The Power of the Pill

Give ‘em Hell, Jane!

My dad has been saying that to me for as long as I can remember. We’d sing along with “Stop and Smell the Roses” on the 8 Track , he’d pull up in front of the preschool, kiss me on the cheek and send me on my way with a “Give ‘em Hell, Jane!”

I’ve always felt empowered. My choices have always been just that: mine. School, college, beyond- whatever. Life. It has always been mine to do with what I choose. My daughters are 9 and 6 and already they think big. Sure, some of their dreams include being a rock star or the next Maria Sharapova; but other times it’s becoming a teacher, a writer, a doctor, even the President of the United States. Constantly changing their minds, I am struck by the fact that they feel no limits.

When we think about the revolution that allowed me to have a 9 year old who she believes- strike that- who KNOWS she can choose any path she wants, we think of the Feminist Movement in the 60s. But what started it? What prompted the spark and gave women the freedom to dream bigger?

It was a pill. A tiny little pill that changed the world.

In 1950,  about one in three women were involved in the work force. The majority of these positions were factory or service jobs. Very few women had found an opening for a professional existence and almost all women no longer worked after marriage.  A woman’s role was at home. 30 States continued to prohibit or restrict the sale of any sort of contraceptive devices.

In 1957, a version of the birth control pill called Enovid was approved by the FDA for the treatment of  ”Severe Menstrual Disorders”. By late 1959, the diagnosis of these “disorders” had grown drastically and over 500,000 American women are taking the pill to ease their symptoms.

In 1960, after lowering dosages and thereby reducing side effects, a new version of Enovid was approved by the FDA for contraceptive purposes. By 1963,  2.3 million American women are using the pill.  However, it was still illegal in 26 states for an unmarried woman to use birth control.

Finally, in 1972, the Eisenstadt v. Baird decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalized birth control for all citizens, regardless of marital status. By 1973, approximately 10 Million American women are using the birth control pill. The choice of when to start a family was firmly in the grasp of  all women and an entire generation began to think differently. About everything.

By 1980, the impact was profound. 8% of attorneys and 12% of doctors were women but more significantly, 34% of law students and 29% of medical school students were female. 42% of those receiving advanced degrees were women.

Currently women are half of the work force. It is estimated without the female worker- our national economy would be 25% smaller. Women in this county account for 30% of doctors, 30% of attorneys and hold 52% of all professional positions. Among married couples- women earn 42.2% of the household income and 25% of those make more than their husbands. We have had 35 female governors in this country’s history- but 19 of them have been elected since 2001. In the House, each decade has shown advancements in representation. Women held 20 seats in 1981, 40 in 1993, 63 in 2003 and currently, 72 seats.  Women hold 17 seats in the Senate and perhaps most significantly, we have 3 women sitting on the Supreme Court.

So when Rush Limbaugh calls a law student expressing her desire for access to birth control a slut, or Rick Santorum tries to tell us contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be”,  we need to stand together against them.

When you read about proposed bills suggesting employers have a right to see a woman’s medical records to assess “need” for birth control pills or laws defining “personhood”- effectively making the hormonal process blocking implantation illegal- we need to stand together against them.

We are where we are today because the birth control pill gave our grandmothers and our mothers control of their lives. Chances for dreams to build and be compounded on generation after generation. Our bodies, our lives, our choices – and so it should be for our daughters. They can’t take that away.

Give ‘em Hell. I’m ready. Who’s with me?

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Photo credit: BrandonSigma / FreeDigitalPhotos.net