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Microsoft word - two months on the pill final.doc

TWO MONTHS ON THE PILL: THE STORY OF A GENDER DEVIANT ACTIVITY AND ALESSE-ON ABOUT MALE PRIVILEGE AND BIRTH CONTROL This essay will narrate a gender-deviant activity: my journey through two imaginary menstrual cycles in which I, a member of the male sex as well as a socially constructed ‘man’, intended to take a sugar pill every single night while pretending to be on birth control. Though never being fully able to explore the physical and psychological feelings of a woman starting to take ‘the pill’, I will still describe my personal reactions to what my research entails, as well as my struggle to keep up with a routine that members of my sex can afford to ignore due to the current array of contraception that medical developments offer today. Within this discussion, I will talk about the social privilege vested upon men in our society and how it has led to the development of specific behavioural traits different from most women. I will also address the reactions that both men and women had when imagining, or actually believing, that I was taking birth control, as well as their opinions on the future existence of a real male pill. Given the research that is currently being carried out in the field of male contraceptives, I will discuss the potential social effects that these may have, as seen from my experiment. For the sake of simplicity, and given the identity of the people interviewed during my research, I will refer to those who were biologically born with as set of genitalia as women, as opposed to those born with a different set, whom I will label men. I will make the ‘dangerous’ assumption that those that fall under the first category have constructed a female gender, and those in the latter a male gender. My Muse: The Negative Effects of Mainstream Advertisement
My interest for this experiment sprung from a birth control ad that I encountered at a metro station, in which three different women said, one after the other: “I Take Alesse”, “I Take Alesse”, “I Take Alesse”. Finally, at the bottom right corner of the ad, there was a man looking clueless about the whole ‘discussion’ asking himself: “Alesse, what’s that?” This ad, whose purpose is probably to maintain the idea that all women are heterosexual, sexually active and live in a separate world in which they all secretly agree to take Alesse while men have no clue/interest in what is going on, was the reason I started considering the lack of responsibility that is socially expected from men in our society when it comes to women’s fertility and pregnancy. Birth control is almost portrayed as a game, something fun that all girls share behind their boyfriend’s back, in which men do not have nor should have any role. If anything, this struck me as extremely unequal and unfair. After contemplating the lack of methods of male contraception as opposed to those ‘available’ to women, I decided to start my research in the world and developments of male contraception, while deciding to experience, at least at the most minimal level, what it is to be born into a sex that has to bear the responsibility over fertility in our current heterosexual world. It was a gender-deviant activity indeed. Since when were men supposed to be this responsible for pregnancy? And when did such responsibility become more complicated than putting on a rubber once in a while? If anything, this was an opportunity to develop my feminist ‘verstehen’ just a The Experiment: Adding the Pill to my List of Preoccupations
To begin my gender-deviant activity, I researched the history of the pill. This was a process in which women surprisingly had little input and in which visible minorities in the US served as test subjects. It further took the male-dominated medical science a while to adjust the dosage of the pill to the least harmful levels, even though it was already available in the market while this was happening. I also investigated what being on the pill actually entails, its possible side effects, and the dosage I wanted to take. I decided to go for a pill containing a moderate amount of oestrogen (30 mcg), deciding on Marvelon 21 as my brand of choice. I assumed that in the case I actually had to take real contraceptive pills, I would not choose a too high dosage that could cause more side effects (such as Diane 35), though I would still go for one that would ensure more efficacy and less chances of breakthrough ovulation than the 25 mcg alternative (the infamous Alesse). I then went to the Marvelon website to order a starter’s pack. I received a small storage purse with a condom, toothbrush, makeup, a few pills and some “remember me” stickers as well as an electronic card that would beep once-a-day to remind me to take my pill on time. It had just everything I would need to carry my pills around and be prepared to stay at my boyfriends’ unexpectedly, along with all I needed to freshen up and uphold my femininity. I also signed up for daily e-mails that would I obviously did not take the real contraceptive pills. First of all, I could not buy them without a prescription, and secondly, I did not want to take female hormones that could negatively affect my system, even though they sadly do affect the system of many women who partake in the real deal. I instead relied on sugar pills donated to me by those close to me, as well as Clorets mints when I ran out, though I tried to take as many pills as possible from a real pack labelled with the days of the week, for easy use. I started my pack on a Sunday and took the pills every night that I remembered for a period of three weeks, then took a week off and repeated this for another month. In terms of financing my birth control, I found out that only about 20% of the cost of the pill was subsidized by government plans, while private insurance pays for around 80%. Assuming that some students were unaware of the private coverage of the pill, and others were not subscribed to private insurance at all, I decided to take away sixteen dollars every month and keep them in my drawer, to pretend I had spent that money on the pill. With regards to the sticker that came with the starter’s pack, I stuck it onto my computer monitor and the reminding electronic card I left in my wallet during the two months, often beeping at inopportune moments, or during others when I never heard it. The Findings - Part I: Oh No, I Forgot Again!
