Bruce Parker

The Red Bird Has Landed

Filed By Bruce Parker | June 01, 2007 11:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: birth control, lybrel, women, women's health, women's issues

On May 23rd Jen Jorczak, a bilerico contributor, posted about Lybrel saying,

Today, the FDA approved a new method of hormonal birth control called Lybrel. It's special because it's the only birth control method to date designed to postpone your period as long as you take it--and you can take it 365 days a year.
Over on one of our blog-friends one of their contributors says,
No period? Where do I sign up? I don't care that lesbianism is its own form of birth control. If the cost of Lybrel is comparable to buying pads and tampons each month, I'm totally down with that!

So yesterday Carrie Wooten who used to contribute here and has moved over there says,

It is dangerous to talk of a collective "we" or "women," but I think this is certainly a case where the borderline of PC feminism can be transgressed. With so much money spent on women hiding any sign of their cycles, with dioxin-soaked tampons sold to us by the caseload, with any mention of the goings-on of the non-pregnant uterus being silenced, I am certainly disturbed by the sudden push to treat Lybrel as a miracle drug. To me, a drug that "does away with periods" continues to treat this natural process of women as a disease to be cured.

What ensued over there are the beginnings of a conversation about medical policing of women's bodies and the social significance of menstruation. I am wondering why women would be so quick to be excited to do away with their periods? Do folks think it is internalized misogyny, related to convenience or something less, or more complicated?

I can't help but think about the ways that straight and gay men alike tend to be afraid of or profess open disgust in regards to women's periods and wonder if men are somehow not deeply connected with this conversation in really integral ways.

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Honestly I think that there are enough men right now in the conversation of what women should do with their bodies. This is a conversation in which I have no expertise.

I know that your last comment on Buck's post was so last week, lol, but my issue with an all male discussion of misogyny or any issue about women is that men get into that conversation and try to take control of it. Like I don't see an issue where it's a fair exchange, and an all-male discussion of misogyny is prolly better than no discussion at all, but pretending like a bunch of men can sit around and have the full picture on their own is pretty silly.

Some women are going to see this as a miracle drug because they just don't care for their periods, some aren't because they like 'em, and some women will be Amanda Marcotte. It does seem to me that this whole debate on what's "natural" is just a way to control women's bodies, just like describing non-het sex as "unnatural" is a way to control that. And psychoanalyzing women and labeling them as misogynistic when they just might not like their periods and have every right to dislike them just seems to be finding a way to dismiss their opinions and make their bodies easier to control.

Amanda Marcotte's argument on the word "natural" that I linked to above seemed realy relevant as I reread it. Here's a good bit:

The pill prevents ovulation, and so you don't get periods. They built a few days of bleeding into the pill structure to protect women who took it from criticism that it's "unnatural". If you buy into the idea that it's somehow better to bleed than to not, you're buying into a mythology of the sanctity of feminine "naturalness" that exists predominantly to oppress women.

"Natural" is a bunk concept. People invoke it when they can't make a substantial argument about the rightness of their case. (At this point, it would do well for me to note that while I've griped about this before, it's on my mind because I'm reading Unspeak by Steven Poole and he has a really kickass section on how people resort to the vague terms "natural" and "unnatural" to cover up the fact that they haven't built a substantial case for their opinions.) Anti-choicers argue against contraception because it's "unnatural" because otherwise they'd be put in the unteneable position of having to admit outright that they disapprove of contraception because it's been such a useful tool to liberating women. Homophobes call homosexuality "unnatural" because they can't concoct a real argument against it. Unfortunately, even our side falls into the trap of arguing for sexual liberation under the guise of nature, when it's probably more honest to argue that sexual liberation is good because pleasure improves the quality of life and stifling it for no good reason is sadistic.

"Natural" isn't an argument for shit.

Ok, now read the whole thing!

great blog! and thanks for commenting on my blogging for lgbt families post. i'm adding you to my blog roll.

Perhaps acting like periods are something that needs to be done away with is an act of controlling women's bodies. It's an act that continues to promote the idea that women's biology is weird, gross, and/or unnecessary. To me, it supports menstrual-phobia by aligning women's bodies with men's. And seeing as how there have been no long term studies on Lybrel, calling a period "medically unnecessary" may be a dire and potentially lethal misunderstanding down the line.

Leaving "natural" or not aside, I have found that many women just hate their period. They complain that it sucks to "have to be prepared" by carrying pads/tampons with them when the time is getting close. Then there are the complaints regarding the icky unclean feeling of the process.

I don't see it as misgyny or anything remotely anti-woman to herald a product that gives a certain sect of women what they want. Just because something is found distasteful by men or women that doesn't automatically run to misogyny.

