Pill That Ends Menstruation:
Ann Althouse blogs about this — apparently the pill just got approved — and the discussion in her comments is very interesting.
My thought: It's perfectly sensible to be concerned about the pill's safety, even despite the approval. But some of the other concerns strike me as entirely misguided. Here's one comment (from commenter "galvanized"), which exemplifies this:
[M]enstruation, like childbirth, is just part of being a woman. If another woman would want to escape it, then sure, she should go for it. But, not being punny, it just wouldn't feel right to sidestep it.
Secondly, we're a pill culture. We now have yet another pill for another condition. I think we're way too dependent on medications. The further one goes from what is natural then the more chance for negative effects. Also, just doesn't feel right to pop a pill for this reason....
It seems that superfluous medicating is right up there with cosmetic surgery. I think that this pill is really a byproduct of our culture's quest to be aesthetically perfect, a spillover from magazine covers and television. So, yes, I do consider this a feminist issue, a suppression of sorts even if it is women doing it to themselves. I don't want my daughter to think that anything that occurs in association with being female is disgusting and should be eradicated. It's negating a not-so-pretty part of femininity. Maybe androgyny is what we're after?
The third is that there, as always, could be longterm effects that aren't known yet. Plus, it's more money for big pharm companies. That's all I need to know. Big business has made our culture pill-dependent, and we buy it up....
Again, concerns about long-term health effects are quite sensible. But I don't see any justification for the feeling that it's not "right to sidestep" something that's "part of being a woman." I suppose it could be some esthetic judgment that argument won't much drive; but setting aside esthetics, why on earth should we want to accept natural but painful or unpleasant things?
Disease is a part of being a human. Headaches are part of being a human. Excruciating pain in childbirth is part of being a woman. They are bad parts.
A good part of being a human is being able to prevent disease and to ease pain. Why embrace the harmful, painful, or uncomfortable parts of human nature, and reject those parts of human nature — our species' intelligence and resulting scientific acumen — that diminish harm, pain, and discomfort?
The cosmetic surgery analogy seems quite flawed, too. I have nothing against cosmetic surgery myself, so long as the health risks don't outweigh the benefits. At least, however, I can see the argument that instead of changing our appearance we should change our mentality, and stop caring as much about appearances.
But menstruation isn't about appearance. Women don't dislike it chiefly because it "occurs in association with being female," because it's "disgusting," or because it's "not-so-pretty." They dislike because of the cramps, because of the mood swings, because of the hassle. (I suppose that the desire not to get blood on one's clothes, and the concomitant need to use various products to prevent that, can be cast as a question about what's "disgusting" or "pretty," but both men and women generally and understandably don't like bloodstains of whatever sort. And in any case, as I understand it the physical discomfort associated with menstruation is a much greater concern for most women than just the universal desire not to get blood on things.)
And, of course, "it's more money for big pharm companies. That's all I need to know." Of course, what more would anyone need to know? If you want to decide whether some product is good, don't ask whether it eases your pain, protects your health, or whatever else. Ask whether some business you don't like will make money from your buying the product. Have cramps, and when you do, feel good about it: "I'm in pain, but at least Big Pharma is making less of a profit." Brilliant.
Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.
Seeking Input from People Who Have Actually Menstruated:
Commenter Triet writes, in the anti-menstruation pill post:
It's been amazing seeing my wife and other women deal with her first pregnancy. Immediately upon announcing to the world she's pregnant, my wife was part of the "in crowd." Every mother--whether she knew my wife well or not--could smile and talk about morning sickness, or finding out the baby's gender, or feeling bloated, etc.
So, it is not aesthetic. Humanity derives meaning from shared experiences, and deleting one of the most universal and central of all female experiences can subtract perceived meaning from people's lives. In that regard it is very important.
Humanity does derive meaning from some shared experiences — but not all. Shared experience that you bond over: pregnancy. Shared experiences that you don't bond over: hangnails, nearsightedness, tooth decay. Shared experiences that people sometimes seem to bond over, but that I'm sure they'd be much better off without: various illnesses or operations that some elderly people stereotypically discuss with each other, but which they'd be glad to avoid without any worry about lost "meaning."