While I tend to be an organized person and though I definitely took this experiment seriously, I would have, in full honesty, failed to take the pill as required, at least during my first two months. I even doubt whether I would have been keen on taking the pill to begin with, given the serious side effects that it involves, making me lament the fact that it might be the only option for women who want, or whose partner wants, to become sexually involved while avoiding pregnancy. While I wonder how many women seriously investigate the problems associated with the pill, I do not doubt that it is a hard choice for many who encounter a limited variety of effective contraceptives, most which are designed for women. While I understand the reasons why many individuals want to get sexually involved with their partners or others at some point in their lives, I still would be very hesitant to initiate a medication that can increase the chances of circulatory disorders (including blood clots in legs, lung, heart, eyes or brain), breast cancer, dangers to a developing child if pills are used during pregnancy, gallbladder disease, liver problems, growth of pre-existing tumours, dry socket, tenderness of breast, nausea, vomiting, weight gain or loss, mental depression, rashes, headaches, skin pigmentation, vaginal infections, and an increase or decrease in hair growth, sex drive and appetite, amongst others1. Even if I decided to initiate the pill, I would be constantly preoccupied that any lump in my breast, pain in my leg or chest, or rash could mean some medical complication. There is no doubt that over time society has been particularly interested in disconnecting the pleasures from sex from the responsibilities of childbirth and fertility. However it seems that most time has been spent on disconnecting further responsibility from men rather than women. As a matter of fact, if we count the number of methods of contraception available to men today, apart from withdrawal (coitus interruptus) and abstinence, there are only two that come to mind: condoms and vasectomies/sterilization (both which can also be used by women). This inequality when it comes to fertility and birth control made me think about the advantages that men take for granted in our current heterosexual societies. As Meda Chesney-Lind and Karen Joe articulate: “social structures situate men in relation to similar others so that collectively they experience the world from a specific position and differentially construct cultural ideas of hegemonic masculinity – that is, dominance, control, and independence”2. Differences in the availability of birth control for one 1 Marvelon 21, Information for the Consumer, Information for Patients Considering the Use of Oral Contraceptives (Informative Pamphlet). 2 Meda Chesney-Lind and Karen Joe, “Every Mother’s Angel,” Gender & Society (1995): 411. sex over the other made me deeply consider how this is just another reflection of institutionalized male supremacy. Following a radical feminist approach, one can point out how easy the control over women’s bodies has been made, subordinating them through sexual exploitation and the suppression of their sexual rights. The fact that one sex has to bear the responsibility of birth control, not to mention the side effects that come along with it, clearly depicts the existence of an advantage for men in the area of fertility and contraception. This is yet another example of male privilege and the easier situation in which men are placed when it comes to deciding on how to avoid pregnancies. Just as with the pregnancy itself, is seems that women have more to lose when making decisions about the sexual This male privilege is not something that men necessarily consciously undertake. As a matter of fact, I used to think that paying for half of the cost of the methods of contraception used by a couple would suffice fairness. Nonetheless, only a drive towards more and better methods of male contraception, and the acceptation of such by male and female communities, would be the only way to balance out the current situation in which women often have to take expensive and uncomfortable treatments for the sake of affording a sexual life for the couple free of pregnancies. I like how Kate Bornstein states that “male privilege is not something that’s given to men in this culture; it is something that men take”3. In fact it seems that our limited role in fertility, contraception and family planning, is indeed something we take from our society and the resources available in it. Hopefully by being conscious of the existence of this privilege, and becoming aware of the difficulties that women go through as they undertake contraception, men will then take a more active role in reproduction and its prevention, especially when new forms of male contraception are made available in the market in the 3 Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us (London: Routledge, 1994), 108. I find it appalling that something that should have empowered women and given them greater control over their own bodies and fertility, has in many cases turned against them, as they are pressured even further to have sexual intercourse if their partners know they are protected from negative consequences such as pregnancies. It is extremely ironic that the incentive for a woman to start birth control is often harshly influenced, if not mandated, by men (upholding their social power), especially in some traditional cultures where women have little control over their own fertility and sexual and I do not perceive taking the pill as an easy choice. Besides the pamphlets that name all the possible side effects, there are uncomfortable medical exams that need to be taken before and three months after initiating the pill, as well as every year thereafter, which I would be hesitant to attend. Both men and women should be made aware of these issues, in which case some couples could maybe change their opinion on how to handle their sexual life. Furthermore, taking a pill every day at a similar time is not an easy thing. I discovered that even a high commitment and serious discipline was not sufficient to remind me every night to incorporate something into my already-established routine. I can understand how taking the pill must be hard for many women, who either remember about their daily duty once in bed and have to get up to grab a drink to swallow their medication, or even remember the day