This interview with Laura Eldridge over at Bitch is worth a read. Eldridge is a feminist writer, and has been an outspoken opponent of hormonal birth control. There’s a lot she says that I disagree with, but I think this point is well taken:
It’s hard for anyone to be critical of the Pill, even if you’ve been studying this drug for years. Even now I feel I need to be cautious. I always want to be respectful of women’s choices, even when they are different from mine. I want to say from the beginning that the Pill works really well for many many women. If a friend of mine is doing well on it, I would never tell her get off.
Many women, though, are living with a very problematic method of contraception that they don’t like, even though there are other options out there. This has to do with their relationships with their doctors, their partners and how they see themselves fitting in to society in general. Analysis of women and the Pill can show both how far we have come and how far we still have to go.
While hormonal birth control is a great thing, it also is far from ideal for a lot of women (myself included). But if you don’t want to use a hormonal method and also don’t want to rely 100% on condoms, your options are pretty limited — most doctors won’t insert an IUD in a 20-something woman without kids, and diaphragms aren’t particularly convenient. And birth control is still the woman’s responsibility.
She also makes some good points about the Pill and other contraceptive methods being highly profitable for pharmaceutical companies, and those companies sometimes sometimes covering up or downplaying negative side effects. But that said? A lot of women love the Pill. For a lot of women, it’s enabled us to live our lives more fully; it’s meant that we can have some basic control over when we get pregnant, so that we can have fulfilling sexual lives while also pursuing our other goals. It’s hardly been a capitalist conspiracy; women have had to work damn hard to gain access to birth control on their own terms.
I’m also more than a little skeptical about her expertise when she claims that emergency contraception is non-hormonal and somehow different from the birth control pill. She also pushes fertility awareness at the end, which surely works for some women but is not nearly as effective as most other birth control methods, and just doesn’t work for a lot of us. And she doesn’t seem to put her commentary at all in context — being critical of the Pill and the pharmaceutical system is great, but that criticism is happening in a country where conservatives are trying to limit access to birth control (and, if they had their way, probably outlaw it). To leave that out of the conversation strikes me as a little irresponsible, or just clueless.
I’m glad to see feminists having critical discussions about the Pill, especially when they center on the many negative experiences that women have had with hormonal birth control. Too often the feminist line on birth control is “it’s great!” and that’s that. But there’s a reason feminists toe that line so strongly — it’s because of ongoing encroachments onto reproductive freedom, including birth control. To leave that out of the picture, and to pepper your interview with misinformation, makes the conversation less helpful and less productive than it could be.
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