Ashamed of The Pill
By: Mariya Lewter
As a member of the Hoop Girls at the University of Georgia, it is my job to attend every home men’s basketball game throughout the season, no matter how packed or empty the arena may be. When games are packed, I rarely get a chance to interact with or observe things that do not involve the actual game or my friends.
One night, there was a game in the middle of the school week, and attendance was considerably low compared to other games. I was sitting alone—only a few of the other Hoop Girls were scattered around in our section. One Hoop Girl was seated a few seats away from me, and she too was sitting alone. As we waited for the game to start, I noticed the girl reach down to the ground and rumble around in her purse until she discreetly pulled out a pack of birth control pills.
From where I was sitting, I could see her hands inside her purse, and I watched her pop out a pill and clench it in her hand as she hid the pack and closed her purse. When she sat back up in her seat, she looked around to see if anyone was watching her. Then, she proceeded to quickly take the pill, drink her water, and afterwards, pretend that nothing happened.
After watching her treat taking her birth control pill as an illegal action, I began to think about why she would be ashamed to take it in public. Then I began to realize that I do the exact same thing whenever I have to take my pills in a room full of people.
Doctor’s Orders, Mother’s Disapproval
When my doctor recently prescribed birth control pills to me in order to ease my ovarian cysts, my mother was appalled. In her mind, introducing me to birth control would encourage me to have sex, and to her, that was the worst thing I could do. My mother’s reaction to my pills immediately made me self-conscious about them, and I was afraid that others would judge me and make assumptions about my private sex life. This led me to “secretly” take them, just like the girl I observed at the basketball game. As women, why must we be afraid that something as small as a birth control pill will taint the world’s perception of us?
Sex has been used to define women since the dawn of time, whether we are having it or not. Very rarely is it seen as a positive for women, so we are constantly walking a thin line when it comes to sexual pleasure. Even the idea of virginity can be intrusive on how we feel about ourselves and how the world perceives us. Jessica Valenti, feminist author and founder of Feministing, discussed how losing her virginity changed how her peers viewed her and her place in society. According to Valenti, the combination of porn culture and abstinence movements in today’s society places harsh consequences on women who choose to indulge or not to indulge in sexual intercourse for pleasure. She states:
“Staying ‘pure’ and ‘innocent’ is touted as the greatest thing we can do. However, equating this inaction with morality not only is problematic because it continues to tie women’s ethics to our bodies, but also is downright insulting because it suggests that women can’t be moral actors. Instead, we’re defined by what we don’t do—our ethics are the ethics of passivity.”
Virgin or Whore?
In society, we tend to categorize women one of two ways: a good girl or a bad girl; a virgin or a slut. This way of classifying women makes it extremely difficult for women to choose whether or not we want to partake in sex for pleasure or even display our sexual desires. For example, I had a friend tell me about a time she went to the store to buy condoms. Rather than feeling proud of herself for taking her sexuality and safety into her own hands, she instead felt ashamed and embarrassed. She even mentioned that she doubted her boyfriend would feel the same angst she did because it is “expected” for men to have sex. Much like myself and the other girl taking birth control pills, the idea of someone knowing you have sex because you’re buying condoms made her feel self-conscious.
Sociologist Yen Le Espiritu put it best when she said, “this good girl/bad girl cultural story conflates femininity with sexuality, increases women’s vulnerability to sexual coercion, and justifies women’s containment in the domestic sphere.” Being able to put women into these “boxes” gives men—and often other women—the ability to confine us to a conflicting standard. If you only praise the virgin, you demean the sexually active woman and cause her to feel guilt for her actions. On the flip side, if you only praise the sexually active woman, you put pressure on the virgin to partake in sex in order to be accepted. The problem is not with praising either woman; the problem comes when you hold one higher than the other, which is done and reversed so often that women are confused about which is essentially “okay” for them to be.
The Need for a Cultural Shift
Society has placed so many unrealistic expectations on women when it comes to sex that it is difficult for us to navigate through life as sexual beings. We have to constantly be on guard about what we do and whom we do it with. So much of our value in our culture is tied to our bodies. Most of the time, we are the only people not allowed to benefit from our own sexual endeavors.
I want women to one day feel secure in the decisions they make regarding their own bodies. The decision to have or abstain from sex should be made by us and for us, and we should feel proud whenever we choose to say yes or no. A woman should never feel ashamed to walk out of the grocery store with a pack of condoms. And in a room full of people, a woman should feel as comfortable taking her birth control pill as she would taking a sip of coffee.
Image Source: Jackie Keaton