Friday, December 4, 2009


I think I might need to revise one of the statements I have made over and over on this blog, but then I guess that is some of the fun of a blog - you get to see the evolution of ideas. I've been reading a bit more about Margaret Sanger, the lady who helped bring about the release of the birth control pill. I'd been thinking on how she fought for freedom of choice and education, and I'd previously argued that the way the pill is presented and pushed to women these days has undermined the original motivations behind its creation.

But just this week I found out that although she was involved in the feminist and socialist beginnings of the pill in the early 1900s, as she came up against opposition she changed her take on the campaign quite drastically. She advocated the pill as a tool for stopping the 'wrong' people having too many children - 'wrong' in her mind being the poor and/or the 'feebleminded' (particularly after the invention and promotion of the IQ test). Her views were very overtly racist and classist, basically suggesting the pill should be used as a method of eugenics. You might remember I talked many posts back about how the pill component was created under Nazi experimentation to sterilise the Jewish people in concentration camps.

The UK's NHS started a new public awareness campaign aimed at young women this week. It's about informing 16 to 24 year olds on what types of contraception are available to them and how to avoid getting STIs, or getting pregnant. This is great, of course, and clearly miles better than the abstinence-only rot they try and sell here in the US. However, I have been watching some of the videos online, and reading the information, and there appears to be a strong emphasis on hormonal methods, and particularly long acting methods like the injection, the implant and the hormonal IUS. Of the 15 methods mentioned - yes, at least it's not just the pill - most of them are hormone-based.

One of the adverts shown on TV works from the point of view that it is too difficult for young women to remember to take the pill every day - and that it doesn't fit in with their 'lifestyle.' The long acting methods are given as an answer to this assumed problem. In the information given there's very little said about the possible side effects of anything, and the one mention made that some women might want to avoid hormonal methods is not backed up with any explanation. Also, oddly, condoms are kind of weirdly undermined as an effective method in some places, and then supported in others. Considering the rising number of people with STIs the whole discussion is heavily weighted to methods that only prevent pregnancy.

I've talked about this trend before, which I have seen in magazine articles criticising the pill - this push towards the injection, implant and IUD which entirely ignores the actual reason the pill causes women problems - the synthetic hormones. The main benefit suggested by the NHS representatives for the long acting contraceptives is that they stop menstruation entirely. No talk of stopping ovulation, or the entire bodily process, of course. I tend to see the NHS as a benign entity, but I don't like this spinning of the facts here. The pill gives over control of women's bodies and reproduction to medical authorities, but the injection, the implant, the hormonal IUS signs us over entirely to this system. You need a doctor to administer these methods and you need a doctor to remove two of them. You don't even get to choose to stop taking them one day, like you can with the pill.

I think the promotion of these long acting methods is not unrelated to the eugenics foundations of the pill. As I have said before, the injection is more often administered to young black women than any other group of people. It is also used liberally in developing countries. I think these methods illustrate a profound lack of respect for women. It's worth saying again that the Depo injection is used for the chemical castration of sex offenders. The same injection is being given to one in five African American women. Even if I didn't know that for some women the injection, implant, IUS will impact horribly on their mood, well being and general health, I would still be very suspicious of this insistence on such contraceptives being an improvement on the pill. It's as though it's understood now that women are becoming concerned with the pill and these replacements are being ushered in that are actually more effective than the pill in divorcing women from their bodies, crudely sacrificing their health to the greater good and eroding their mental and physical wellness.

I have been in contact with another journalist lately who was curious as to why the carcinogenic quality of the pill is not widely discussed. She has been asking around, government bodies etc, and she keeps getting the same answer - that because the pill reduces the risk of ovarian and uterus cancers the fact that it increases the risk of breast, liver and cervical cancers is negligable. And the 'greater good' benefit of preventing population increase is the overriding factor for the discussion of any negative side at all. It seems it is believed that anything can be done in the name of population control.

I have been thinking about this population control argument recently. Thing is, widespread poverty really isn't down to there being too many people in a country, it's down to the distribution of the services and resources available. It's about the very very rich having control over the majority of resources, it's about poorly managed welfare systems, corrupt governments, the poor being blamed for their own poverty by pseudo-religious so so many factors other than how many people get accidently born.

Population control is a phony argument that only serves to promote the status quo and keep people believing there's nothing else to be done about poverty, which lets the rich keep getting richer. I understand in developing countries women can be in real danger when pregnant, as can the baby that is born, because they don't have access to hospitals, clean water, or food. But is the answer to sterilise them and use their poverty to persuade women in developed countries to be injected, implanted? I dread to think what little the women in developing countries are told about the injection. Seems to me like a crude fix for a much much larger issue, an issue that it is hoped will be forgotten as a result. Also, interesting how this perspective kind of blames the state of the world entirely on women and makes it there sole responsibility to solve. Something rather Biblical about that.

