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I Can't Believe I Forgot to Have Children: NY Mag on the Pill

November 30, 2010, 4:15 PM

Oh, look, Vanessa Grigoriadis has a another very polished but utterly vacuous feature in New York Magazine. She's marking the 50th anniversary of the approval of the Pill with some very retro reasoning: "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."

In other words, Grigoriadis thinks women are too frivolous and short-sighted to plan their own lives. Women are allegedly having too much fun and freedom in their twenties to know what's good for them. So, unplanned pregnancies are actually nature's gift to dumb broads who would otherwise forget to have children.

But the argument can't just be that women are short-sighted, because then there would be nothing left to blame on the Pill. Grigoriadis' entire argument hinges on the premise that the Pill is somehow uniquely seductive:

The Pill (and other hormonal methods of birth control, like the patch and the ring) basically tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant. The medicine takes control of your reproductive processes, pulsing progesterone and estrogen to suppress ovulation. On the Pill, every woman’s cycle is exactly the same, at 28 days, even though that is rarely the case in nature, where the majority of periods occur every 26 to 32 days but can take up to 40 or even 50 days. This is a nice effect, but it’s not real. And there’s a cost to this illusion, one that the women at the [pharmaceutical company's party in honor of the Pill] weren’t discussing. The fact is that the Pill, while giving women control of their bodies for the first time in history, allowed them to forget about the biological realities of being female until it was, in some cases, too late. [Emphasis added.]

She's arguing that women are slaves to their menstrual cycles. She thinks, for reasons she doesn't explain, that a "real" period is a prerequisite for good decision-making. So, if you don't lose enough blood, you can't think clearly? Is New York Magazine trying to revive an interest in the four vital humors?

I fail to see how women who choose to alter their body chemistry each day are less "in touch" with their bodies than those who take a more haphazard approach. Personally, I've always found that the best way to get to know a system is to tinker with it. 

Besides which, what does being "in touch" with your body have to do with your ability to count to 35, ask questions of your doctor, or use Google? The author approvingly quotes a woman who blames the Pill for her inability to pay attention in health class:

I feel 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,” says Sophia, 35, who was on the Pill for fourteen years. “In my ninth-grade health class, I remember the teacher saying, ‘You can get pregnant any day of the month, so always use protection,’ and I kind of knew that wasn’t true, but because I was on the Pill, I never really cared about finding out the right answer. The Pill takes a certain knowledge away from you, and that knowledge is empowering.”

Women aren't putting off childbearing because they don't realize that their biological clocks are ticking. Thanks to romantic comedies and well-meaning relatives, every woman is acutely aware that fertility declines after 35. The idea that there's some kind of feminist conspiracy to suppress this information is absurd.

And ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing—the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.

Grigoriadis' essay shows the dark side of unthinking worship of the natural. She starts out by claiming that infertility is a de facto side effect of the Pill. Later, she asserts more than once that the price of female sexual freedom is infertility. She shifts from a half-hearted empirical claim that the Pill distorts women's decision-making to a moralistic pronouncement about the consequences of female sexual freedom in general.

If you strip away all the gloss and the celebrity name-dropping you get to the ugly core of this article: Women's liberation is illusory because women are too stupid to know what's good for them. Female sexuality without reproduction is unnatural. Women who flout the natural order will be punished with barrenness. Like I said, retro.

[Image: Postcard available on Full Moon Emporium's CafePress, $8 for a pack of 8.]


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