Tag Archives: the pill

Feminists or not, the dilemma

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Feminists or not,  the dilemma is long standing full of contradictions, mystery and history.  This is a response toLauren Enriquez who wrote and article  in NY Times 2/27/17 Pro-Life, But Left Out in her experience of the Woman’s March 2017.  I offer my experience to you Lauren and to  other women who don’t identify or feel the feminist or not feminist dilemma.   A long standing dilemma for women since the first feminists came along.

My experience was not of a divided group of women, some “feminists” – some not. In fact, the divisions of race and age, and status and income of all the women who assembled was without boundaries as we mixed and engaged to fill the streets with our support of women’s rights and human rights. First, I need to ask? Is Women’s Rights really all about abortion, and why does abortion create an insurmountable chasm in your experience, Lauren?

Consider this: Roe v Wade made evident and overt the terminating of a pregnancy, explicitly defining for medical professionals their liability not being in assistance to women. in the early years of the 20th Century, women had their babies at home with a midwife and family. The same women who helped women with their labor and delivery, helped them with abortifacients to terminate a pregnancy. Doctors did not participate in births unless there was a dire need for their intervention. In the 1920’s and 30’s, hospitals began marketing to women to come to the hospitals to have their babies according to historian Shannon Withycombe who specializes in the history of women’s health at the University of New Mexico. She says that given hospitals were no more sanitary than at home, and since antibiotics had not entered use in the hospitals, hospitals and at room births combined to make for a high mortality in delivery. 70 women in every 1000 died in labor and delivery, but rarely did the women  see any physician or midwife prior to delivery. What really changed the tide that brought women into hospitals for delivery in the 19th and early 20th century was their marketing the promise of pain-free labor with “twilight sleep.” Until the 1960’s, this combination of morphine and amnesiac was predominantly used in hospitals by doctors. In the 1960’s, the quality of birth for the mother and the child was reconsidered. Natural childbirth-drug free with breathing training then became the potential for childbirth in and out of the hospital.

Abortion has a similar history:  prior to Roe v Wade, women were treated by the midwives for delivery, but also to end early pregnancies in such common practice that it wasn’t directly spoken of.  When Roe v Wade came into law of the land, it was the physicians who  gained legal protection in intervening in a pregnancy, as well as the women.  Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Pregnancy center in upstate New York,  kind and compassionate doctors and nurses  were what was available  to women before Roe v Wade in 1973.  But what drove the need for that was the fact that  in 1964,  Civil Rights and birth control pills gave women more power in their lives.  By 1966,  66% of women used birth control.  A huge change was underway in the marriage and family patterns over the next two decades.  Of note is the fact that when Roe v Wade became law of the land, there were already seventeen states that allowed the practice of assisting the termination of unwanted early pregnancies.  Further, as historian Linda Gordon points out”the growing acceptability of sex without marriage made the ban on abortions unacceptable.”  Women achieved “greater safety, lower costs, and greater opportunity in education and employment,”  and as well, they achieved the legal status of purchasing a home and credit as they took on jobs.   Abortion rate from 1972-76 showed that deaths from abortion went from thirty-nine per million to two per million.  Feminism was attributed to Roe v Wade, but its source was actually the legal and medical establishments giving form and legal stand to those who assisted women in their choice of abortion.

Women’s integrity to choose what is right for them does not require group membership, or exclude any woman,  Having your choice and allowing other women to have their choice does not need to come with discrediting, diminishing or holding in contempt those who make different choices.  The Women’s March for me was all about that!   Our concerns, what we marched for was Women’s Rights, Civil Rights and Human Rights and standing together, marching together as women; -some who call themselves feminists, some who don’t.

We are here for each other, for our mothers, for our sisters, for our daughters.  In response to the New Administrations intimidation and threats hurled toward limiting or reducing any aspect of those rights that support the benefit of full inclusion and social equality achieved since the 1960’s, we resist.  We will continue to show up to stand with those in need of support.  That is feminism to most, and you are not excluded.  We are here, Lauren, together we and those who march together will stand with the most vulnerable, and bring ourselves forward together to achieve that.

Peggy Reskin, author of Barefoot Frontrunners: sex, women and power

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1970-new power to choose

 

Women choosing their own sexual lives was the process which engaged the generation of the 60’s produced the dynamic of some women who saw the opening to choose  their roles and behavior in what would be considered a new level of consciousness, a view of feminism and the potential for equality in the bedroom and in their world.  Not all women for sure, and there certainly was a significant difference in how women viewed themselves relative to the culture in which they lived, worked and raised their families.  But the thread of new views on who women were and what the basis for sexuality might be about for women was changing.

