Has Jon Stewart become a flaming feminist? After a week of watching his killer segments skewering the GOP’s “War on Women,” I’m wondering if his seeming conversion is indicative of a larger turning point, if the Republicans, after a full year of assaults on reproductive rights, have finally crossed the line that gets people on the sidelines to speak up.
When I was just starting to write feminist blog posts, I wrote one complaining about the lack of genuine, women-focused discussion of reproductive rights in “dude” political culture, particularly on “The Daily Show.” While Stewart’s and similar shows tackled war and torture, gay rights and religion, I felt there was a squeamishness which curtailed discussion of abortion and women’s sexuality — and too much fawning respect for male authority figures who oppose women’s rights. Stewart’s weak interview with Mike Huckabee, in which he failed to effectively refute Huckabee’s points on abortion, exemplified this.
Then 2010 Irin Carmon, in an epic moment of reporting, blew the lid off the guy-centric culture at the beloved late night comedy news show. Her piece in Jezebel contained interviews with former employees who revealed that the onscreen “bro” culture was reflective of the shows inner workers: “behind the scenes, numerous former female staffers tell us that working there was often a frustrating and alienating experience.”
Back in 9th grade health class, we were tasked with creating — and memorizing — a chart of the various methods of birth control on the market and how effective they were in preventing pregnancy and, in the case of latex condoms, sexually transmitted diseases: We learned about oral contraceptives, barrier contraceptives, spermicides, and intrauterine devices. Among the least effective forms of birth control, we were told, was something called the “rhythm method,” which involved “charting a woman’s cycle.”
Since getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant was something we were to avoid doing — we were teenagers, after all — and since the birth control method called “rhythm” was something that wasn’t considered all that reliable a way to prevent pregnancy, we didn’t linger on recognizing the biological signs of ovulation that this mysterious “charting” entails.
The overriding message in high school and, again, in college — where, at the campus health center, condoms and prescriptions for the Pill were handed out liberally, and brochures on preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs were stacked in the waiting room — was this: Don’t get pregnant.
Reliance on a drug, on hormones, to me, is the opposite of freedom. Which is why when I read Vanessa Grigoriadis’s New York magazine piece in which she asserts that women should wake up from the feel-good fog of the birth control pill, I found myself excited. This may be the beginning of a needed, deep and difficult conversation about the much-loved, never-questioned pill. Grigoriadis writes about women who stop taking the pill after years on it and have trouble conceiving, finding that fertility (like wrinkleless skin) “is a gift of youth.”
Sisterhood contributor Sarah Seltzer wrote here that Grigoriadis’s treatise “feeds into a weird anti-pill backlash that I really detest.” I get that. But I’m less interested in the condemning of the pill or the backlash than I am in unpacking why its so loaded, in 2010, 50-years after the pill’s creation, to question its worth and to reassess its purpose.