Yeah, men are connected to this and I'm sure there are purely selfish reasons for that connection. The number of straight men who complaing about a woman's period, how it affects their sex life, and how it affects the mood of the household is not small. So, I can see how such a drug could get twisted into a misogynistic ploy to subjugate women, but I just don't think so here.

As a gay guy who used to date women and the father of a young woman just starting this phase of her life, my personal point of view is that, just like anything else, if you don't like it, don't buy it. People will vote with their pocketbooks. And I very well imagine this product will sell like crazy if it works as it claims and doesn't cause any adverse effects. (I know my daughter would kill for it!) I think it's more important to focus there, on the safety and efficacy of the drug, rather than whether or not it is misogynistic to find a period distasteful or unwanted.

I agree with Jerame. To me, it all boils down to a matter of choice. Some women will go for it, some won't. When I was in the discussion phase of deciding whether to have a hysterectomy or not, I got different views from different women. Some women thought I was crazy to want to get rid of my "insides". Others agreed that enough was enough (I had fibroid tumors growing). In the end, I did what was most convenient and applicable to me and my life. So I would put this product in the same category as birth control and abortion - it's a choice. As a woman who suffered with periods for over 40 years, let me tell you I would have jumped at the chance to stop them, providing the pill was deemed "safe". Of course it could be years till we get those statistics.

On the other side of the coin, I do resent men's fooling around with women's bodies and their reproductive systems. Maybe they are just giving women what they want. Maybe for some, deep down, it does go back to the biblical laws concerning menstruation. That said, I say leave women's bodies and their reproductive systems to themselves. That's why I go to a female gynecologist. At least she knows where I'm coming from.

A. J. Lopp | June 2, 2007 2:35 PM

If a pill became available that made it unnecessary for men to shave, I don't expect it would be very popular --- even though I know many, many men who consider shaving to be unpleasant and inconvenient (even after you have learned how to do it without nicking yourself 90% of the time). OTOH, some men would welcome an anti-shaving pill (and in a way, I suppose, transgender MTF's already have such medications.)

My point is that many men regard their beard as part of their "masculinity" --- whatever that is --- even though it is also often a pain-in-the-ass; and it is not surprising that many women might regard their period as part of their "femininity" in the same way.

But I agree that "'Natural' isn't an argument for shit!" --- unless we are talking in a strict, scientific sense, the natural vs. unnatural argument often is a bogus gestalt tactic of convenience, in which one chooses the background and foreground that serves one's argument best. To begin, how much of modern medicine is "natural"? Is triple coronary bypass surgery "natural"? Does that have anything to do with whether it might be advantageous?

If a woman wants to obviate her period, it is her body no less so than if she wanted to go to the extreme of transitioning to male ... so I hardly even see an argument here (although I might be more libertarian than most). Unless a spouse is involved who wants children, whose business other than hers (and her doctor's) could it possibly be? I only hope, as mentioned, that the longterm medical side effects are not unfavorable.

(And the notion that one welcomes freedom from having something icky leaking uncontrollably into your pants is surely something I can sympathize with ... my occasional experiences with diarrhea are enough for me to appreciate that!)

The arguments that men use menstruation as yet another way to control women would be over-polemicizing, were it not for the faction of our society that resists all changes in the sexual realm. Some of this resistance is religious, and some is simply Luddite. Both these traditions hold that men should control women; and menstruation as a control mechanism is just another pixel, if you will, in this much larger picture.

Carrie~ I think it comes down to the ultimate goal of the arguments - is your argument to convince women to critically reexamine Lybrel and their own thoughts on menstruation? Is it to convince women to not use Lybrel? Is it to get the FDA approval overturned?

I think my issue with "natural" is that it's such a transparent attempt to control others - a way of making up what's good and what's bad based on nothing. It's been used not only in the situations that Amanda describes, but has been used in the doctrine of "Natural Law" in the Catholic Church, the Neitzschan argument that women "naturally" want to submit to men, calling the teaching of evolution "unnatural" because it doesn't appear in the Bible, saying that slavery is part of the "natural order" (think not just the American South but also Plato and Confucius), and tangentially in libertarian Social Darwinism arguments to justify poor people starving. The words appeared in sodomy laws from Virginia (where they called it "unnatural acts") to Pakistan (where they call it "unnatural lust"). (Funny how when these people finally see that homos aren't choosing their sexual orientations they usually revert to an argument based on "We need to overcome our sinful, human urges", and natural isn't so great anymore.) Like Allen, ummmm, eloquently points out, there are a lot of unnatural things in our lives, and their being unnatural doesn't make them necessarily bad. So like if the point of your "natural" argument is to get people to think, that's awesome. If it's to ban a legitimate choice for women, then, gee, I guess we don't even need Focus on the Family anymore.

