihood, still be working out the details of these new gender agreements a century from now; and it may be a century after that before their grandkids can truly start taking any of this for granted.
Robinson’s article also gave me a renewed respect and appreciation for Margaret Sanger, who said: “No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”
Sanger waged a lifelong struggle to make reliable birth control available. She was instrumental in encouraging the invention of, and finding the funding to develop, the Pill. She lived to see the Pill made available.
Now it is time to honor her legacy and make sure that our rights to reproductive freedom are not wrestled out of our hands.