The first time I had an anxiety attack was at a Planned Parenthood in Baltimore during my senior year of high school. I was 17 years old and there to get my first birth control pill prescription.
Posts Tagged ‘birth control’
(author’s note: I fully acknowledge the irony of writing this piece while being someone who identifies as male.)
Over the past two weeks, there have been two very different public showdowns over different parts of women’s bodies. In the first, the Susan G. Komen Foundation found itself under fire for its decision to stop funding grants to Planned Parenthood because of a politically-motivated Congressional investigation into the federal funding the latter organization receives. The second, more recent firestorm has arisen over a provision in the new federalhealth care regulations that would essentially require religious organizations that perform non-religious work to provide birth control coverage for their employees.
The real difference between these two events has been whose voices have been raised in anger, and who has garnered the media’s attention. The Komen controversy began largely through social media channels, promulgated by well-known feminist activists as well as networks of those involved in the various breast cancer movements. When the issue was brought to the attention of the mainstream media, the angry voices and stories of women both famous and not were splashed everywhere, supporting Planned Parenthood in a nearly unprecedented way.
Compare and contrast those scenes with what we have seen since the US Council of Catholic Bishops started to speak out against the administration’s birth control policy. Not only have the public faces been overwhelmingly white and conservative, but they have also, almost universally, been men (with the exception of New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, best known for her previous encounter with Planned Parenthood). It doesn’t matter the network, you’re almost guaranteed that they have relied on a white conservative member of the clergy, politician, or talking head. ThinkProgress tallied it up and published a report last week showing that over the course of three days, the cable networks relied on male voices more than two to one over women’s voices in the debate.
Given that the focus was on reproductive self-determination, shouldn’t the focus have been on the voices of women? Surely, the Komen controversy showed us the value of women’s stories in understanding the impact of policy decisions? The fundamental difference turns on the public role of men and male privilege in the areas of reproductive health versus their public roles relating to breast cancer. When it comes to breast cancer, men and women have the shared goal of prevention. For women, it is about the preservation of their health, while for men it is about the preservation of one of society’s most fetishized body parts. Increasing access to breast cancer screening is thus a net win for both parties.
But birth control is a different story. Men held an extreme advantage in sexual power relations prior to the mass marketing of hormonal birth control. In a heterosexual relationship, it was only the male who was able to avoid the reproductive consequences of sex, by simply walking away. But with the pill, women were suddenly able to control more accurately when, where, and with whom they would have a child. Suddenly, there was a certain level of sexual equality. The most misogynistic corners of our society, ably represented by the Catholic hierarchy and social conservative politicians, have yet to recover from this remarkable shift. As a result, when the Obama administration presented them with this golden opportunity to limit access to birth control, they could not resist. Throwing their privilege around, they were able to dominate media conversation, framing it as an issue of “religious liberty” instead of the attack on personal freedom it actually is.
Where the debate will end up has yet to be seen, but one can’t help but hope that women will actually be able to get a word in edgewise.