Tag Archives: birth control

Why We Fight: The War on Women and the continuing attacks on our reproductive rights

I don’t always comment on every major event that’s happening in relation to women’s rights – I simply don’t have the time – but it still surprises me how long I have managed to stay silent about the current “War on Women” that is being waged by the GOP in the United States. The main reason has certainly not been ignorance, as I have been following the developments in detail. Rather, I have been speechless in light of the severity and magnitude of the political attacks on women’s rights and freedom. My initial reaction has been sheer incredulity.

I want to emphasize something I keep mentioning on this blog: feminism to me is fighting for women’s rights to ensure equality, but that doesn’t simply mean looking for new means to get there. More and more, feminism means preserving the rights that we already have, because even though they may seem common sense to us, it doesn’t mean there aren’t forces out there ready to take these rights away if given the chance.

The US-American War on Women is simply the most blatant and extreme example of how this plays out: the GOP race for the presidential candidate started out with confirmations of its anti-abortion stance (very sad indeed, but not at all surprising), and culminated in the demonization of all forms of birth control, the violation and criminalization of the woman’s body and the reduction of women’s lives to that of breeding cattle. I see no better way to phrase this and I don’t have the nerve for euphemisms. Women’s lives as we know them today? In the U.S. they are at risk, and if I lived over there I would seriously consider emigrating before I got into a situation where I would have to hand over my own bodily autonomy to the state.

But make no mistake: If you’re European and tend to dismiss the Republicans, the Tea Party and their supporters as crazy extremists, you’re fooling yourself. Because even Western Europe is slowly seizing to be a safe-haven when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. The attacks come mainly from the political right. In France, the National Front’s Marine Le Pen stated her plans for restructuring Planning Familial centers (the French equivalent to Planned Parenthood), claiming that abortion had become too comfortable. Nicolas Sarkozy, who’s been trying to pander to the FN voters for a long time, recently suggested that minors need to obtain parental consent before being able to get on the pill.  In England, anti-abortion voices (I refuse to call them pro-life; that’s simply false advertising) have grown stronger and more influential, and they are not falling on deaf ears either. In Germany, a medical insurance company offered financial benefits to those who are members of the anti-abortion organisation Pro Life Deutschland and pledge that they would never have an abortion.

To be fair, all of these examples pale in comparison to  what is happening in the U.S. right now, but they are a reminder that women cannot rest on the laurels of second wave feminism, when these same achievements continue to be under attack. It is very easy to argue that these anti-abortion advances are based on moral and ethical values – and I am the last person to deny that these issues are something we need to negotiate as a society – but as the developments in the U.S. have shown, the underlying motives have little to do with progressive ethics and life choices, and everything to do with religious fundamentalism and reactionary views on family and the role on women.

Fact is, there is a generation of men and women out there that still believes that women should not be allowed to make decisions for themselves or for others. Because abortion and birth control isn’t just about children; it is about women’s ability to participate in society. And it is on our generation to reject this backlash and to prove that there are kinder, more sustainable alternatives that include a women’s right to her physical autonomy. To be clear: fighting for women’s reproductive rights is key, but we should never forget to emphasize the economic and social dimensions as well. Many attempts towards the restriction of abortion are justified with accusations of racism and eugenics without including the bigger picture. We cannot allow for these false accusations to take over the public debate. We need to reject the tampering with symptoms and continue to stress the causes: poverty, precarious labor, structural discrimination, societies hostile towards children and working mothers, austerity and the dismantling of the welfare state, an uncertain future…

On a lighter note: here is a hilarious response to former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s anti-abortion campaign, and the termination of said campaign…

Funny or Die: Rick Santorum Aborts Presidential Campaign

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It’s Your Turn, Darling! – Whatever Happened to Male Contraceptives?

