Friday, October 23, 2009


I'm coming to realise that when you start talking about how women are different from men you open yourself up to all kinds of problems. I've been trying to figure out the reasoning behind women's reluctance to criticise the pill in any way larger than sharing concerns between friends. As part of my figuring I've naively wandered into a trap that could undermine my motivation here. Still reading Faludi's 'Backlash' I came across this statement that brought clarity to an idea I suppose I've been kicking around already without noticing.

"Examining gender differences can be an opportunity to explore a whole network of power relations - but so often it just becomes an invitation to justify them."

I see that talking about how women have a different biology to men, and particularly that they have hormone cycles that effect their moods can be seized upon as support for ideas that I don't believe in at all. Ideas that categorise women as frail, weak, irrational - handicapped by their biology. If you emphasise the importance of the uterus and ovaries too much, it can be taken to be suggesting women are ruled by these organs. Even if you're positive about the hormone cycle and the good it can bring, rather than discussing it negatively, you are still seen to be bolstering the historically destructive understanding that women are irrational, where men are rational and women are ruled by the body, where men have the mind. Even suggesting women have instincts, or that they can be more creative, or more productive, at certain times is easily misconstrued.

'Backlash' discusses one writer Carol Gillagan whose 'In A Different Voice' was attacked for bolstering arguments that independence and freedom were inherently unhealthy states for women. Another writer, Dr Toni Grant claimed 'Biology is destiny,' creating a thesis that somewhat accidently backed up the long-standing belief that feminism had led to professionalism which had in turn led to psychosis.

I can see now why women tread so carefully around the issue of the pill. There's a fear of drawing attention to the action of the pill and the problems it might cause when everything bound up with that is so complex. Much effort has gone into playing down the differences between men and women in order to get women an equal standing. I'm not saying women have had to pretend to be men, I'm not even sure how comfortable I am with the dichotomy of what being a 'man' is and what being a 'woman' is, only that we've had to keep quiet on certain issues so as to not reopen an already battered can of worms.

Perhaps it's that women know that the reason doctors doubt them when they complain of panic attacks and anxiety when taking the pill is that those doctors, and society in general, believe being 'emotional' is intrinsic to being female.Complaints about feeling 'out of control' of our emotions are therefore not taken seriously as it's presumed we always feel that way. Like that idea that women are masochistic that I spoke of in an earlier post, there's also this connecting idea that we are all, always miserable. This oppressive assumption - everywhere once you start looking - stops women recognising the negative impact the pill often has on their well being, as much as it stops doctors believing that the pill can have such an impact.

I've heard a couple of interesting comments recently regarding men's moods. New research is showing that men experience cyclical moods in a similar way to women. I'd be interested to find out more about that, although I don't think it needs to be scientifically proved in order for what I'm saying here to have justification. If women weren't taking the pill, I'd think it was absolutely fine for them to go ahead and ignore their monthly cycles and forget they even exist for three weeks out of four. But as many of them are taking the pill I think it's important they are aware of what their body would naturally be doing otherwise. That way they can decide if they want to use this kind of contraception and realise when it's making them unwell. I don't think women should be hiding what's going on every fourth week either - it just would be healthier if we consider other ways of preventing pregnancy.

In fact, no whitewashing here - it's been six weeks since I stopped taking the pill and the first signs of my body rumbling back to life have not been much cause for celebration. It feels more like the first party an alcoholic has to attend after giving up the drink. A test of my will. I have had a pain in my side for two days straight which I am taking to mean ovulation and not appendicitis. My skin and hair have taken a downturn for the worse, with testosterone levels picking up rapidly the confusion seems to have sparked off a sebum production frenzy. Now, I should and will welcome a major decline in attractiveness for the time that my body takes to work out what the hell is going on, considering it comes with a lack of extreme emotional upheaval. However, I can't help looking back slightly fondly to my beautifully clear Yasmin-induced no-testosterone-whatsoever skin. See, it's a tough enough fight for me.

My libido is slowly stumbling upwards, like someone woken suddenly in the middle of the night. It's pretty fascinating to physically experience all the stuff I've been writing about. If you think of the skin and hair situation in marketing terms it's like this useful, reinforcing by-product of the pill. We all associate clear skin and glossy hair with good health. When first coming off the pill, everything is going haywire and you might start thinking, 'Oh, I naturally have bad skin and dull hair...bugger that,' but it will pass once it all gets realigned. Meanwhile, I'm seeing first hand the pill's power by seeing what happens when that's taken away.

Even though I'm reading a lot about the ovulation cycle I still don't feel particularly inclined to make a song and dance out of getting my period, or even try practicing fertility awareness. However I get that this cycle effects a whole lot of other bodily functions that I need to be working properly to feel good and think straight - in drawing attention to the effect of the pill, I'm not drawing attention to just the reproductive organs - I'm drawing attention to my brain too - they work together and are not at war, as the Victorians believed. I've heard that the hormone cycle is like the sleep cycle, and that messing with it is just as unhealthy as sleeping just two hours a day or not sleeping for three days at a time regularly, for years. Seeing as both men and women sleep, I like that analogy.

The pill has become a byword for women's liberation, but that liberation is a process that has proven much more complicated, and still ongoing. I don't think we are near achieving what is necessary yet. The association between the pill and liberation has put a lid on the matter, as though after the pill's release, the entire problem was solved. That's not true. I think if we knock the pill off the pedestal we might get further, faster.

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