The XX Factor

Nothing Is Natural

Sometimes I imagine a world where writers are forbidden for a year from starting from the premise that women are dumber, more irrational, or more emotional than men. The pages labeled “Fashion,” “Style,” or “Life” in newspapers would change dramatically. The trend-piece industry would quite possibly not be able to handle the shift in focus, and collapse completely. Sexism is the gasoline that fuels it. Exhibit #1: This condescending article about the pill from Vanessa Grigoriadis of New York magazine.

Every hand-wringing article about the pill follows the same formula: Tacit acceptance of the profoundly positive change that reliable contraception has made in women’s lives, and then straight to the red meat of worrying that it’s not natural , and implying that women, with our wee, silly brains are too full of shopping information to realize that we totally can’t have babies on the pill! Wrap it up with a bow of implying that writing the same article that comes out every few months makes you daring, since you’re fighting the all-powerful feminist militia, one that’s so powerful we can’t even get an equal pay bill through Congress . Grigoriadis doesn’t veer from the formula one bit. Implying that women are too stupid to realize that delaying pregnancy until your 30s raises your chances of infertility? Check. Implying that infertility is a much bigger problem than it actually is in a country that has a relatively high birth rate for an industrialized nation? Check. Focusing on the complaints of side effects without checking the actual scientific studies on the prevalence? Check. Characterizing the entire female population as being exactly like your free-wheeling fun time friends in their 20s who are the kind of girls who match their pill cases to their shoes, without considering that mothers, the fiercely monogamous, and the totally unfashionable also have a need for the pill? Check. And above all, freaking out about how “unnatural” it is, as if it’s somehow more unnatural than every other drug on the market , not to mention air conditioning, latex, television sets, and the wearing of shoes? Check.

If you expanded the ban on sexism to make it a ban on the naturalistic fallacy as well, all that would be left of this article is a recounting of some of Samantha Bee’s funnier jokes at the pill’s 50th anniversary party. Most of the article involves hand-wringing over how the pill is an “illusion,”, as if my belief that I’m totally not pregnant right now is something M.C. Escher came up with, instead of demonstrable reality. Grigoriadis drops terms like “true biological processes” and “rediscovering their bodies,” as if going on the pill somehow makes you an Unwoman. (If so, can I get that 25 percent raise and stop shaving my legs?) This sort of thing may sound all fun and crunchy, but it has the unpleasant side effect of implying that women who have hysterectomies, women whose menstruation is so painful it needs to be suppressed, women who used to be men, and women who simply don’t like ovulating aren’t really women.

But the notion that nature is somehow better, and that women can’t know about it unless they tolerate a higher chance of unintended pregnancy, is the real problem here. To be consistent with this argument, you really need to take it out of the realm of guilt-tripping and scaring women about their sexual choices, and move on to actually attacking men for taking drugs they feel they need. Viagra is unnatural, of course, but let’s go beyond that. Statins are unnatural, too—Mother Nature intended you to get in touch with your heart attacks, that’s why she gave them to you.

And there’s one more box that Grigoriadis checked off that is one of my particular pet peeves, which is misinforming the public on how the pill works. She says, “The Pill (and other hormonal methods of birth control, like the patch and the ring) basically tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant.” You’d think the fact that women on the pill don’t get giant bellies, swollen feet, and a need to puke all the time would dispel this myth. In reality, the pill mimicks your body’s hormone levels immediately post-ovulation to suppress ovulation. Indeed, it was designed to mimic not pregnancy, but the rhythm method that Grigoriadis explains is the hip new thing with the crunchy set. Maybe we just need a new rule requiring that you get the history and biology right before you start to wax on about what’s “natural”?

Photograph by Matthew Bowden from Wikimedia Commons.