Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 14: A non-fictional book

It's funny that the next blog day on my list of "30 days" is "a non-fictional book" because I've been reading just such a book and wanted to do a review of it anyway.

The book I chose is "America + the Pill" by Elaine Tyler May. It was very interesting. I liked the picture on the front cover, which is why I picked it up at the library without even really knowing what it would be about. (Really, who has time to browse books in meaningful amounts of time when chasing after 3 kids at the library?) In "honor" of the 50th anniversary of the FDA approval of the oral contraceptive, May set out to write this book about the history, development and evolution of "the pill." She covered how it was developed and pushed through largely by Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Sanger believed women would only be equal with men if they had full control of their fertility and pushed for a woman-controlled contraceptive such as the pill. She also described the motivation for developing a pill in the 1950s-1960s--population control. Many people believed people on the world were multiplying at a fantastic rate (because of the baby boom) and largely because of the book "The Population Bomb" by Paul Ehrlich. People were worried that space in which to live, food health and safety and other resources would soon run out. In the 1950s, people believed "the Pill" would end world hunger and create world peace by controlling reproduction. (Many people still believe we are overpopulated, but I don't, here's a video which explains why). The Pill was also advertised as making every child a "wanted" child, since the possibility of a surprise pregnancy would be lower.

After the Pill had been developed, tested and was in widespread use, people realized it wasn't going to single-handedly end hunger and create world peace. But it did have many effects. May discusses how it affected men, since they were not part of the contraceptive plan, their wives/partners could take the pill without their knowledge, and some men suffered depression because they were unable to get a woman pregnant. The Pill also had a big role in the Sexual Revolution and contributed to lowering the cultural stigma against unmarried sex. May discusses the trends of who was taking the pill. She also has an entire chapter about a pill for men, and the various difficulties with creating such a medication, and that no man would really take a pill every day so the funding is different than when the woman's contraceptive was developed.

Her final chapter is about the Pill today, and how it is different than the original contraceptive approved in 1960. She quotes many women who responded to a survey for the book ranging from loving the pill to absolutely despising it. May concludes, "Although the pill was not responsible for the emancipation of women,  it did provide an important tool for millions of women to effective control their fertility, freeing them from fears of pregnancy and constant childbearing and enabling them to take advantage of expanding opportunities for education, employment, and participation in public life" (p.168).

My take: I am not against contraception, or the pill in general. To each his own and, for Christians, whatever God would have for you, provided it's not taking a life. But I took issue with this book mainly because of the author's tone. It seemed a stretch to refer to women before the pill was developed as afraid of pregnancy and "constant childbearing." I'm sure there were women who felt this way, but the way she said it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. She also flippantly threw in abortion as a means of birth control that was "widely accepted."

I was on the birth control pill for several years but since Amelia was born we have chosen to not go back onto a daily med to prevent pregnancy. There are many other ways, and in my experience the pill did not help me understand my body more, rather it made it more confusing and difficult to understand. May's claims that the Pill gave women their freedom and equality with men, while true in the business and women having the same roles and responsibilities as men sense of the phrase, I don't agree that women and men should have to be "the same" to be equal. Women and men have different, but equal roles. I thought the book was interesting to read and ponder as a reflection of what the pill did to American society. Originally Margaret Sanger pushed for a woman-only contraception, but now women complain about having to control contraception. This isn't May's fault in writing, because it's true, but it's interesting how things change over time. 60 years ago women said, "why can't we control our fertility? Men get to do it all" and now they're saying, "why can't men control their fertility? We have to do it all."

As a side note, unrelated to this book, I have to link to this article by Mommy Life's Barbara Curtis about which was a better technological advance: the birth control pill or the washing machine. She is, in this post, responding to the Vatican's statement that the washing machine has done more for women than the birth control pill. I'm inclined to agree!
Read it here.

So there's my long-winded and somewhat rambling entry for "non-fictional book." Hope you enjoyed it! :)

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