I had my attention drawn to a study this week that suggests that young women's menstrual cycles should be considered a useful, important indicator of their general health. It was proposed that doctors should consider the menstrual cycle to be as vital a sign of good health as regular blood pressure levels and monitored in a similarly attentive way. Irregularities in a cycle, such as overly heavy bleeding or prolonged time between periods, can be a sign of many problems that might otherwise go unnoticed and worsen over time - illnesses such as polycystic ovaries, thyroid disfunction, cushing's disease, adrenal tumours, but also problems such as anorexia, or extreme stress. So, putting young women on the pill, or giving them the injection, the implant, or the IUS, and shutting down their cycles can mean illnesses go undiagnosed and untreated.

Apparently it can take up to six years for a menstrual cycle to mature, and settle down. Within the first three years of a young woman's cycle she can experience pain, heaviness, and irregularity as her body adjusts to the changes. This is the time in which many women are prescribed the pill, or are persuaded by their mothers or friends to take the pill - when they are finding their periods hard to deal with. The cycle will generally even out if left alone, but it more often 'dealt with' quickly with this medication. For many women their only experience of their cycle is at this early, sometimes difficult, stage. Memories of this time often keep them taking hormonal treatments long term and not questioning the logic or reasoning for this decision. We want to avoid having to experience the pain and all that again.

I can say myself, my menstrual cycle is way more manegeable now at 26 and off the pill than it was before I went on the pill at 15. I think doctors are way too eager to put teenagers on the pill, and their parents are more than happy to support this. The NHS campaign wants young women on synthetic hormones as soon as possible as it is seen as the only assured way of avoiding a lot of pregnant teenagers. Of course, the UK has a massively high rate of teenage pregnancy so they are paranoid. But instead of educating them about how contraception works and what it is that contraception is doing that stops them getting pregnant, and how getting pregnant happens and when and why, they just want to sterilise the lot long term - it's easy, and looks like some real action. Considering the little I knew before starting this blog about my body, I can only assume there's plenty of teenage girls out there entirely clueless and as such won't be using contraception effectively.

Also the message is that menstruation - which they use in the campaign as shorthand for the entire montly cycle - is a completely unnecessary process unless you want to get pregnant. It really does seem implausible that the holistic, whole body effecting, function of the cycle is unknown to so many GPs, or that they really do think it's just a matter of stopping periods. I mean, I got a B in the lower level science GCSE and I understand this after a little reading and realising. The facts are being spun for the 'greater good' here, and individual young women are seen as unimportant in comparison to what hormonal birth control means to society.

Then again though - the supposed bastions of women's liberation, the inner circle of feminists, as in the people who are supposed to be on our side, came up with this bunch of ignorant nonsense last year when the continuous contraceptive pills came out like Seasonale:

I can't believe a magazine as smart-seeming and intellectual as Ms. believes the falsity that the pill 'regulates' the cycle and that no one in their offices has ever read a book by Barbara Seaman. They ask us to criticise Big Pharma? Here, here, but Big Pharma would love this Ms. article


  1. Here is the link to the NHS campaign site:

  2. RE: Menstrual cycle & general health
    The point you make about a woman's cycle being a great indication of general health cannot be stressed enough. I had my first child at the age of 21. For the next six years, I had no periods. I desperately tried to find help, because I knew this was not healthy. Being in the U.S. and poor, I had no health insurance. I tried the county health department's family planning clinic. I was told that if it continued, I'd probably be permanently sterile, but they couldn't help me. So, I lived with it.

    About two years ago, I began feeling very sick. I was nauseated just before my periods. I had horrible pain. I felt awful. Older and with a job that gave me health insurance, I finally tracked down the root of my problems: ovarian cysts. The problem was that they had been left undiagnosed so long that one of my ovaries had been completely destroyed. I had a cyst the size of a cantaloupe in my pelvis. I lost that ovary. How hard was it to find these cysts? It took a little ultrasound, which can be done in a doctor's office. Yet, no one would help me. Since I had mentioned that I didn't really want more children, one doctor after another considered my entire reproductive system expendable. They didn't care about possible effects on my overall wellbeing. I had to fight for a diagnosis and proper treatment. The pill would only have masked my problems further.

    RE: Sanger
    I'm not going to be an apologist for Sanger's comments, because they were very much real and they are highly offensive. What I will say is that many people start couching their arguments in terms they think will be effective when they believe they're fighting for a greater goal. This means finding out the basic fears of their opponents, and using those fears as a way to gain support. People who support the subjugation of women are also, quite often, racist and classist. So, some advocates would use arguments that giving into this one thing for women was perhaps not a bad idea, because it would address some of those other fears the opponents had.

    I'd also note that Sanger saw a lot of suffering by women in poverty. She was, after all, a midwife. She went to those homes and saw women dying because they were giving birth to too many children too often, and often doing so with little help and in squalid conditions. She saw desperate women dying from complications of back alley abortions. To say that it might be better for these women not to have so many children is not classist. It's saying "f### you" to class (which is largely a male-centered concept), and caring about women's lives over society's ideas about women's roles.

    All that said, no, I don't like a lot of things Margarent Sanger said. I just understand where she was coming from.