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Pilloring the patriarchy: Feminist pill(ow) talk on oral contraceptives 1950s-1980s By: Sgt. Roselyne “Patriarchal Pig” Van der Heul & Dan “Radical Feminist”

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Presentation on theme: "Pilloring the patriarchy: Feminist pill(ow) talk on oral contraceptives 1950s-1980s By: Sgt. Roselyne “Patriarchal Pig” Van der Heul & Dan “Radical Feminist”"— Presentation transcript:

1 Pilloring the patriarchy: Feminist pill(ow) talk on oral contraceptives 1950s-1980s By: Sgt. Roselyne “Patriarchal Pig” Van der Heul & Dan “Radical Feminist” Bendiksen (Ms.)

2 Introduction & Overview The changing role of the pill in feminist discourse »Background »Internalist history »Externalist history »Feminist liberation discourse (1960s) »Feminist health discourse (1970s) »Feminist ‘cafeteria discourse’ (1980s) »Conclusion »Discussion

3 Background of contraceptive technologies Ideas of contraception have been around forever –Talmudic Law –Other methods from days yonder: Pull-out method (Coitus Interuptus) Home Remedies Natural cycles Abortion Infanticide Condoms Various vaginal inserts Breastfeeding Alternative forms of sexual practices

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5 Internalist history of the genesis of the pill : Establishment of Reproductive Endocrinology / research in hormones Research in biological sex differences Found that hormones regulate women’s cycles Regulating cycles allows for regulation of ovulation G. Pincus puts all this knowledge together in the little artifact known as the pill

6 Externalist History of the genesis of the pill Existing Birth control methods weren’t satisfactory Funding –Pharmaceutical issues –McCormick/Planned Parenthood Continuous (and growing) need for birth control in middle-class American society (more women working outside the home etc.) Population control –Fear of population explosion in Developing Countries (destabilizing effects, resource management) –Belief of ‘technological fix’ to societal problems Political Approval

7 Why a pill for women instead of men? ‘Science daunted by task of beating the millions of sperm produced every day by human male’ Sanger & McCormick: Method should be in the control of women Social convention regarded contraception as female responsibility Men adverse to physiological control of their reproductive system (lack of male volunteers for testing) Dominant scientific research focused on women’s (instead of men’s) role in the reproductive process and on steroid hormones instead of other possible methods (e.g. anti-sperm vaccine)

8 Different Feminist Perceptions of The Pill Women’s Liberation Feminist Health Movement “Othering” and “universality”

9 Women’s liberation (60’s discourse) Women in Control of Contraception Sexual liberation as part of women’s liberation Women able to plan a family and a career Openness about sexual identity Liberation from hormonal constraints

10 Source: Obstetrics & Gynecology July, 1961

11 Feminist health movement (70’s discourse) Debating the safety of the pill Seaman (1969): Inspired feminists to vocalize perception that pharmaceutical ind. & medical profession was “condescending, paternalistic, judgmental & non-informative” » Inspired health-feminist objections to the pill -insufficient clinical trials -potentially fatal side effects -lack of informed consent among the millions of users worldwide

12 Source: Washington Daily News, Jan

13 Questioning ‘Othering’ and universality (80’s discourse) Pollack (1985): ‘Contraceptive technology are developed from a patriarchal perspective, emphasizing the sexual enjoyment of men…’ Pill constructs women’s bodies as universal in respect of reproductive functions (one-size-fits-all discourse) Emphasis on differences and shift to postmodern ‘cafeteria-discourse’ Choices increased, but mainly for white middle-class women (“othering” still based on race and class instead of sex)

14 Conclusion meaning of the artifact (the pill) very instable (‘interpretive flexibility’) “All meanings (liberation, patriarchy, othering) were incorporated in the pill but each became explicit only in a specific social context i.e.  discussion!!!!!!!!!!

15 Discussion questions: -Does the pill have inherent politics / gender or does the flexibility of its meaning imply neutrality? -Is there anything inherent in ‘the pill’ that makes it such a political lightning-rod?

16 Brought to you by: Roselyne van der Heul & Dan Bendiksen…he’s cooler than a penguin, bumpier than an eel.


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