I had never considered what life was like for a woman before the Pill. While I had read books about women from before it’s invention, such as The Second Sex and The Feminine Mystique (okay, before most middle class women could easily get it prescribed), these books didn’t quite illuminate the problem like this. The first takes a comprehensive look at women that goes well beyond motherhood and not wanting it and the second looks at bored mothers. Neither is written with the hope that there could be another option, besides dangerous and illegal abortions, because there simply was not one. It’s kind of like noticing the lack of cell phones in old movies, no one looks for one, so neither does the viewer.
Because this book focuses on the Pill itself, it also goes into the motivation for creating one for each of these four crusaders. They are Margaret Sanger, Katherine McCormick, Dr. Gregory Pincus and Dr. John Rock. Four amazing people who realized that there could be another way. Their journey is full of troubles and small victories. I loved the way they fielded the landmines of the 1950’s rhetoric on sex and birth control. This book even covers the conversation (or motivation) around the terms that arose from this struggle such as birth control, family planning, and inhibiting ovulation. This was a PR nightmare that they were mostly careful of avoiding with terms like those. I wish they could see us now. Access isn’t perfect, but most people seem to get the value in their amazing product.
This is a great book and a humbling story. I thought it was interesting that they didn’t consider their victory as final, it was another step on the way and continued working on controlling family sizes by looking for a similar solution for men, among other things.
Here are some great quotes:
Searle did not have to market the pill as birth control because men and women were learning for themselves what it could do. It didn’t hurt, either, that the FDA had required the drug company to include a warning on each bottle that said Enovid prevented ovulation. In other words, the real purpose of the drug was listed as if it were a side effect.
This is when the pill became widely known as The Pill, perhaps the only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name. Women went to their doctors and said they wanted it. They wanted The Pill. Some of them might still have been uncomfortable talking about birth control. Others might have been unsure of its brand name. But The Pill was The Pill because it was the only one that mattered, the one everyone was talking about, the one they needed.
The pill, Goldin concluded, lowered the cost of pursuing careers for women. No longer were they forced to sacrifice their social lives and prospects for marriage by choosing graduate school or ambitious career paths.
With his wife and colleagues watching from inside the hotel room, Pincus slid the flower behind his right ear and began to dance in the breeze to a song in his own head. Perhaps it was a song of his own making, the invention of a mind that had already given birth to something like a song, something that would set men and women free for generations to make love in cars on cold winter afternoons; in rowboats under moonlit skies; in corner offices late at night; in penthouses and dormitories; in houses, huts, and hotel rooms—in all the places where men wooed women or women wooed men, a spark was struck, and inhibition surrendered to desire. For generations to come there would be those who would hate Pincus, Sanger, McCormick, and Rock for what they had done, but just as surely there would be others in their debt, not only for the pleasure and passion the pill had supplied but also for the love, the opportunities, and the freedom it gave them.
Have you read The Birth of the Pill? What did you think?