We’ve been hearing it for years: new methods for male contraception are on the way. Well, where are they?
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Last week some of our hopes were shattered when the news broke that an international trial of a male hormonal injection was cancelled due to its serious side-effects in about 10% of the test persons. A percentage too high to be viable? That depends on the side-effects, one might think, so what are they?
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“One in ten men experienced side-effects including depression, weight gain, increased libido and acne. The older the trial person, the worse the symptoms were.” (Times Live, 2011.)
Hmm, I dunno, but speaking from experience, personal and other, I’d like to venture and say that sounds eerily familiar. The birth control pill for women has had to battle equally annoying side-effects, most of which are still an issue 50 years after it was first sold to the average woman, and not just test persons: Weight gain is typical, so is the loss of libido (increased libido is considered a side-effect these days, really?), not to speak of the increased risk of yeast infections, cancer and thrombosis. Strangely, that never stopped anyone from putting this product on the market.
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mood swings, weight gain, libido changes? clearly, these chicks could take it.

And rightly so. As we all know, the birth control pill had huge effects on the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, as it promised women’s bodily autonomy and sexual emancipation. Unfortunately, this freedom comes at a price and “being on the pill” is never as simple and self-evident for a woman as many men (doctors and boyfriends) make it out to be. Therefore, sharing this responsibility within a relationship could come as a great relief, ideally for both partners. So why is there so little progress regarding the research of male contraceptives?

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Clearly, side-effects are not the problem here. It’s not too far-fetched to claim that the test persons of the trial might have simply been too whiny and exaggerating their symptoms. I’m not being mean; this is a conclusion that can be drawn from comparing this German trial to a 2009 study in China, which has been considered successful despite some minor side effects. No, something else is cooking here, and it has to do with male sensibilities other than their susceptibility to side-effects:
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“In the next 10 to 15 years there are no market opportunities for this,” said Friederike Lorenzen of Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals in Berlin. (Times Live, 2011.)
In other words: men wouldn’t buy it because they wouldn’t use it. Amanda Marcotte has written an interesting article about this dilemma. Even though she is talking about the male birth control pill, it is even truer for the injection, since it would generate even less money. That is, if men would use it. But why wouldn’t they? There are benefits, after all. Using male contraception in a relationship would take the burden off the shoulders of the female partner, at least for a while. A happy girlfriend makes for a happy relationship, one should think. But even more selfish-minded guys could enjoy the advantages: care-free sex in a relationship in which they can’t trust their partner not to trap them into baby-making (these kinds of relationships are obviously heavily flawed but there seem to be a few guys out there who fear that sort of thing…). But obviously these reasons are not enough. According to Marcotte, the proof can be found in an easy comparison:
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“One way to do this is to look at forms of birth control men do have, and look and see how much responsibility men take towards using these.
One good place to look is rates of sterilization.  Vasectomies are safer, less invasive, and quicker to heal from than tubal ligations, but the rate of female sterilization in the U.S. is twice the rate of vasectomy. (Actually, according to the CDC, women get sterilized at three times the rate of men.)” (Marcotte, Pandagon, 2011.)
What it all boils down to is a stereotype, whose constant reinforcement (by men and women) has made it come true: Women are responsible for contraception, because they are the ones that have the main responsibilities concerning unwanted pregnancies and are more at risk of contracting dangerous STIs. How many times do men pass on using a condom because they simply assume that the woman is on birth control? Sure, some women are negligent as well, but it is rarely in their own interest. In the long run, hormonal contraception is never ideal, neither for men nor women. Alternatively, one could ask why the existing birth control methods for women aren’t being improved, or rather why are some of them not as heavily promoted and encouraged as the pill? The answer lies with doctors and pharmaceutical companies, and I’m afraid it has little to do with reducing health risks and everything to do with money.
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So what’s a girl to do? Do some research, find out what works best for you, or bear the burden until the day you get to say: It’s your turn, darling!

Why Women’s Health is a Feminist Issue

Health is an issue for everybody. Our bodies are not just tools that allow us to do the things we do, they are the very precondition for life. Therefore, if our bodies happen to fail us, it is a threat to life as we know it and affects us all. Why, then, should health be a feminist issue?

As women, we often become aware of our difference in health care when our first visit to the gynecologist is scheduled. For most girls this is a very particular experience, ranging from dreadful to “not a big deal”, but in any case it is an experience that separates us from the boys like a secret only we can share. Rarely do we question this special treatment; after all, we‘re the ones who menstruate and we get pregnant and give birth, enough reason to justify the special attention. But with that ‘privilege’ comes a huge burden as well: a focus on women’s bodies that is not only positive, a stronger responsibility concerning contraception and STD prevention, and, more generally, discrimination in the labor market, in the health care and insurance system etc.

