Dutch Health Policy Edition: Republicans Lie All the Time, About Everything
Econ 1: Spring 2012: U.C. Berkeley: Correcting and Overriding Markets: February 27, 2012

Sara Robinson on Contraception in Historical Perspective

Sara Robinson

Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control -- And Why We'll Still Be Fighting About it 100 Years From Now: [D]idn't we all honestly think that by 2012, contraception would be a non-issue, and Congress wouldn't make the mistake of leaving women out of conversations like this one?

Yes, we did. And the fact that we were wrong about that points to a deeper trend at work…. When people look back on the 20th century from the vantage point of 500 years on, they will remember the 1900s for three big things. One was the integrated circuit…. The second was the moon landing…. But the third… is the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception…. [Before] anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children… tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home. Our biology reduced us to a kind of chattel, subject to strictures that owed more to property law than the more rights-based laws that applied to men…. Thousands of generations of men and women have lived under some variant of this order — some variations more benevolent, some more brutal, but all similar enough in form and intention — in all times and places, going back to where our memory of time ends….

[W]ithin the span of just a few short decades in the middle of the 20th century, all of that suddenly ended. For the first time in human history, new technologies made fertility a conscious choice for an ever-growing number of the planet’s females. And that, in turn, changed everything else. With that one essential choice came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before…. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men — education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making. That one fact, that one technological shift, is now rocking the foundations of every culture on the planet — and will keep rocking it for a very long time to come….

[W]hile some men have embraced this new order… a global majority is increasingly confused, enraged, and terrified by it. They never wanted to be at this table in the first place, and they’re furious to even find themselves being forced to have this conversation at all. It was never meant to happen. It never should have happened. And they’re doing their damnedest to put a stop to it all, right now, and make it go away.

It’s this rage that’s driving the Catholic bishops into a frenzied donnybrook fight against contraception — despite the very real possibility that this fight could, in the end, damage their church even more fatally than the molestation scandal did…. That same frantic panic… also lies that the core of the worldwide rash of fundamentalist religions…. [T]hey've turned women's bodies into the symbolic battlefield on which their anxieties over this play out. Drill down to the very deepest center of any of these movements, and you'll find men who are experiencing this change as a kind of personal annihilation….

They are, above everything else, desperate to get their women back under firm control. And in their minds, things will not be right again until they’re assured that the girls are locked up even more tightly….

If you’re a woman of childbearing age in the US, you’ve had access to effective contraception your entire fertile life…. From our individual personal perspectives, it feels like we’ve had this right, and this technology, forever. We take it so completely for granted that we simply cannot imagine that it could ever go away. It leads to a sweet complacency: birth control is something that’s always been there for us, and we’re rather stunned that anybody could possibly find it controversial enough to pick a fight over.

But if we’re wise, we’ll keep our eyes on the long game, because you can bet that those angry men are, too….

Male privilege has been with us for — how long? Ten thousand years? A hundred thousand? Contraception, in the mere blink of an eye in historical terms, toppled the core rationale that justified that entire system. And now, every aspect of human society is frantically racing to catch up with that stunning fact. Everything will have to change in response to this — families, business, religion, politics, economics…everything.

We're in this catch-up process for the long haul. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be surprised to be confronted by large groups of well-organized men (and their female flunkies, who are legion) marshaling their vast resources to get every last one of Pandora’s frolicking contraception-fueled demons back into the box….

What we’ve learned these past few weeks is: the fight for contraception is not only not over — it hasn’t even really started yet.

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