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Sex and Gender
2005 Final Web Papers
In the following section of the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender and Sexuality book project, three authors evaluate reproductive choices and technologies and the control of women's sexuality through legal and social regulations.
In her chapter, Alex Heilbronner explores the connection between sex education, birth control, and abortions. She argues that the current abstinence-only sex education that most teenagers are receiving in public high schools is insufficient, and leads directly to more unprotected sex. Teenagers who don't practice safe sex are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases or become pregnant, which may lead them to seek access to abortion services. This chain of events is hindered by current laws in several states limiting a minor's accessibility to reproductive services.
In some states, a teenage girl cannot acquire contraceptives without the consent of her parents. Even in states that do provide birth control for minors without their parents' knowledge, it is then up to those teenagers to figure out a way to pay for the service. The same goes for abortion, in which case even more states require parental permission, and abortions are even more expensive than an oral contraceptive prescription. Lobbyists such as those behind the website www.choiceformen.com are seeking to include men in the abortion making process, suggesting that a woman is not responsible enough to make decisions about her body on her own. Though no legislation has been passed to this effect, there have been several instances in which a judge has granted an injunction against an abortion at the wish of the father. These have all been overturned shortly after they were issued.
Heilbronner demands full access to information and resources for women regarding the sexual health of women. She claims this must begin in schools, where girls and boys alike should be educated about practicing safe sex. The tools they learn in the classroom should be affordable and accessible to them in the real world, without fear of their parents' finding out. Without this, women's reproductive issues will continue to be determined by other people.
Heilbronner's essay leads us from a discussion of information and access to the idea that we all have choices to reproductive technologies. While her discussion focuses on the lack of choices of young people, Samantha Martinez will discuss the lack of choices for poor women and women of color.
Choice in reproduction and reproductive rights has been on the forefront of the minds of Americans since the first wave of feminists demanded autonomy from patriarchal systems that oppressed or diminished women's agency with regard to reproduction. Abortion, birth control, family planning, and other reproductive technologies have been debated in public and regulated by federal and state government. Although these issues affect both women and men, women bear a heavier burden in society because of legal and religious sanctions that limit their rights to choose what to do with their bodies and biological products.
In the following chapter, Samantha Martinez will expand on the conversations about reproductive rights to talk specifically about new reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination, pre-implantation diagnosis, and other technological advances that assist women with reproduction. Using a third wave feminist perspective, she will highlight how reproductive technologies are not available to all members of society, particularly those who have historically been stigmatized because of race, class, and/or sexual orientation. Her analysis will uncover reasons why these technologies are not available to all women and implore feminists and others concerned about woman's rights to take interest in how and why these technologies are produced and marketed. Also, she raises these questions to illustrate the many dilemmas presented with the use of reproductive technologies, to emphasize how the social structures in our society continuously impose greater sanctions against poor women and women of color, and impose strict rules on who can and should access reproductive technologies. She further hopes to illustrate that while many might think feminism has done its duty, society still struggles to allow individuals to do what they want with their bodies, and this is especially vivid in the discussion of reproductive technologies and access and use by people of color and other marginalized communities.
Heilbronner and Martinez's essays have illustrated the need for access and information about reproductive technologies for both teenagers and women of color. Flora Shepherd's essay will discuss the link between controlling emergency contraception and controlling all women's heterosexual and reproductive behavior.
Emergency contraception is difficult to discuss. The mechanism of the drug is not yet fully understood. Therefore, the drug can be defended or attacked through many different levels. Activists on both sides of the argument employ combinations of medical, social and moral arguments to advance their positions. Proponents of the drug claim that it is a necessity for victims of rape and sexually active women whose birth control may fail them. Opponents defend the embryo's right to life and claim that women should not be allowed to run away from bad decisions; some even claim that motherhood is a gift that cannot be rejected. However, both sides cannot be right. Without a solid biochemical understanding of the drug to stand on, it is impossible to make a conclusive medical or moral argument. There is a slight possibility that the drug may cause an hours-old embryo to not implant on the womb. However, one cannot make social policy based on a slight possibility.
Shepherd argues that the one common theme throughout both sides discussion of the emergency contraception debate is sex. She examines the question of rape victims. Even the most staunchly anti-emergency contraception activists, such as the Catholic Church, generally approve of its use for rape victims who report their attack to the police. But why allow a drug to one group of women but not to another? Shepherd claims that the answer is sex. Women who have sex outside of marriage should be forced into motherhood. Only women who have had sex without their consent are allowed emergency contraception. This policy serves to keep women in their traditional gender roles. Women should not be allowed to "escape" their biology. Shepherd draws on the work of feminists Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English to illustrate how the "experts" are trying to control women's sex lives through regulation of emergency contraception.
These three authors have provided several areas of concern for women in which political action is necessary. Their feminist foremothers have provided an important link to a historical analysis of issues affecting women and the problems presented and the suggestions for solutions reinforce the importance of political action regardless of your location in the struggle for women's rights and social justice.
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