Monday, November 29, 2010

Is the Birth Control Pill an Infertility Fetish?

Vanessa Grigoriadis opens her New York Magazine article with a scene at the Pierre Hotel. Under the aegis of pharmaceutical manufacturer, a group of women met there recently to commemorate the 50th anniversary of invention of the birth control Pill. Link here.

Of course, the Pill seemed to free women definitively from the risks of unwanted pregnancy. But it has also, Grigoriadis argues, caused too many women to ignore their fertility, even to ignore their femaleness. So, the advent of the Pill has led to much more difficulty conceiving and even increased infertility.

At first glance, this does not seem quite correct. Every modern woman knows that the chances for conception start dropping precipitously after age 35.

This does not mean that Grigoriadis is wrong. It is possible for women to know the risks of deferring childbearing and to ignore them.

This can happen when people join a cult where they consume or worship an object as though it were a magical gift from a god. Could the Pill have been made by feminism into just such a primitive fetish object.

You will probably not find the idea very persuasive. The Pill was invented by science, so we believe that when we get together to celebrate its inception, we are celebrating scientific research, not participating in a cultic ceremony.

How could a pharmaceutical product have anything to do with the world of irrational superstition and pagan beliefs? How could taking the pill be similar to showing reverence for a primitive fetish object, one that is imbued with supernatural powers?

Taking the birth control Pill is more like taking medicine. For Heaven’s sake… it’s prescribed by physicians!

Perhaps Grigoriadis is saying that when modern women, especially modern feminists, start taking the Pill, they get caught up in an infertility cult where the Pill functions like a fetish.

And some of them get trapped in it to the point that their reason clouds over and they wait too long to find a mate and to have children. 

To be fair, this fetish-based reading is mine, not the author’s. I find that if we read her this way, her argument makes more sense.

Even though the Pill is not the first or the only contraceptive, it is by far the most effective. Just as a fertility fetish was thought to ensure successful conception and gestation, people in the modern world seek the intervention of the Pill to ensure temporary infertility.

For contemporary feminism, the Pill was godsend. If feminism looks and sounds like a cult, it should not be surprising that it involves the use and manipulation of fetish objects like the Pill.

The Pill was invented by science. Yet, when feminists wove it into a narrative that served their purposes, it was transformed into an object that had been sent by a god to legitimize the feminist way of life.

Gregoriadis sees this clearly: “It’s magic, a trick of science that managed in one fell swoop to wipe away centuries of female oppression, overly exhausting baby-making, and just marrying the wrong guy way too early.”

It’s not just about avoiding conception. It’s about living a new lifestyle: “These days, 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, partners. The Pill, which is the most popular form of contraception in the U.S., is still the symbol of that freedom.”

There’s more to it than reproductive freedom. By allowing women to discard their identities, the Pill allows them to imagine that they are having sex like a man.

If that is the ideological message, then the Pill, Grigoriadis argues, can cause women to lose touch with what it means to be a woman.

In her words: “It’s easy to believe the assurances of the guests at the Pierre gala that the Pill holds the answers to empowerment and career success, to say nothing of sexual liberation—the ability to have sex in the same way that guys always have, without guilt, fear, or strings attached.”

For now, we will ignore the absurd caricature of the male attitude toward sexual experience.

Grigoriadis will surely take some very serious grief for having written this article. Already, she has come under fire from Amanda Marcotte on the DoubleX blog.

But I think we do well to follow her argument. After all is said and done, she is arguing against the feminist cult, against a cult that has made the Pill into a fetish object. And she is saying that women themselves should decide, freely and rationally, what to do with their reproductive potential and when to do it. There is no special virtue in allowing feminism to make these decisions for individual women. 

Being a woman is not just a social construct; it does have a biological component. Women ignore it at their peril.

Grigoriadis is calling for women to throw off the bonds of superstition and cults, the better to return to the realities and responsibilities of being women.

As she puts it: “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. It 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).“

At a time when the dogmas of political correctness insist that all kinds of sexual pleasure are created equal, it is good to see a woman writer trying to ground the discussion in reality.


Chuck Pelto said...

TO: All
RE: Serious Issues with....

“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. -- Some to speak

....why we're here.


[If your parents didn't have any children, chances are you won't either.]

P.S. I got mine!!!!

Chuck Pelto said...

P.P.S. And lovely things they are too. One of which is smarter than myself AND her mother....together. At least from my observation. Only time will tell.....

Chuck Pelto said...

P.P.P.S. Is there some form of 'cognitive dissonance' at play here? Vis-a-vis women, the 'pill', their sexual desires vs. being—you know—responsible?

Looks like it to me. But who am I to 'judge'? Not part of my 'duty description'.

Just say'n....

Dennis said...

One of the positives for the "Pill" is that it weeds out a lot of women from the genetic "pool" which is probably a good thing.

David Foster said...

"The main cause of problems is solutions"...Every new technology creates problems that did not exist before. Prior to the steam engine, no one needed to worry about boiler explosions.

Sometimes, a new technology creates problems which are the *opposite* of the ones which previously existed. Cheap, abundant food solved the problem of hunger; it created (or at least strongly contributed to) the problem of obesity. Reliable contraception is similar. Previously, a sexually-active woman had to consider her fertility only to the extent that she wanted to *limit*, she has to consider it to the extent that she wants to *utilize* it.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Nicely said... It's interesting that you raise the question of utilizing fertility. It is true that more and more women in the developed world have chosen to have fewer children or not to have children at all. In other parts of the world, women are deprived of reproductive choice and tend to have more and more children.

In the developed world the shortage of children is going to make it impossible for the working generation to support the elderly.

In the underdeveloped world people will be having more children and these children will be competing for increasingly scarce resources. They will also be doing everything in their power to get to the developed world where resources are more plentiful.

And also, in a democratic political system, those groups who have more children also have more power at the ballot box.

As David said, this produces a whole new set of problems.

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