Clitoral or vaginal orgasm had been challenged by Freud and Masters and Johnson in their 10,000 research recordings found there was no difference, and in fact measured the fact that women were capable of achieving many orgasms in a sexual encounter.  But for most women this type of information if you got it at all came from your doctor when a problem in fertility was the case.    Most women didn’t even discuss with each other the experience of their sexuality, and there was little available in terms of information for the public about women’s sexuality.  The emotional content of women in their sexual experience was not considered scientific based and was discounted within the realm of study.

All the more reason for the social groundwork conditions which had Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 become not only a best seller in this country but world wide has changed how women see themselves and their sexuality.  Women began talking with each other,  over the bridge tables, at the teas and church, found a vocabulary, found their voice around the rightness and validity of equality in the bedroom.  They were the choosers and not just the chosen and responsible for the choices they made, not without a few bruises and not without trial and error, but that was how women came through their ownership of their sexuality if that was the course they chose in the late 60’s, early ’70s and change the culture they did.

THE PILL AND THE HITE REPORT

In 1973,  Roe vs Wade offered the choice for women to  take or not take pregnancy to full term.  That same year, unmarried women were officially allowed to get birth control pills from their doctors.  Talk to you grandmother or even your mother, your aunt or any of the women who have lived through the civil rights act to current times.    A woman in the 1930’s in Brooklyn found her way to one of the first Margaret Sanger’s clinic.  Some women went to Juarez, or to a doctor known to be compassionate towards women with unintended pregnancies that they did not want to take to term.  Roe VS Wade like a bridge provided a certainty of choice that never existed before for women, away from being victims to their biology to conscious and responsible choice.  For many women, this would never be a dilemma; for others, the option to terminate would never be what they would consider with or without the religious structure or mandate.   But this did contribute, there’s no question to an increase in the interest in sexuality. There is not mistake to viewing the 70’s-80’s as the time of social and sexual experimentation with new game rules.

A shift of focus then to the new question of value and desire for women:  what pleased them and why.   And Cheryl Hite presented  her woman researched book called The Hite Report in 1976 detailing the practices of women in their daily sexual lives.  Sex for women was no longer perceived as fulfilling the biological function and responsibility for procreation or being a sexual partner to their husbands, the issue of pleasure and orgasm had taken the conversation to a new ground.

The Hite Report in 1976 gave a view of the  intimate experiences of women relative to their reported pleasure and gratification of orgasm and specific sexual activity, including masterbation.  Women began to talk to each other about their experiences, their expectations and their desires.  It stirred up questions women had never before been willing to reveal about their sexual lives.

John Bancroft work at the Kinsey Institute in the 40’s was the tip of the iceberg in bringing up the scientific question of what lay behind the behavior of women relative to their sexuality, as reported by Julia Heiman, current director of the Kinsey Institute.  But it would be the impact of the national conversation among women about their sex lives that was stimulated by the Hite Report that had the topic gain ground among women in the 70’s.  The  ladies bridge club tables in the late 60’s, early ’70’s and other ladies’ gatherings often provided the place and time for those discussions by women about women, the topic of orgasm had come into the conversation.  Not all women identified with the strident voice and emerging presence of the National Organization of Women, in fact NOW seemed remote and alien to many women across the country, but women were talking to each other now more than ever.

SEXOLOGIST EARLY STUDIES

Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexologist in the 70’s developed a study on the physical response of women measuring those responses in the release of serotonin, heart rate, dilation of the eyes and lubrication.  Her findings were that the emotional or cognizant awareness and the physiological response of women did not correspond .  That is, the biological physiological changes in the body that corresponded with desire for sex were apparent but were not detected or reported by the women as they occurred.  It was reported that the “split” -separation of feeling and physical response did not show up for men.  When there was biological physiological change in men, men were aware of the desire that came with those changes.  The obvious conclusion was that the evidence for physical response by men was observable and validated by erection.

But what could have been considered was the different standards about sexuality that are part of the education and experience of men and women as they enter puberty and adulthood.   Men have historically had more approval of overt expression of interest in sexuality than women.  Being aware of one’s own body and its desires for women is as recent as the social and political changes for women in the  past forty years of western society.

When you consider the amount of pressure on women up until the mid to late 1960’s to withhold themselves from sexual activity for a variety of reasons relative to their value and inclusion as “good women,”  their lack of recognition and experience of their sexual response makes sense.  The rules socially adhered to by the majority of men and women didn’t include women coming to know their own bodies, their own desires and responses.   The deal was to withhold their own pleasure and sexual activity until they married plain and simple.   The release of societal standards in the sexual revolution of the 60’s cannot be overstated.  The dramatic change from the mores that discouraged, limited women and even punished women relative to their expression of their sexual interest and appetite to expression to a NEW AGE;  fulfillment, orgasm and birth control ushered in a new age, political, economic and social perception would be transformed.