after. In such a case, I can sympathize with the stress they must suffer if they have had sexual intercourse in the previous days, or the resistance they could meet after telling their boyfriends that because of their ‘fault’, they’d better abstain from sexual activity during the present period or resort to back-up methods of birth control. This is not to mention the possible uncomfortable spotting that might result from forgetting to I even felt apathetic to continue my experiment once I read that if you forget more than one pill two months in a row, you are supposed to consult your doctor for alternative methods of birth control. I felt I had failed, and in the case that I was a woman in an intimate relationship, I would not just have let myself down, but also my partner. I even found the daily reminders to take my pill (the sticker on my monitor and the beeping card) somehow embarrassing, and doubt whether I would display them and use them if I was really taking birth control. Lastly, on this list of personal reactions, I have to admit that I even ran short of cash in one instance, and had to forego a succulent dinner invitation, due to the money I had supposedly spent on my The Findings - Part II: Much More of “Alesse, What’s That?”
In some cases, I was even more surprised by the responses of others, rather than my own, to my experiment. Though I recognize that my acquaintances are not a representative sample of the population, as almost all were highly educated men and women living in liberal Western societies, the comments they made about my experiment and the possibility of a male pill in the future were sometimes My experiment in this respect largely supported socialist and feminist theory. Kate Bornstein believes that culture does not just create gender roles but also gender4, and that this gender dictates (through behavioural cues) how we function, by belonging or not to a specific category5. Even though I had often thought about the gendered nature of the pill and birth control in general, this experiment helped me see how something such as basic as contraception and its practices genders us. The relationship is a vicious circle, one that reinforces itself. To begin with, it is assumed that birth control should be left to women. Given their specific reproductive abilities, it is assumed ‘natural’ for them to be responsible for anything that has to do with reproduction. At first sight this relationship might seem like a simple exaggeration, and one would assume educated individuals are not influenced by such ideologies. However, to my surprise, it is incredible how so many men I interviewed were hesitant to use some kind of contraceptive (even condoms), describing all of these as extremely uncomfortable and unnatural. My response always dealt with the annoyances of birth control and dangers that are in fact faced by women, but it just seemed like female contraception appeared to be more ‘natural’. Also, because of all the years that women have been using the pill, it is assumed that it should not be a big deal for any girl to start it now. I was surprised too to see how many respondents (mainly female) said that they would still use the pill even if they knew their partners were under birth control or carried around contraceptives. They saw it plainly irresponsible for a woman not to take the necessary precautions ‘just in case’. I wonder why I did not get such It was clear to me that for both men and women, it just seemed more simple, safe, easy and reliable to leave birth control to women. A common claim is that men are just simply too irresponsible or careless about an unwanted pregnancy (in which case the majority of my male interviewees would strongly encourage their girlfriends to get an abortion), and hence relying on such stereotypes of men’s lack of seriousness and a sense of reality, women prefer to undertake the responsibility for birth control. Nonetheless, I believe many of these women do not see that such a responsibility is far from natural and furthermore might have not even been there if it were not because of the fact that only women can use the pill. If anything, I became extremely interested in the function of this method of contraception, and knowing the risks and possibilities of unwanted pregnancies and how to prevent them, I have developed a great sense of responsibility towards fertility and contraception. As a result, notions of gender and femininity might be ascribed to contraceptives such as the pill, but it is because of getting exclusive access to the pill itself that women develop a responsible and concerned character towards contraception. These alleged natural traits of the female-kind, responsibility and caution, are in fact gender constructions that derive from the use of a birth control mechanism which is only available to a particular group. Given my own experience and my current feelings about birth control, I can definitely say that the pill gave me ‘female traits’ and a ‘female point of view’ on the subject of contraception. It was also interesting to see how gender defenders, as Bornstein would refer to them, could do nothing but ridicule me in both the case when they actually thought the male pill was already available, or when they knew it was just an experiment. It was very clear to me how both my male and female friends were applying different methods of social control, given that I deviated from their social expectations. They questioned my masculinity, telling me I was taking my feminist ideas too far, and even mocked me for trying to pretend I was on birth control, betting on how long it would take me to forget my first pill, as if I were not naturally wired for such a kind of responsibility. Although this was an experiment, I found their lack of confidence in me as a male to undertake birth control to be humiliating, not to mention their various comments which labelled me as a girl for carrying around a pack of birth control pills and reminders to take them; as if any of those were inherently women’s I was surprised by the lack of receptiveness to this experiment amongst very liberal undergraduate students at McGill University, especially living in a progressive city such as Montreal. This made me realize the deep extent to which hegemonic masculinity and gender stereotypes are still entrenched in people that do not exactly embody the polar opposites of the binary, but even deviate from Yes, Deviant. But, For How Long?