At this stage I should mention that women’s health has different connotations for every woman, according to certain crucial factors such as race, class, sexuality, age and dis(ability). We should never forget that there is still a large percentage of women out there who have never been and may never be able to go to a gynecologist. In this article, I will try to focus on women’s health issues that concern most women all over the world.

demonstration of hysterical subject

In the history of women’s health the most well-known ‘disease’ attributed to women in particular is hysteria. Towards the end of the 19th century its medical diagnosis became a huge trend, especially in Victorian England, and special cases, such as Freud’s patient “Anna O.”, became widely known and discussed. Hysteria was a particularly female phenomenon and men were only diagnosed with it if they were considered somewhat ‘feminine’. Today, hysteria is not considered a valid medical disorder anymore and has been replaced by differently termed diagnoses that are applied to both men and women. However, similar diseases specific to women still exist, as we can see with the ongoing discussion about what PMS is or isn’t, or other modern illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia, which are primarily affecting young women. Like hysteria, these disorders reflect women’s issues with regaining control over their lives and bodies and negotiating stereotypes and their roles in society.

Eating disorders have been on the rise in Western consumer societies for a while now, which brings me to my first focus: the beauty industry. Obviously, women are the major targets of the beauty industry for reasons I do not need to mention here. This becomes a health problem insofar as it creates false body images of women who try to live up to these ideals even at the cost of their health. I am aware that this is largely a Western problem, but globalization has affected women all over the world: in Japanese fashion magazines the minority of models are Asian; in India and African countries the ideal of typically Caucasian features is celebrated in advertisements for skin-lightening lotions and hair-straightening products. As a consequence of this beauty craze, particular health risks can be attributed to wearing high heels, using poisonous beauty products, as well as eating disorders and plastic surgery.

Despite the worldwide interest in women’s beauty, historically they have also been considered unclean because of their monthly menstruation. The idea of women’s ‘unsanitary’ bodies has prevailed until today, as exemplified by the numerous cleansing products available for our vaginas, most of which are in fact dangerous to women’s health.

Sexual health is also an issue for everyone, but for women even more so. STDs are simply more dangerous for women, as they can lead to infertility, higher risks during pregnancy and childbirth, and cervical cancer. The AIDS/HIV crisis in Africa affects women in particular, as they often are the victims of rape and sexual assault.

At the same time, decisions about contraception are often left to the women because they run the risk of getting pregnant. Today, the most common forms of birth control are hormonal contraceptives, specifically the pill. Despite all of its known (and perhaps not yet known) side-effects, it is the first and sometimes only solution doctors suggest to girls and young women for various problems, and little is done to research and find new methods.

so many choices... not really

We simply aren’t offered many choices but have to deal with the consequences of them, physically (risk of pregnancy vs. risk of cancer, physical changes etc.)and psychologically (i.e. relationships can be affected by loss of sexual drive).

Last but not least, there is the undeniable fact that as of now biological women are the only ones able to conceive and give birth to children, which leads to a variety of health risks only women are exposed to. This is not the place to start a discussion about abortion, but it should be clear to everyone that women’s reproductive health is a huge issue all over the world and demands special attention.

All of these examples I have given about the difference of women’s health should not lead to the conclusion that men’s health can simply be ignored or is of less importance. STD prevention and birth control are only two examples that show that men’s health, too, is a feminist issue that concerns both men and women. We need to know about the specifics of men as much as they need to know about us. This is the only way we can establish equal relations, in private as well as in public life. The first visit to the gynecologist should no longer be a girl’s club secret; it should be talked about and be taken for granted by girls and boys as a universal right. Likewise, boys should have access and be encouraged to get medical information about their bodies, as well as STDs and birth control, because it concerns them as much as us. The special status of women in health care is important, but it is useless without getting men involved as well.

men's health is important, too - so they can go to war and get killed