Around the world today, there are countries and nations that still punish women for any overt expression of their sexuality and  limit the women’s access to responsible care of themselves through the use of birth control.  So for women, it could be said, the late 60’s was the beginning of owning their own sexual lives and choices.  Today, incredulously,  in the halls of congress, there is an attempt to take women back to that societal and legal constraint limiting their choices.

But the evolvement of women to know their own desire and their own bodies is relatively new ground for women that brought on new studies.  Meridith Chivers of Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario directed her research in 2009 to “Discovering What Ignites Desire for women,” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Anthology.  Those studies and those of Lisa Diamond, a Sexologist at the University of Utah, also studied women’s desire in her sexuality study.  The Diamond  study revealed that women’s desire is more receptive to and dictated by need for intimacy and emotional connection.  She measured the oxytocin as a factor in asserting that female desire was reliant on estrogen- and the cause of desire for women.

Marta Meana, Professor at University of Nevada, also researched in her study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and her findings were that it wasn’t the closeness or communication that created the oxytocin that released desire, but  that “being desired is the orgasm.”   Meana attributed that to narcissism.  Her study suggested that  sexual response was a “yearning for self love.”

Major studies would follow relevant to the measure  of how and under what conditions women experiencing their desire.  But what can be seen is that with the advent of the birth control pill, those questions were really new questions and they brought on new options and dilemmas.  That is, in the western world-while many countries continue to keep the conditions such that women are without the choice of birth control and are a victim to their sexuality.

There was considerable concern in the media and in society itself as women’s liberation and the choices to women about their sexuality became more accessible to women.  Life magazine did stories about what if women become just like men sexually, free to choose their sexual roles and desires. Newspaper articles about how women would be just like men if they didn’t have the concerns that had provided constraints on their sexual choices and behavior.  For some women, trying hard to achieve the a priori of what it was to be a successful woman, these choices to determine and manage fertility and sexuality, were considered by some as “unfeminine.”   For the women who did choose to use the new support of birth control, self determination and personal liberty and responsibility was their choice.  These women made their way thru  uncharted grounds in a life that looked entirely different from  their mothers, sometimes in opposition to their sisters, their colleagues and friends.  It was a risk some women took, and an individual one made by the women who led.

Change certainly did come as a result of the independence of women, and 2013 saw for the first time, the majority of women choosing not to marry to have a family.  Marriage,  as was predicted in the 1970’s, was impacted by the changes in sexual behavior.  The majority of Ph.D students are women, and women are primary breadwinners in 40% of the households with children.  It is the new world, and birth control availability seems to be the world women have chosen and will not allow to pass into the rough and tough political attacks on women’s rights that have been a large part of politics since 2011.

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World War II-birth control and the New Deal

Against the State, AGainst the church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.

 Margaret Sanger 1940 

WORLD WAR II-the New Deal and birth control

For the women born in 1940, sex was dangerous.  There was no support for choosing to be pregnant or not.  Sixteen million men and women were in World War II and 8 out of 10 high school graduates were in the military service.  Jobs needed at the shipyards, in the farms and the family businesses, such as my grandfather’s gas and oil business, were managed and run by  600,000 women until the war ended and the men returned.  The New Deal had not come about by President Roosevelt, and so the women and children depended on the extended kin and family and the church as support to them.  There was 4% divorce at that time, and mostly the husband, occasionally the wife left the family and disappeared and were never heard from again.

After the war, 28.6% women worked out of the home, and there was a mixture as people lef their families of origin during the war and then after with the use of the VA loan and the VA  bill for college.  Under FDR and the New Deal, the single family credit and social welfare gave a basis of support for the nuclear family that emerged post World War II.  In general, women did not go to college, drive or own property, serve on juries or lease apartments.  But for the women who did attend college, Home Economics was a major and a minor course considered appropriate.  Feminism, if identified or spoken of, was not a thread throughout the culture and its meaning to most was ambiguous, related to a few women and men who held a standard of equality as a social good, as well as an advance for women.   The pejorative word attributed to women at the time was to point out the lack of what was considered feminine graces and value.

