osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

A Most Amusing Op Ed

Some years back, I read an SF story in which the central conceit was that the invention of a patch that stopped menstruation. The narrator's daughter had gone and joined the "Cyclists," a group that beleived that men invented the patch to deprive women of the natural cycles. The mother is horrified, realling that men had actually opposed "freeing" women from regular menstruation.

When I saw that the FDA had approved Lybrel, I recalled the story and smiled. Actually, the truth is that most men really don't care one way or another -- and would prefer not to know about this sort of icky stuff anyway. Wyeth, the maker of Lybrel, is really only interested in making money. sine the standard birth control pill is available in generic and works reasonably well, the actual cost of birth control pills is rather low. So providing a drug that reduces or eliminates menstrual flow is not a bad hook.

But I knew that there would be women who would somehow see Lybrel as some sort of assault on on womanhood and therefore -- at its base -- part of the great phallocratic conspiracy. Sure enough, today's NYT runs this op ed on how efforts to demonize the menstrual period are historically part of the great campaign to surpress women.

Certainly "science" has been enlisted in the service of the status quo. Whether it was Geman geneticists proving the inherent superiority of Aryans and how the shape of a Jews nose demonstrated their specific corrupt nature, whether it was 19th Century white scientist "proving" that whites had inherently superior brain capacity to "lesser races," or scientists explaining why menstruaton makes women less fit for "male" roles, history is repleat with pseudoscience of every variety demonstrating that SCIENCE proves that my personal prejudices and expectations are exactly right.

But that really doesn't have anything to do with a multibillion dollar drug company tryng to maximize revenue. Lilly did not hate children when it pushed Prozac for the cure to all ills. Pfizer did not hate men when it pushed Viagra for men concerned because they might not "be able to perform" and thus be less manly. And Wyeth really doesn't care about waging a war on "womanhood."

Lybrel is not, of course, the first drug to undergo the rebound effect of addressing something women have complained about for centuries only to discover that marketing it has made it an assault on womanhood. Consider the invention of baby formula. For millenia, having someone else nurse your baby was something only the very wealthy could afford. Then came the invention of baby formula and an entire generation of women did what previous generations of women could only dream about -- ditch nursing. A generation later, the pendulum swung back. It wasn't just that women became advocates of breast feeding because it was healthier, increased bonding, etc. No, it was that evil man had forced women to breast feed as part of the vast conspiracy to usurp control of the fertility and child rearing process. Similarly, the question of natural childbirth v. anesthesia v. all manner in between was framed, for a considerable period of time, as an assault by the evil male medical establishment against the institution of motherhood.

Of course, history also shows that the pendulum swings back. These days, decisions about natural childbirth v. various forms of pain relief or formula v. breast feeding re much more likely to be based in individual decisions about lifestyle, practicality, and other option weighing without the war framing. A generation of women grows comfortable with choice and exercises choice without feeling preasured either by biology or the weight of conventional medical opinion. I expect that it will be the same with Lybrel (assuming it doesn't have awful long term side effects). At which point some new technology -- possibly the artificial uterus envisioned by Lois McMaster Bujold or Robert Heinlien -- will become the new liberator/enslavor of womenkind.

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