On the implication that Lybrel is dangerous - it's my understanding that it's the same old-skool BC but dosed differently. And you say that not having a period is potentially lethal, but as Amanda points out and many others before me, old-skool BC already stopped ovulation and the shedding of the lining of the uterus, so if menstruation is medically necessary, we should already be seeing those adverse affects. Jen can correct me if I'm wrong....

Allen - Thanks for sharing. And I don't think you can get any more libertarian than Jerame's comment.

Bruce Parker II | June 2, 2007 6:39 PM

Now I am baffled. Alex says, "Honestly I think that there are enough men right now in the conversation of what women should do with their bodies. This is a conversation in which I have no expertise." and then later says, "I think it comes down to the ultimate goal of the arguments - is your argument to convince women to critically reexamine Lybrel and their own thoughts on menstruation? Is it to convince women to not use Lybrel? Is it to get the FDA approval overturned?" And finally asks, "If it's to ban a legitimate choice for women, then, gee, I guess we don't even need Focus on the Family anymore."

For thinking that men are taking up too much space in these conversations you are quick to aggressively take on a woman in them. I don't agree with initial belief on a holistic level so think its fine that you are engaging to this degree but find it interesting that it seems contradictory to your other discussions.

I am not advocating in the least that Librel is a bad drug or shouldn't be available. I am however saying that sexism and patriarchy's role in its creation and women's decision to flock to it aren't as simple as boyfriend beats up girlfriend..... instead I wonder if A.J.'s comment "(And the notion that one welcomes freedom from having something icky leaking uncontrollably into your pants is surely something I can sympathize with ... my occasional experiences with diarrhea are enough for me to appreciate that!)"

Does menstration = diarrhea? HMM. Maybe misogyny has many faces and some of them are societal. Girls being grossed out their periods aren't random occurances. Distate with menstration is passed down from generation to generation by a society that dispises women's bodies and their sexualities.

But what do I know - I am just a boy.

Bruce, my point's not about what women's relationship to menstruation should be - I've just been commenting on the "natural" argument. and that's one that affects me personally - as a gay man, as a latino, and just as someone who likes good argumentation. I wasn't saying that men shouldn't get involved in conversations related to women's issues, I was saying that men shouldn't dominate discussions about women's bodies. The "natural" argument is a whole lot bigger than just Carrie's use of it.

And the stuff I said about Librel itself, I'm just providing science to the best of my knowledge.

And I think this is a fair discussion - Carrie can jump in any time she wants.

I am not advocating in the least that Librel is a bad drug or shouldn't be available.
I didn't say you were. I'm just saying that when someone gives reasons for something being bad, they ought to say what should be done about it or with it, so that we know in what context to evaluate those arguments. And this is something that affects me personally as someone who likes good arguments.

And me, aggressive? Tell that to anyone who's hooked up w/ me!

Bruce Parker II | June 3, 2007 1:01 AM

Would it be in bad taste for me to say instead of asking someone why don't you show me yourself :)

Sorry I haven't been able to respond to this conversation more quickly, but, I've been out at Pride festivals and meetings all day promoting INTRAA, rather than blogging.

I'd like to take a moment to respond to a few thoughts that have been floating around.

I would say that misogyny is involved with women "hating" their periods because we live in a male-dominated society that routinely tells women that menstruation is gross and icky. If we heard messages telling us to embrace our bodies and their cleansing functions, would we still feel the same way about bleeding once a month? I'm not convinced that the answer is yes. We buy the argument that women oftentimes hate the way their bodies look because of messages fed to us all the time about how imperfect they are. Bil actually posted on this two weeks ago. So, why doesn't the same hold true for menstruation?

My use of the word natural has been slammed, probably fairly, because it can be easily misrepresented. When I used "natural" I was thinking "biological," something that most women are born with, that serves multiples purposes. Working as an activist with the trans community, I certainly understand that "natural" is a touchy subject on many levels, and for good reason.

My post (you can go to G-Spot Magazine to see it) was meant to be a initiator of critical thought, certainly not a hindrance of choice. I also never said that Lybrel is lethal - only that we don't know the long-term effects of this drug and what the potential ramifications are, which could potentially include reproductive cancers. For example, endometrial hyperplasia is a condition in which there is an overgrowth of endometrial cells that build up over time and can cause uterine cancer. With the endometrial lining of those who take Lybrel not being routinely or even sporadically shed, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that such a condition could occur. Endometrial hyperplasia is often a concern of doctors prescribing testosterone therapy for transmen, because testosterone stops menstruation. With so many women potentially signing up for Lybrel, and with no long term studies on its effects, I am definitely hesitant just on a basic health level about its use.

