Happy New Year - according to the Back Up Your Birth Control campaign, the night of New Year's Eve is renowned as a time of contraceptive mistakes, broken condoms and missed pills. Or 'birth control oops' as they like to call it. The campaign encouraged young women to send their friends a 'funny morning after message' through their web page, reminding them of the availability of the emergency contraceptive pill in case they had indeed had a birth control oops.
The title of this project is Don't Drop The Ball, which I am assuming is a reference to the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve, but comes across as some sort of an affront. Like, once women have had their fun, they mustn't forget it is totally their responsibility to make sure that no baby comes of it all. It kind of suggests in a patronising way that a woman can fail a man by not taking a massive dose of synthetic hormones to prevent her body getting pregnant. Like if she did get pregnant, it would be all her fault for being irresponsible.
It even seems to suggest young women should be taking the emergency contraceptive pill after casual sex even if they are on the birth control pill or used a condom, therefore implying that they were probably too drunk to remember if they did take their pill or use a condom and generally not to be trusted. Rather brilliant marketing on the part of the makers of emergency contraceptive pills. We have been convinced we need to use the pill to 'back up' perfectly safe condoms and now we need to use the emergency pill to 'back up' the every day pill and the condoms.
It's so weird to see this kind of fun, self-consciously stylised advert for a powerful medication with the message that young women should be taking this drug on the prompting of a 'funny' text from a friend. Women's bodies are so frequently treated with such a casual, flippant attitude.
The implication is that young women really can not be trusted to not get pregnant, that they can not be trusted with their dangerous, fertile bodies. There is no consideration of the actual workings of a woman's body, and the probability that she will get pregnant that particular night, because she will be fertile and able to get pregnant that night. This essentially scare-mongering, paranoia-inducing campaign is based on the false information that is constantly and consistently promoted to keep women in check, and keep us taking expensive medications - falsities like women are constantly ready and waiting for pregnancy, that their hormone levels don't change throughout the month, that there isn't an ovulation point directly linked to fertility - in all, basically, that women either get pregnant or have periods and it's all very simple, basic stuff.
The Guardian newspaper did a photo series recently on the most talked about people of the year or something, and under a picture of Britney Spears was the comment, 'Spears became central to one of the decade’s major narratives: the depiction of young women as insensible, incompetent, insatiable, intoxicated.' For a while now I've wanted to write an article, a blog, something on the representation of young, famous women in the media. I hadn't thought the topic might link in with my writing on the birth control pill, but I guess it does.
All four of there adjectives back up most of the discussion of the birth control pill, and even more so the long acting methods of contraception like the injection and implant - it's not discussed openly for the most part, but it is definitely implied that the control of women's bodies must be in the hands of doctors and drugs, otherwise they will likely cause the downfall of civilisation with their irresponsible, baby-making ways.
The NHS campaign I spoke of in the last post, the one to get the pill given to women over-the-counter at pharmacies, definitely suggested that in missing pills, not using condoms and asking for emergency contraception women were showing themselves to be out of control and suspicious. They say it's about choosing the right contraceptive method for your 'lifestyle' - but we all know what a cover-up the word 'lifestyle' can be, and how it can be used condescendingly to suggest distaste at how someone lives their life. If you have a lifestyle in which you can't remember to take a pill every day then you will be seen as a loose woman, a slut and persuaded to get a shot once every three months instead that will not only wipe out your fertility but also act as a chemical castrator and stop you wanting sex ever, at all.
I recently finished Susan Rako's No More Periods: The Risks Of Menstrual Suppression in which she questions the oft repeated assumption that there is no good medical reason for menstruation. Dr Rako argues that aside from those women who are epileptic or have migraines related to their monthly cycle, and those who suffer from severe endometriosis, the birth control pill is detrimental to your health. She asserts very persuasively and with reference to tons of research that a woman's natural cycle ensures her blood pressure is lowered for half the month, and that she loses excess iron stored in the body which reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes considerably. Excess iron is only secreted through menstruation which does not occur when women take the pill, thus putting them in danger of cardio-vascular problems. Cervical cancer is also mentioned, with Dr Rako arguing that the pill is a co-carcinogen with the HPV virus in causing this. According to her studies women are at higher risk of the cancer developing when taking the pill, plus they are less likely to use barrier methods and protect themselves from getting the virus.
Most interestingly, Dr Rako cites the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki which assured the interests of the individual be put before those of society. She cites this before discussing the preliminary experimentation that formed the discovery of the contraceptive effects of the Depo Provera injection. Pertinently she remarks on studies that show that the GPs of upper income patients show far more negative attitudes towards the injection than those serving lower income women. In my last post I discussed the piloting of the NHS scheme, with prescription-less pills and pushing of the injection, in the poorer areas of London.
Dr Rako also makes the interesting statement that there is no such thing as 'side effects' and all the effects of a drug on the person taking that drug are simply its effects. Some of the major uses of some major drugs were only developed because of the discovery of a 'side effect' in trials for another use. If we stop calling the effects of the birth control pill on women's bodies 'side effects' a much brighter light is thrown on the discussion.
A recent press release from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was entitled 'Hormonal Contraceptives Offer Benefits Beyond Pregnancy Prevention.' Women are often sold the birth control pill on the basis of its acne-clearing, period-stopping abilities and yet when we want to discuss the negative effects, it is pregnancy prevention that is said to trump any and all complaints. The Yasmin advertising campaign goes under the banner 'Beyond Birth Control' and yet when the knock-on effects of its unique make-up came under scrutiny it was back to being just plain birth control.