Bitter Pill

There's a tongue on the cover of this week's New York Magazine. After reading the 6 page story that the image corresponds to, you'd expect the tongue be outfitted with bloated cheeks and hands lifted on either side of the face, thumbs sticking to the temples and the rest of the fingers pointed upward--a prank. Instead, in the middle of the tantalizing muscle is a white dot. It's not a decorative stud, it's a pill, the kind that works its way past the tongue and down the throat to keep other tantalizing anatomical parts from becoming birthing canals.

The topic of the piece is the birth control pill's 50th birthday and New York Magazine wants to celebrate one of the biggest feminist endeavors by writing a story that inadvertently upholds one of the most common negative female stereotypes: women have no common sense. In a feature whose subhead should be "you've-got-to-be-fucking-kidding-me" under the "wait, really?" section, Vanessa Grigoriadis exposes the most popular form of contraception's pitfall: infertility. Not that the pill causes it, medically. Like a scary story, Grigoriadis lays out the happy beginnings. There's a party, important people (women) talk and toast the guest of honor: "Can you imagine how different my life would have been if I hadn't gotten the Pill?" Actress Cybil Shepard ponders.  "Today, even though we have pills for everything-to make you calm, make you sleep, and engorge your genitals beyond comprehension-you, the Pill, are so important....So here's to my tiny daily dose of freedom, and also estrogen and progesterone. A combination of the three, really," says funny lady Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee.

And then Grigoriadis begins to pull the rug out from under us. After agreeing with the women at the Pierre Gala, "the pill changed the world," she ultimately concludes, "there's a cost to this illusion one that the women at the Pierre weren't discussing." Could she be talking about the (now widely debunked) claims that the pill leads to breast cancer? Or about the blood clots that the pill formerly induced in earlier formulas? The perils of weight gain that it no longer is known to cause? Nope, here's her point: so many women have been on the pill for so many years (many for a stretch of 15 years) that they are now finding it difficult to conceive, at 40. The idea is that the pill has given women the ability to dilly-dally their 20s away--also known as the prime of their childbearing years. Grigoriadis doesn't lay down any judgments, on the contrary, she "defends" the pill (how can you really produce an argument against a form of contraception that is "almost like taking a vitamin?"), but who she is lodging an argument against, and without even realizing it, is women.

She talks to knowledgeable sources who take issue with the pill's by-product absentmindedness and professional types who are now grappling with this problem. But it's the sincerity with which she approaches it that makes it insulting. Fine, these women didn't get it, they overlooked the difficulty of conceiving at a later age. And ok, maybe using the pill has cloaked some women in ignorance of their bodies (though really, a prompt in sexual agency should also stir a little bit of general agency, like the kind that would generate interest in your body--but that's another issue/story/gripe). But where's the scary bit? The part about even though the pill provides freedom, progress, choice, it'll give you green babies or shrivel up your uterus. No, doesn't do that? In fact, doesn't create any consequences other than the ones you've put yourself in a position to bear? Oh my, there's cold water and brusque shaking to go with this rude waking!

Grigoriadis held off until the end to be most infuriating. Concluding with the quasi-eugenics ruminations of one of the pill inventors, Carl Djerassi, she mentions his short term vision of birth control included the idea that most women would like to know about with their ovulation (time and duration) as though it were any other piece of personal information.

Her response? "Now he tells us."

Next issue, NY Magazine will discuss a recent sighting of a tortoise and hare and construct it as a fitting allegory for over self-estimation.

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