Msnowe's Blog

The Pill v. Ms. Rip Van Winkle

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on December 6, 2010

New York Magazine says that we’ve been sleeping all these years. If anything, our culture, laws, politics, etc., do nothing BUT remind us we’re women. Hypersexed women. Dowdy asexual women. Grizzlymama women. Feminazi women …. There is never a time we are allowed to be anything but women. So to suggest we’ve collectively forgotten is laughable.

Lest we forget

Waking Up from Waking Up from the Pill

Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote the cover story, “Waking Up From the Pill,” in New York Magazine’s latest issue. As an occasional reader of the mag, msnowe picked it up (hoping it would impart the same kind of interesting tidbits that say, the recent article/N+1 excerpt on hipsters did a few weeks prior).

No such luck. For a magazine that hopes to keep us up on the current trends of the NY intellectual world and beyond, this article was disappointing, and fraught; fraught with the Lilliputian musings and inductive logic that one would come to expect from right-wing wonks. This story on contraception was more a study in contradiction.

As any good critic of US politics will tell you, when you start waving around the rhetoric of Fear by invoking Freedom as a misused and misunderstood privilege, you can get into trouble, not to mention land wars in the Middle East. But this article begins with the simple byline:

Fifty years ago, birth-control pills gave women control of their bodies, while making it easy to forget their basic biology—until in some cases, it’s too late.

Freedom, Complacency, and Fear. There you have it–the accusatorial and sensational triumvirate of scare journalism.

As the article rightly summarizes—the pill was developed and made legal 50 years ago for reasons completely separate from the woman’s hope of greater personal sexual control (it was more about population control and Cold War eugenists’ fears of developing countries and their growing populations). But as we often see (perhaps to a larger extent today), unholy alliances between divergent groups (like feminists and McCarthyist wackos) are how some things that are actually good for society get passed.

****

msnowe doesn’t know what 20-somethings Grigoriadis was looking at when she wrote that “women’s twenties are as free and fabulous as they can be, a time of boundless freedom and experimentation, of easily trying on and discarding identities, careers, and partners” (please don’t say “the girls in Williamsburg”). But you would be hard pressed to find women of that description outside of reality television. You know what? We’re in a recession. msnowe has been in NYC for a sizable chunk of her twenties—and not to get overly anecdotal here (because that is, after all, what we’re accusing the author of being), but msnowe’s friends are in publishing, they are accountants, law firm lawyers, and public school teachers. Some were laid off in the past few years, but most are just worried about being laid off. My peers and I might enjoy the sexual freedom that comes with experimentation and youth, but most are not so carefree as it may seem to this journalist—many are trying to climb up the precarious professional ladder (at a mere percentage of a male peer’s wage). Many have trouble paying for birth control, which although it is now included in many insurance prescription plans (and coverage only started in the early ‘aughts, due to backlash from women’s groups when they saw that HMOs immediately added newly approved Viagra to their plans), it can still cost a woman up to $60 a month to refill the prescription.

(“The cost of birth control pills, and lack of access to them for some women, also plays a role in the unintended pregnancy rate in this country. While a fair number of insurance companies today do cover oral contraceptives, there are often big co-payments or high deductibles involved, making the pills unaffordable for some,” Source)

It is incredibly presumptuous and elitist (i.e. moneyed, “keep your hands off my government” elitist, not necessarily culturally elitist), to accuse the greater number of women, even if you’re only looking at NYC, of being so cavalier with a decade of their lives. This article starts with a gala at the Pierre, and truthfully, it doesn’t ever leave the champagned ballrooms of privilege.

msnowe will concede the point that the Pill does, in some cases, aid in a loss of the basic personal biological cycles unique to each woman–because that is exactly what women are signing on for when they prescribe to the pill–it is one of the benefits, along with less premenstrual pain. But that does not allow women to forget that they are in fact women, capable of childbearing for a slightly varying window of years. To say that women are not reminded of it, or don’t know it themselves is clearly beside the point. The article says:

“It [the Pill] changed the narrative of women’s lives, so that it was much easier to put off having children until all the fun had been had (or financial pressures lessened).”

