Category Archives: reactionary beliefs

The Pill and the Family

The Republican Party may be involved in its “war on women” for religious reasons, but it may also be involved in this war for social reasons. The Republican Party offers up its longing for simpler days almost every day. They wish for the 50’s, that post World War II boom time, that time before the birth control pill, that time before the Women’s Liberation Movement, which they see, through their rose-colored glasses, as a time when the American family was intact and single parent families were rare. Since they surmise that the causes of a more violent youth culture can be traced to the demise of the American family, they believe, apparently, that rolling back the calendar might make things rosy again. Put those birth control pills back in their bottles (packages), put women back to being barefoot in the kitchen and give men back the role of chief hunter-gatherer and we will put America back to rights.

If we are completely honest with ourselves we know that it is not possible or necessarily even desirable to return to the old ways. We do wear rose-colored glasses when we think about those days. The intact family was often not as intact as it seemed. The two parents involved did not always love each other forever. One parent may have had a drinking problem, or a mental disorder, or debilitating migraines. A parent may have been abusive, beating the other partner or the children. Sexual abuse may have been swept under the carpet. Without birth control families were often larger than the family’s finances and children were poorly dressed or poorly fed. This social model often neglected to realize that females have brains and that a lifetime full of dishes, floors, laundry, cooking, and nurturing might deaden female intelligence and contribute to feelings of inferiority and helplessness.

It is surprising that a simple thing like a birth control pill in the hands of the women who actually carried and raised babies would have had such an enormous effect on America and the world. And, of course, it was not only the pill that did it. Women had to work in factories and businesses while men were away fighting in World War II. Many women felt empowered by being in the world of work, with goals that were more universal than keeping a house clean and a household running smoothly, jobs which had never been perceived as important except in the most condescending ways. How did a simple little pill give women permission to become lawyers and doctors and anthropologists and marine biologists and physicists and politicians?
The pill came into use in the same days that America was involved in the fight to extend civil rights to African Americans and the rights of women ended up being a logical extension of the belief that everyone needs to be free if you are supposed to be a “free” country, which we always believed America was supposed to be. So, Republicans may have convinced themselves that the birth control pill is responsible for all the ills of the 21st century, but I think we can rest assured that just tossing out the birth control pill will not bring back the two-parent American family (which was sometimes not the haven that it seemed).

The religious objections are harder to fight since the religious right has little use for science and seems unable to accept that birth control pills are not the same as abortions. There is no doubt that once women could decide whether or not to reproduce, or when to reproduce, their lives became drastically different, their choices much freer, and their lives more intellectually satisfying (although somewhat socially conflicted). There is also no doubt that the changes in the fortunes of women have had profound effects on the lives of men, an area with implications that our culture has not fully explored and which we may still not have enough objectivity to see clearly. As for the family, it is still alive and well, although often it doesn’t resemble the traditional “nuclear” family that everyone romanticizes.

It is quite clear to me that the GOP has recently given voice to views that are so reactionary that we can only hope that they do not end up in control over American policy decisions, even though they are doing fairly well right now from behind the scenes. If the GOP wins and we go back to before the pill, before women’s liberation, how far back do we go? It is not possible to undo everything that has happened since the birth control pill went on the market. Why isn’t there more push back against these unrealistic and patriarchal Republicans? What private longings and recidivist beliefs have they tapped into? We surely know we have to go start the future from where we are today. We don’t get a do-over.