My sense is that menstruation falls within the second (or, less likely, third) category of experiences rather than the first. To many women, pregnancy is a harbinger of their joy in becoming a mother, an affirmation of their fertility (something many women worry about before they become pregnant), a sign of a growing bond with their husbands, and more. Menstruation, it seems to me, is far removed from that: While it is part of the same system that may eventually lead to pregnancy, it doesn't have the directness of connection to a growing baby, it doesn't prove fertility in a way that would ease the woman's fears, it doesn't strengthen the marriage, and in general it lacks very little redeeming value.
But let's hear from some people who actually menstruate, and have been pregnant. When you menstruate, do you feel that you're part of the "in crowd"? If you chose to stop -- not because of menopause, which is a marker of age and of lost fertility, but voluntarily and reversibly -- would you feel "out"? Do you smile and talk to your friends about the cramps, the mood swings, and the like? Do you feel you derive meaning from the fact that you share menstruation as an experience with other women? Would you feel meaning subtracted if you stopped menstruating, because menstruation is so "central" a "female experience"? Do you find menstruation to be similar to pregnancy in any emotionally positive way?
For a Patronizing Response to My Post About Menstruation,
see Ann Bartow (Feminist Law Professors). For the life of me, I can't grasp exactly what her disagreement is with my position (see here for the post to which she's responding, and here for my original post, to which the other post was a follow-up). But apparently she does disagree.
As for me, I found the comments to the Conspiracy post far more enlightening, though Prof. Bartow thinks the commenters are largely lying about their sex, for no reason that I can identify.
Oh, and then there's this from Prof. Bartow: "One thing I've learned is that if you want all the men to leave a room at breakneck speak, just uttering the word 'uterus' will sometimes do the trick." Huh, never seen that happen, but maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd.
UPDATE: A commenter at IsThatLegal? came to my defense, writing, "Ann Bartow isn't being exactly fair. Some guy said something kinda stupid, and Volokh replied: 'Oh, really? Lets ask actual women about menstruation. So, women, how about it? Is it a life affirming shared cultural experience?' That's an entirely reasonable response." Prof. Bartow responded with this comment:
Well here's the thing, Patrick: There is a whole lot of diverse and interesting literature that has been *already written* that could bring Eugene up to speed a whole lot more effectively than the commenters at the Volokh conspiracy, if he was actually sincere about educating himself about menstruation. And I'm pretty sure UCLA has at least one library. It even has a Women's Studies Department, not that I would ever expect Eugene to think he could learn anything from the faculty there.
Now I'm extra puzzled. I asked women readers for their personal life experiences, hoping that the responses would confirm my view (which is that few women would find that voluntarily stopping menstruation would "subtract perceived meaning from [their] lives") or correct my view if my view was mistaken, and in the process enlighten other readers on the question. I had thought this sort of give-and-take with readers would be fun and interesting.
Why didn't I instead read the "diverse and interesting literature" on the subject? Because asking people questions about their experiences — going to the library, and finding and reading the relevant scholarly articles — is often (1) more pleasant, (2) easier, and (3) more enlightening to other readers, who'll see the answers right there on the blog. True, systematic research has its advantages; but sometimes conversation has its advantages, too. Why didn't I ask people at the Women's Studies Department? Maybe because it would have been a bit of an imposition on colleagues' time (and, if I asked for personal experiences about menstruation, might have be seen by some of them as somewhat intrusive), whereas a query to readers is not such an imposition, since it's very easy for any reader to take or leave.
What sort of feminism is it that faults people for asking actual women about their experiences, and for trying to start a public conversation in which women's opinions are actively solicited, on the grounds that the questioner should instead have gone to the library or taken up the time of his colleagues?
FURTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, for a serious, thoughtful, and interesting response to the original question, see this from Christine Hurt (Conglomerate).