For centuries, lovers have been trying all kinds of tricks to prevent pregnancy. Crocodile dung was popular in ancient Egypt, Aristotle recommended cedar oil and Casanova came up with the brilliant idea of using half a lemon as a cervical cap. Wonderful! Thankfully there isn’t a need for these methods anymore as we have the condom, the diaphragm, the sponge...the list goes on. And then in the 1960s, there was a new kid on the block...let me introduce you to the pill! Today, many people are on the pill, however the side effects of birth control are large in number, creating a deep sense of confusion as to whether or not the pill is really the best and most effective form of contraceptive. But wherever you may stand on the issue, the pill has undoubtedly provided women with a wealth of new opportunities and in the last 60 years many women have started to view the pill as a liberator; giving them freedom from the oppressive regimes of past patriarchy.
Not only is the pill one of the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy, when it was first introduced it changed our world, helping to morph it into the society we know and (kind of) love today. In the UK this started to happen in the early 1960s, when the pill became widely available for the first time. This meant that any women who didn’t want children could now have sex with a massive decrease in the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. ‘But Elle!’ I hear you cry, 'couldn’t people just use condoms?' And that, dear reader, is the beauty of the pill. Using a condom means a discussion with your partner, but the decision to use the pill is a woman’s, and it is private and discreet. No wonder women want it!
The pill was approved in the United States in 1960 and was immediately popular with women. Giving women control over their fertility finally placed them on an equal footing to men sexually and started to help them out socially. Universities began to open family planning centres due to an increased awareness of the importance of having children at 'the right time'. Having control over their own fertility meant that women began to study degrees that were previously male dominated, such as medicine and law, as now a sexually active woman had a reliable way to delay motherhood which led to women feeling like they could afford to invest in their careers. This meant that change started to happen in these areas; change created by women, for women.
Women began to take more opportunities that arose in the workplace than they had
previously been able to as there was an increase of the opportunities actually offered to them. There was also an increase of women working and the hours they worked.
Did you know? The pill contains artificial versions of oestrogen and progesterone
In Japan the pill wasn’t approved until 1999. Japanese women had to wait 39 years longer for the exact same contraceptive. By contrast, when the erection boosting drug Viagra was approved in the UK, Japan was just a few months behind. Gender inequality in Japan is widely reckoned to be worse than anywhere else in the developed world and though it is impossible to disentangle cause and effect in this situation, the differing experience between the UK and Japan suggests that this is no coincidence.
The pill is not only used for birth control, many women take it to lessen their period cramps
It seems like such a small thing, but giving women freedom over their own fertility has had great impacts - the pill sparked perhaps one of the most significant economic change of the late 20th century and entirely changed how women were treated/viewed, particularly in the workplace.
Whilst decisions about whether or not to take the pill are highly personal, require medical advice and shouldn’t be taken lightly (partly due to a long list of potential side effects), there is no doubt that its presence has played a pivotal role in shaping our society into the one we live in today, and its help in society's progression is one that absolutely cannot be denied.