All the “fun”? That parenthesis is larger than the author would like us to believe, while the inflammatory statement in the beginning is what we should take home, according to her non-research. The advent of the Pill brought with it the increased expectation that women were no longer allowed the benefits of being the reproductive gender. It was if businessmen the country over, independently in their corner offices said to themselves: “now that the women in my company have the cheap-ish and easy ability to never get pregnant or go on maternity leave, if they really value their position, they wouldn’t compromise their careers by doing something as foolish as getting knocked up—that is for some other company’s women to decide.” So the Pill might have given women more sexual choice, but it narrowed her professional choice. In the early Pill days, before the business world had readjusted to the “equal opportunity” career woman, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor took off time to have a family and then worked her way back up to the highest court in the land (she also graduated at the top of her law class at Stanford, but still no one would give her a job except as a secretary). Today, that path has been blocked completely by the presumption that any “serious” career woman would be committed entirely to work, with no time made for children/family (as exemplified by our two newest, childless justices). msnowe isn’t saying that the past business model was better for women (it was worse, for sure), but unfortunately, we have traded in that one for the mirage of parity—this is just an inequitable plan parading as a solution. The Pill was and is a good thing—society twisted the freedoms the Pill made available into a whole new form of oppression divorced from any hormone treatments. If ANYONE forgot that women are fertile for a certain number of years, it was the outside societal forces telling women to work harder and longer (perhaps harder and longer than men just to get recognized as a value), not women forgetting their own bodies.

Of course, that leads msnowe back the long section on IVF covered in the article. As the journalist reports, IVF costs, on average, “$15,000 per cycle including medication.” The median household income for NYC a few years ago was around $38,000. You adjust that salary for the incredibly high cost of living in the city (average monthly rent for a studio apartment in a crappy part of Manhattan is probably around $1,500), and there is no way that most women could afford these treatments. As the income gap has widened between rich and poor, so has the ability of the richest of the rich to hope for and purchase more ridiculous things, such as babies that they froze 20 years ago as eggs and sperm. These treatments, and costly adoptions, are only for those at the drug galas, and perhaps Gossip-Girl type characters 25 years down their fertility roads. The author claims that freezing women’s eggs in their twenties to have babies in their late thirties and early forties “may be the world to which many are heading.” The affluent myopia of that statement is almost laughable—as if the whole world of women could be carried to that world on their salaries. msnowe says almost laughable because sadly, there is some type of women who think this type of IVF is a solution and they are the very same ones writing articles like this—disregarding the greater population of women.

It would be remiss of msnowe not to mention the incredibly snide and harsh tone of the article, on top of all errors it contains. Here’s an example:

“Suddenly, one anxiety—Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.” (my italics.)

First off, the threat of pregnancy, for a woman who doesn’t want to get pregnant, is a concern. But to say women “gobble down” a Pill, and then run out to a drug store in their underwear at 3AM like some half-assed version of Bridget Jones’ Diary is another thing altogether. To escape reading this paragraph without imagining chickens running around with their heads off is almost unavoidable—and besides, the women that Grigoriadis is talking about would never do such a thing—they would send the doorman or their wide-eyed lover to discretely purchase what they needed. To say women have a “new set of obsessions” implies not only that they are all unhealthily attached to their “scary” fertility (a modern-day version of “hysteria,” where women’s wombs float around and bump into other organs and cause fits of unintelligible havoc), but that they are always filled with irrational obsessions—it’s just that this evil Pill has given them a newer one.

My parting question is this: What, exactly, does this author propose to be the answer? Is she saying we should stop the Pill, and all rely on the rhythm method, or whatever this “Fertility Awareness Method” is? Because that, dear reader, would set us back 50 years. Discuss.

For further reading on this lovely journalist, check out her NYTimes wedding announcement!

OMLG, they met at Burning Man! (aka druggie fest!)


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3 Responses

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  1. Ashley said, on December 6, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Our fridge might need this: http://www.cafepress.com/+forgot_to_have_children_magnet,178547115

  2. Carolyn said, on December 6, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Nice piece, Msnowe! I was also beyond incensed by this sloppy, ridiculous article. I particularly abhor the quote from “Sophia, 35” who says “I fell like I’ve gotten a message over the years that the less I have to do with the nitty-gritty biological stuff of being a woman, the better. And that’s a weird message.” Umm, Sophia (and Vanessa), even when on the Pill, you still get your period, and PMS (even if perhaps diminished), and all the other aspects of your cycle. I don’t see how it removes you from the nitty gritty. If anything, it makes you MORE aware, because each day you have to take the damn thing and for that moment you remember that you could get pregnant, that you are a fertile woman who is only kept from conception and motherhood by this thin thread. And in fact, some women get MORE womanly while taking the hormones in the Pill. Most people I know gain weight and get curvier, more womanly hips and bigger boobs–all of which puts them more in touch with their femininity and the “nitty gritty” of all that being a woman means.

  3. m.snowe said, on December 7, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Thanks! And, word! I agree–it doesn’t remove you from the nitty gritty at all, as you are constantly aware of regulating your cycle. I will say that the Pill causes women to be fairly regular with their periods because of the hormones, and that you might perhaps have an unusual cycle if you weren’t on the drug–but every woman knows that and accepts it when they accept the prescription. I seriously think the author was grasping at whatever straws she could to legitimize her “provocative”argument. And she really couldn’t legitimize it anyway.


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