Sexuality studies

It would be the case that Freud studied  the sexuality of women relative to their function in producing children and being a responsive partner to their husbands.  Kinsey and Masters and Johnson took the study of the function of sexuality in the lives of men and women, using scientific methods to measure effects of sexuality, function and dysfunction for both male and female.  But the topic of women’s desire and the  emotional content relative to women and their sexuality would be considered much after women had access to birth control in 1964, Civil Rights and Roe VS Wade in 1973.

The Mystique and the pill

The consciousness and the history of women’s sexuality evolved from the early days of Margaret Sanger raised the issue of comstockery.  Women being used to bare children to work on the farms providing their own free labor.  Then in 1951 at age 72, Margaret Sanger got a small grant for Gregory Pincus and the Worchester Foundation to research the process of ovulation with injections of progesterone that prohibited ovulation and pregnancy.   G. D. Searle also engaged in the process of the study of progesterone to address birth control.  However, it was Carl Djerassi in Mexico City who created the progesterone pill.  Again, the focus for women to be in control of their ovulation to manage their family size was a new idea whose time had come because of the relentless and passionate work of Margaret Sanger for over 40 years.  For most women, the issues around their sexuality were contained in the effort to be pregnant when unable to conceive, or the attempt to get help from their family doctors to monitor their cycles and pregnancies.

By 1961, birth control was still illegal in Connecticut but Dr. C. Lee Buxton, the Chairman of the Yale Medical School of Obstetrics and Gynecology, but finding a way to help women conceive was very much the effort of the medical community.  In the process of identifying the means to enhance potential pregnancy through progesterone, the unintentional consequence was the established knowledge that ovulation could be monitored and managed.   Women talked to their doctors to get the news of the availability of birth control pills.    By 1963, 1.2 million American women used the pill.  By 1967 12.5 million women world wide would use the pill for birth control.  It would be in 1972, that the federal government ruled that the states could not prohibit unmarried women from the use of the pill for birth control.

But what did women want in the bedroom and out of the bedroom was the question that now came up in the conversation.  In 1963, the best seller book written by Betty Friedan, “The Feminine Mystique” began a conversation among women, in pairs, in groups and ultimately in a movement about this intimate part of their lives  and how it connected to their personal liberty.  Cheryl Hite and the Hite Report, Erica Jung and Fear of Flying also created a new awareness for women about themselves.  They talked with each other and validated experiences about their own sexuality, their desires, their feelings about their sexuality.  They did not take this conversation to  authorities such as doctors and experts.  Even in the realm of sexuality, the communication between women about their lives has been a basis for changes in the identity and behavior chosen by some.  Always woman to woman there has been the igniting and inspiration to fulfill their commitment to liberty, deepened by their exposure to each other  from the days of the Suffragettes to the world we live in today.

This shift in culture, in knowledge and practice of  women determining their choices in their area of their sexuality was not entirely welcome by all women and a great deal of society considered the consequences of this social change.   Newspapers and magazines featured articles about the threats to the family in giving women more choices about their sex lives. The perceived threat was that women would be like men with this new freedom and would in their freedom challenge current morality and standards.

The New Deal also changed the family structure. Prior to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s social security, aid to children, and social services, family and only family and church were responsive to concerns, difficulties and finances of how people took care of themselves. With the New Deal, and World War II’s Veteran’s Loans, a new middle class would result with new homes and the ability to gain access to middle class through the VA educational benefit. The individual could function outside of the group, and mobilize toward a new concept of the single family unit.

WHERE WE LIVE

While concern for a new society that might result from freeing women of the constraints prior to birth control,  a deep divide  among women who didn’t identify with the strident provocative tone of the Women’s Movement in the late 60’s provoked a schism, and had the women’s movement ultimately lost impact over time.   The polarities among the women, in families, in social groups, in colleges drove the national conversation further into conflict.   1973 would widen the gap even further with the Roe VS Wade decision.  Just as today in the current political atmosphere, there is challenge and conflict over the value of Planned Parenthood over 40 years later, and women choosing their destiny.  Further, the freedom of women and their choices are being challenged in over 40 states within the nation who are attempting to go back in time and bring back the constraints, restrictions to women’s ability to choose to bear children.

The new family, the new woman and the new social consciousness resulting from the 1970’s has 41% of women being the breadwinner in their families. Women are now able to conceive with a donor rather than a partner. The choice to marry is not a necessity for survival, parenting or sustaining a livelihood or being part of a community. Clusters of communities based on interests are a common core to many lives, not at the exclusion of family, but in addition. 2013 was reported by PEW research to be the first year that the majority of the population held the status of not married.   A new group identified are individuals who live with one or more unrelated people. The future has taken power not just to women in life choices, but clearly to men and women of all ages. The New Deal and birth control opened these doors to individual choice and destiny.

 

 

 

 

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