Who’s ultimately responsible for Birth Control?
Something quite interesting that underlies this experiment, which I encountered while doing my research, is the fact that the male pill is not as far from reality as the aforementioned social control agents make it look. In fact, it has been discovered that when men are given progestogen (also found in the female pill) their sperm level is reduced to zero. However, as the body's supply of testosterone is also 6 Kate Bornstein, My Gender Workbook (New York: Routledge, 1998), 13-14. cut, possibly reducing men's libido and increasing the chance of bone thinning, the male pill will therefore be a combination of progestogen and testosterone7. While further investigating and questioning others about this medical breakthrough, which was in fact the nature of my experiment, I noted various gender ideals that might affect the level of social control that the male pill could receive after its introduction into the world market. An interesting survey carried out by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (1984) amongst a significant sample of Scottish, Chinese and South African women showed that over 65% of women thought that the responsibility for contraception falls too much on women. Only 13% of the total sample did not think that hormonal male contraception was a good idea and only 36 women (2% of the total) said that they would not trust their partner to use it. While this survey should dismiss the myth that women would not trust their partners to use a male pill in a reliable manner, it did seem to be a great concern within the female observers of my experiment. To prevent men like me from forgetting their daily dosage of progestogen, other methods are concurrently being investigated, such as implanting tiny rods under the arm which release the same substances as the pill. In an age when Viagra is one of the top-selling and most-promoted drugs, one cannot say that the American public is non-receptive to the idea of drugs that affect men's sexual function. However, given the effect of the male pill on men’s sperm count, it could be argued that many could face masculinity issues with this idea. Could this pill be incorporated into the new constructions of masculinity that authors such as Susan M. Alexander talk about? If gender roles and gender identities are being redefined through the consumption of branded products8, could contraception be manufactured into new paradigms of masculinity? Would low sperm counts oppose too strongly the ideal man, or would the 7 NetDoctor, Your Pill or Mine, Darling?, Nov. 20th 2004, <>. 8 Susan M Alexander “Stylish Hard Bodies: Branded Masculinity in Men’s Health,” Social Perspectives 46 (2003): 535-54. construction of the responsible boyfriend, preoccupied by his and his partner’s sexual health and fertility take place, leading to a new masculine ideal? Would women admire these men and finally trust them? These are clearly all questions that remain open, though they define the future of a real male pill, something I tried to relate to in this experiment. While pretending to administer myself oral contraception every night for two months, I learned not only about male privilege and male ignorance towards women’s contraceptive options, but how the existence of an exclusive female pill is sponsored by gender stereotypes, while helping maintain them. I also discovered how male oral contraception can be regarded as a highly deviant act, even within a liberal society, given that it violates the masculine hegemonic ideal of sexual dominance and independence, deeply entrenched within our value system. This opposition, both from males and females to a male pill experiment, may help extrapolate the possible reception that newer forms of contraception may face when introduced into the market in a near future; unless it is the case current masculinity and gender paradigms are redefined. Hopefully some day the Alesse ad that started this investigation will seem as ridiculous as a bunch of males saying: I use Trojans, I use Trojans, I use Trojans, finishing with a stupefied women asking herself what Trojans are.


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