By Holly Grigg-Spall, Buzzworthy Blogs
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the upcoming book Sweetening the Pill or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, now available on Amazon US and UK for pre-orders.
Sweetening the Pill or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control is part personal journey, part social criticism, part investigation into the billion dollar industry of hormonal contraceptives.
The book began as a blog through which I detailed my transition off the pill after ten years of use. I began by asking myself: Who am I when I’m not on the pill? This excerpt is from the book’s concluding chapter.
The self-proclaimed leader in hormonal contraceptives, Bayer, is also the world’s leading agrochemical company and the seventh biggest seed production company. Its nicotine-based pesticides, neo-nicotinoids, are linked to the demise of the bee population threatening the future of agriculture and the natural eco-system. In Germany, Italy and France suspensions of use of these pesticides have been voiced, but the research is not acknowledged in the UK or US. The findings are refuted by the manufacturers with claims that if used “correctly” there is no impact on the bees. As with the research behind blood clot risk and drospirenone-containing drugs the government bodies have gone with Bayer’s own proposed research, rather than that presented to them by independent researchers.
Eco-feminism argues that the insistence of dominion over women is connected inextricably to Western patriarchal capitalist culture’s oppression of the natural environment. Ecofeminism demands that a co-existing environmentalism is essential for women’s liberation. This assertion is founded in the history of oppressed races and classes, not only women, being associated with concepts of “Nature.” Their oppression is historically justified by this connection.
Eco-feminists believe that until we accept and nurture our human link to nature, especially the strong connection of women through the lunar cycle, we cannot prevent and overthrow the dominion over women. Working with, instead of against nature, is the future for humanity and resistance to this will only lead to destruction. It is argued that as nature is approached like a machine, women and men are manipulated as though they too are machines, all in the pursuit of capitalist progress.
Amy Sedgwick, founder of the eco-feminist collective Red Tent Sisters, developed the ‘Green Your Birth Control in 30 Days’ online seminar series that embodies the democratization of fertility awareness and body literacy. In an article titled ‘Coming Off the Pill: The Final Frontier for Women Pursuing Holistic Health’ she speaks to those women who eat organic, avoid chemical-laden products and see themselves as eco-conscious, “Aside from “the pill is making me crazy” the most common reason I hear from women choosing to switch to natural birth control is that the pill no longer fits with their values.”
Sedgwick suggests women “live closer to the Earth, live in synch with the Earth and live in respect of the Earth” for the good of their health, fertility and for the good of the environment. Gandhi prayed every day, “Make me more womanly – make me more feminine.” We can speculate he was drawing on the ecofeminist idea that women carry a culture of caring and sharing, from nature or from nurture, and that is subsumed in modern society.
Both men and women could embrace these elements of humanness and deny the dichotomy of male and female, nature and culture.
Eco-feminists believe that there was a time when cooperation and not competition were vital to the human experience and that it is possible for us to tap back into those origins.
In this post-recession era we have seen institutions questioned and criticized in the mainstream arena. The system broke and its innards were exposed.
The food industry for one is under fire with the meat and dairy lobbies in the spotlight for their domination over our diets. Documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Food Inc. reached massive audiences of people eager to be healthy and environmentally kind. The focus is on what we put in our bodies.
The pill makes women feel disconnected, repressed and deadened. Through reconnecting with our bodies we are in a better position to connect with others, and with the world. As you will have seen through these pages, coming off the pill is an “awakening” for many women. Hormonal birth control can create a sense of indifference and detachment. If we suffer with panic attacks, agoraphobia and anxiety we direct our energy and emotions into this black hole. It is a hard place to return from with confidence when the culture does not admit to the validity of your experience.
Taking the pill seemed to me, for a long time, like the easy way out despite the consequences to my mental and physical health.
If I started taking it again I would be back in control, I could regain the bigger breasts, flatter stomach, clearer skin and glossier hair that Yaz had given me. I would be acceptable regardless of my anxiety or my rage, as long as I looked good and right.
Bartky writes in her essay ‘Modernization of Patriarchical Power,’ “To have a body felt to be feminine – a body socially constructed through the appropriate practices – is in most cases crucial to a woman’s sense of herself as female and her sense of herself as an existing individual.”
Rejecting the pill threw me into a space in which I did not know who I could be. As I wrote in those first weeks of blogging – who am I when I’m not on the pill? Ridding myself of the pill made me ask a lot more questions than just this.
A motto of the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective was “Our Strength is in Our Health.” The choice to come off the pill and be well rather than sick does not have to be a political action. To politicize this suggests that achieving personal wellness is not a good enough end in itself.
Achieving wellness is not only a means to an end of protest, resistance or social change, it is important in its own right. That wellness does not have to made useful or productive. Women should not feel they have to affiliate with any way of thinking to make the transition.
When I came off the pill it was to feel better first and foremost, and that is reason enough. I did, however, decide to share the experience in the hope other women might learn from my transition. It is only through wellness that we have the strength of mind and body to take action in our own lives and collectively.
In a sense, rejecting hormonal contraceptives is, in our culture, a necessarily political act, but it is up to us to decide what we create from that point. The feelings of anger and awareness that we feel can be used to benefit other women.
A phrase was created as part of the work of the Occupy movement – Occupy Yourself.
To some this means acting as a vigilant and engaged citizen. For others it requires critically analyzing the thoughts and beliefs you have long held to be true. I had to examine my long held beliefs about my body, my femininity and my cycle to be able to get off and stay off the pill.
That oft repeated phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world” grew to have a very specific meaning for me. On the pill I was stagnant – physically, mentally and emotionally. I would get stuck in both feelings and thoughts. I could not think clearly. I could not progress. Off the pill, my body is going through changes throughout the month. I experience the waves and peaks, the ebbs and flows and all of this moves me. This movement is energizing and galvanizing. I feel in this way that I am truly occupying myself. Every new cycle spurs action in me. I encourage you to step out of the system and back into yourself. It could be a revolution from the inside out.
Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and activist. Her work has been featured in the UK Times and Guardian, The Washington Post, Ms. Magazine, the F-Bomb, re:Cycling, Bitch magazine, amongst others. Sweetening The Pill is available on Sept 7 from Zero Books.
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