Contraception and medical male dominance renewed

Nathalie Bajos, Michèle Ferrand, ” contraception, leverage, real or symbolic of male dominance ? “, Social science and Health, Vol . 22, n°3, 2004

The emergence and diffusion of medical contraception (pill, iud), represent a major phenomenon of the modernization of western societies. With the legislation of abortion in 1975, the women have truly acquired the ability to reject a maternity of which they do not want, the act recognizing the complete independence of their decision. This innovation, which changes the physical reproduction under the control of women, has been widely interpreted as a major step forward, even fundamental, to the equality between the sexes, freeing women to a destiny rooted in the biological determinism of motherhood. Thus, for F. Heir, the spread of contraception medicalised in western countries “has provided the lever for the women to lift the weight of male domination. Because contraception is at the point where is is based and crystallized this domination (…), that is to say, on the fertile period for women that has been subject to the will of men (…) for their own reproduction ” (Heir, Male/female, to Dissolve the hierarchy, 2002).

The two authors of the article are questioning the limits of that ” power theoretical of contraception “. They show that medical contraception is one of the factors in the persistence of male dominance, but in new forms. Contraception has helped to redefine the female identity by allowing the passage from a model of “fate motherly” to a model is much more diversified, claiming now of the three components that are maternity, sexual fulfillment, and the investment professional.

By releasing a large part of the women from the anguish of unwanted pregnancy and allowing a dissociation between the sexual act and procreation, medical contraception (pill and iud) in place, theoretically, women in a position equivalent to that of men in the face of risk taken in sexual intercourse. Develops, at the same time, a standard contraceptive, enjoining the women to not have sex without contraception, has profoundly altered the course of sexual scenarios.

Contraception, and abortion in case of failure, allowing women not only to choose the number of children they have, but above all to organize the calendar of the births, has accompanied the construction of a new female identity that now incorporates the professional dimension

But contraception is also a contemporary of the emergence of a new “standard” reproductive ” just as demanding for the women. Every birth should be wanted and planned, but the right to choose the time to be a mother is accompanied at the same time of the heavy responsibility of making that choice. The component of the professional identity of women is still most of the time relegated to the background as soon as she enters in competition with the maternal dimension. The competition between the career mother and professional career is posed in different terms depending on the benefits that women can expect from one or the other, which explains the diversity of reactions to the dilemma of the ” mother and/or work “.

Everything happens as if the contraception, allowing to consider a maternity that if the pregnancy is desired, were devoted to the ideology of the responsibility first of the mother. The child desired, which comes not interrupt a professional career, should be the object of everyone’s attention, and their breeding requires a high level of availability. Availability, which is combined always in the feminine, as the complementarity of the parental roles, modeled on a division of labour between the sexes, which refers to “nature,” remains. With contraception, the model of the mother available confirms that of the good mother. Change only the qualities which it must demonstrate : a child well brought up is not only a child clean, well fed and in good health, but a child who flourishes, who is successful and who is happy. The housewife effectively left up to the educator present, attentive, and a psychologist.

For the moment, even if several generations of French women were already widely suitable medical contraception, not only its appearance has not destabilized the ” valence différentielle des sexes “, but it reinforces symbolically and materially, in the sense that it contributes to stress, as first the accountability of the mother. Since every child must be wanted, women need to be the best mother for this child that they have decided to put in the world. As if contraception had allowed the passage of a “motherhood under duress” to a ” maternity ideal “, which “simply” of “new clothes” to an old model.

There is, of course, no denying here the role of contraception in female emancipation ; it has had a clear effect on the sexuality of women, even if large resistors are tied to the maintenance of a female sexuality that cannot free themselves of the maternity as the essence of femininity accomplished ; it allowed women to think of themselves as “active continued,” even if the reconciliation of work, parental and professional always remains their sole responsibility.

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