There’s been some hoopla this week surrounding the development of “male” hormonal birth control. If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s going on: researchers studying the efficacy of hormonal injections on reducing sperm production, stopped their clinical trials because the test subjects were experiencing side effects. Many of the reported effects were classified as mild to moderate; they included symptoms such as acne outbreaks, increased libido and mood swings. But a few test subjects experiences more serious effects like depression and other mood disorders and one person was left infertile.
If you want the all the super science-y details, you can check out the full report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The prevailing narrative in the media is “What the hell? Women have taken on a disproportionate responsibility for birth control and living with these side-effects for literally decades! Now they’re shutting down trials for male birth control because some dudes couldn’t deal with pimples and emotions?!”
I went on the pill in my late teens. I had skin issues, debilitating headaches, and a complete lack of sex-drive. After years of trying different brands and hormonal combinations and not feeling any better, I gave up and switched to contraception via condoms. So I’m not inclined to tell anyone that they need to suck it up and deal with symptoms that make them miserable. I don’t think men are whiny babies and I’m all for researchers doing further work to reduce the frequency and severity of side-effect before putting new hormonal birth control on the market.
What is interesting to me; however, are the number of guys I’ve spoken with over the last couple of days who agree that these side effects are intolerable for men, yet insist they’re NBD for women. Their reasoning:
“Women are way stronger than guys. They can handle stuff like that.”
Nope. No. Uh-huh. I know what this is and I’m NOT here for the bullshit.
This is the thing where people say women are “tough” or “strong”, ostensibly as a compliment, but really it’s a way to justify sticking us with crap and then trying to flatter us into accepting it without complaint.
Women are way stronger, so when every person in the family is sick as a dog, Mom will be the brave soldier who forgoes her own need for rest and recovery, so she can tend to everyone else’s.
Women are just tougher, so even when they work outside the home, it’s totally reasonable that they also do disproportionate amounts of housework.
Woman are warriors, so we don’t have to treat their pain or take their discomfort seriously unless they prove they’re really, really, actually sick or hurt.
Seriously, fuck that noise! Calling us “strong” isn’t a compliment in these cases. It’s dehumanizing. It normalizes the idea that women are built to endure pain and struggle. Or worse, that we don’t actually feel pain or struggle. But we do. We feel it every bit as much as guys do, because we’re actual people with bodies that get tired, get sick and feel pain.
I am all for science taking the time to build a better birth control for the penis-having folks out there. Contraception rules and side-effects drool, so by all means go back to the lab and create a more user-friendly experience. But while the quest to control male fertility continues, can we please stop using women’s strength as an excuse to dismiss our suffering and struggles? Thanks!