Editor’s Note: Today’s we are so luck to have another guest post from globetrotting feminists Elin and Hennie Weiss! Yay! Elin has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. Hennie is currently finished up her Master’s Degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. They are both very interested in women’s studies, feminism and the study of men and masculinities, especially so gender role expectations and the representation of women and men in media.
The recent Senate hearing concerning President Obama’s policy on birth control caused quite the stir as an all male panel discussed women’s contraceptive rights. As outraged as many women and men were over the exclusion of females, who are most impacted by birth and contraceptive choices, men’s control over women’s bodies is not a new phenomenon. Across time and continents, women’s rights have been contested, fought against, and denied as men have assumed a paternalistic approach to women’s own choices concerning abortion, contraception, and birth, while issuing themselves the right to decide over women’s bodies. Men’s control over women’s bodies, however, has often been damaging and unhealthy to women. In this piece, we are discussing a few historical examples that showcase men’s influence and control over women’s rights and choices. We want to discuss examples that show that the persistent male control over women’s bodies and choices has not always been based on knowledge or competence but simply has concerned men’s need to control women.
The all male panel that discussed women’s rights to free birth control included men from different races and religious beliefs, as to fairly include different opinions. This panel however lacked one crucial aspect: women and women’s opinions. After all, this was a discussion that concerned women’s bodies, rights and choices. The fact that the panel consisted of all male participants is hugely upsetting. It is not, however, surprising since throughout history there has been a strong tendency for men to infantilize women while believing that women’s opinions are less valid and competent.
Even before the pill was invented and fairly available to women, many women attempted to control their sexuality through different methods aimed at limiting or spacing pregnancy. Since for many years a woman’s sexuality was often controlled by her husband, and marital rape was not seen as problematic, many women faced more or less constant pregnancies. This was especially hard on working class women who had to perform straining work shortly after giving birth, and who lacked the finances to provide for a large number of children. Various abortion methods were looked down upon but were often performed (Abbott 2011). During this time, the most famous abortionists were women while the most focused anti-abortionists were men. A man named Anthony Comstock was one of the most aggressive opponents of birth control (Tyler May 2010). Comstock fought to rid the United States of literature discussing birth control while prosecuting abortionists. He succeeded and in 1873 the Comstock Act was accepted, declaring the obscenity of birth control devices (Abbott 2011). [Read more...]