I think that there are no easy answers involved in this conversation and that it isn't a black and white issue. I think that issues of choice, biology, and misogyny are all involved. What I hoped to do with my post was open up a space where this issue could be discussed and debated, and that goal has definitely been successful. Thanks to everyone who has voiced their viewpoints and enriched the dialogue. =)

Bruce Parker II | June 3, 2007 1:47 AM

Your response to me skirted the larger question don't you think that distate with periods is a more complex issue than just individual women's choices? Do you think it could easily be thought to be misogynistic to compare a woman's period to diarrhea?

Thanks for clarifying. I see your point.

I didn't even know that was your larger question. It is a more complex issue than just legal choice, but as I said earlier, that's the specific discussion that I'm not going to get involved in. I'm simply not going to say that a woman's choice to use Lybrel is a result of internalized misogyny because that's awfully reductive, awfully essentialist, and, ultimately, just a subsidiary of the "women need to be protected from themselves" argument. And what kind of insight could I provide into internalized misogyny? If a straight person was lecturing me about how internalized homophobia worked or said that one of my actions was the result of it, I'd start laughing out loud.

But comparing menstruation to diarrhea at least suggests that someone didn't think all the way through such a comparison.

And using the comments section of a discussion of BC to slip a request like that in there might be poor taste, but sometimes it's the only way to get through to me.... ;)

Some might argue that saying "I was born gay" is awfully reductive and essentialist as well, but that doesn't mean there might not be some truth in it.

Just food for thought.

I agree with a lot of the different points people have made. (I'm a Libra, I like weighing the sides.) But in terms of natural/unnatural, I think you also have to factor need into the conversation. I don't need my period. I don't plan to have biological children. Never have, never will. Ergo, I don't need my period. I would vote for a hysterectomy, but since it's medically unnecessary, I'm not jumping on that bandwagon yet.

A lot of people have talked about choice. My choice not to have biological children is just as valid as the lesbians who want to be artifically inseminated. I don't think wanting to eliminate an unnecessary biological function is caving into the misogyny. I think it's just a matter of practicality.

Thanks for the great conversation!

Yeah, fine, Carrie, I don't think essentialism isn't inherently bad as I implied. You caught me. :)

What would we be without essentialism? I'll tell you what we'd be: LIBERTARIANS!

Bruce Parker II | June 3, 2007 3:16 PM

When did Libertarianism become our goal?

OK, that's it, from here on out, Bruce commenting on this thread is officially "so yesterday".

Anyone else may feel free to comment.

I think I've made my thoughts on libertarianism abundantly clear on this blog, Bruce.

"Anyone else may feel free to comment."

Thanks for allowing me to have voice on this post, Alex. I can always count on men to do that for me.

There are several issues being confused--menstruation, problem periods, menopause. If you're having problem periods that's an issue for you and your doctor to discuss. It could be your hormones are out of whack, your have a poor diet, etc. However, menstruation is a sign of health. Women stop menstruating when they are pregnant or unhealthy as in polycystic ovaries or metabolic syndrome. Drugs like Lybrel are 20X your normal hormonal level so that increases your risk for things like fibroids which are estrogen dependent, not to mention breast cancer, bone loss, hypertension. Of course you will need drugs to combat all of these problems and that's just what the drug companies want.

On ANY and ALL forms of hormonal birth control, a woman does NOT have a menstrual period. Her “period” week is simply medicine withdrawal. In fact, when birth control was first marketed, the placebo week was put in mostly just to reassure the women that she wasn’t pregnant. Unfortunately, even if a woman was to get pregnant on birth control, she would most likely still experience a slight withdrawal bleed.

The lining of the uterus does not build up when on birth control. In fact, most birth controls aid in making the uterine lining thinner, and more difficult for an embryo to plant itself. Therefore, a woman on birth control won’t have a constant “building up” of the uterine lining, even if she was to purposely skip a period. The case remains the same in any type of hormonal birth control such as Yasmin, Seasonale, and even Lybrel.

Hormonal birth control is not natural; it is synthetic hormones. Not every woman has a precise 28 day cycle. In fact, very few women do! That being the case, a 28 day birth control cycle, such as Yasmin, is just as unnatural as an 84 day birth control cycle, such as Seasonale. Lybrel is simply taking it to the next level with a 365 day birth control cycle. Lybrel is no more natural or unnatural than any other form of hormonal birth control.