Verdict: I like learning new information. (This is the verdict on, like, most history books I ever read.)
Here’s a news flash that is COMPLETELY SHOCKING to me but everyone else I spoke to about it was mostly unmoved. (Alice responded with the appropriate level of enthusiasm.) Margaret Sanger was totally doing it with Havelock Ellis. That is not a good piece of trivia to explain to someone. It’s one of those trivia where you have to already be separately familiar with the two parties involved.
Margaret Sanger: Founder of Planned Parenthood, one of my absolute favorite organizations. She thought some terrible things, but still Planned Parenthood kicks ass.
Havelock Ellis: Pioneering sex researcher in English. This is a big deal because a lot of the early sex research guys were publishing in German. Krafft-Ebing was German (or okay, Austrian I guess), and so was Magnus Hirschfeld, my favorite sex researcher (campaigned for women’s rights and the gays and lost his library to the damn Nazis). To be honest it would have pleased me more if Margaret Sanger had been doing it with Magnus Hirschfeld, but I guess there would have been a language barrier.
So now you know. It would have been cooler if you’d learned this after already knowing who Havelock Ellis was, but that’s okay, I recognize that not everybody spent their college years reading about how Victorians and Edwardians thought about (and practiced) sex. That is an atypical past-time. It’s just because I love Oscar Wilde so much, and also because sexual mores are fascinating.
Speaking of sexual mores, and of this book (Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), it is pretty awesome how the pill was developed. Basically this feminist rich lady called Katharine McCormick offered to pay a doctor called Gregory Pincus a shit-ton of money if he would work on developing an oral contraceptive. And then she paid him a ton of money, and he developed an oral contraceptive, and that’s why we have oral contraceptives. Because of the dollars of this one lady. I don’t know about you, but that makes me imagine Future Wealthy Jenny tracking down doctors who are doing research into stuff that interests me and just being like, Could you take all my money and use it to develop a pill that X?
(I might do this a few times. Future Wealthy Jenny will be very wealthy indeed, since it’s my imagination and I have no limits there. If I do it just once my odds are still not great of being the person who funded the life-changing discovery. If I do it a bunch of times that’s a bunch more opportunities for a Legacy.)
The other section of the book that fascinated me — it’s quite well-written, but some of the science stuff was beyond me — were the chapters about Church opposition to the pill. Asbell goes into depth about the commission set up by John XXIII (COOLEST POPE EVER) and the research they did and the findings they reported back to the Church, and what the Church did with them. (Spoiler alert: Nothing. John XXIII was dead by that time.) It was heartbreaking to hear all the stories of women whose lives were being ruined (and lost) by pregnancy after pregnancy after pregnancy, and the Church carried on doing nothing. And that is the part of the Church that I really hate and is the reason it’s sometimes weird and hard for me to be a woman and a Catholic at the same time.
Meanwhile there were some Catholics, even Catholic leaders, who were saying how amazing this new technology was, and how it could change lives for the better because it prevented conception in basically the same way the rhythm method does except like way more effectively. They brought in very very old Catholic writings about women and conception to support their points. And that is the part of the Church that I really love, how there are centuries of very smart people all over the world thinking and writing about important ideas.
This has been a very feelingsy post! Basically, The Pill was a most interesting book about a most interesting topic. I would now like to read a book about the last twenty years of birth control developments, as Asbell’s book was published in 1995 and thus does not include anything very recent.
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