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New Documentary Proves Birth Control Is More Than Just a Feminist Symbol

The new documentary is based on this book by Holly Grigg-Spall

The new documentary is based on this book by Holly Grigg-Spall

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve never taken any form of hormonal birth control, and I never will.

Not only are the known risks not worth it to me, but the unknown risks of ingesting a hormone that messes with my body for years makes absolutely no sense to me, especially when there are so many other forms of birth control available.

For so long “the pill” has been synonymous with feminism. And yes, being given the control over whether or not our bodies become pregnant is a great thing. But while we’ve been in control, we haven’t been given the full story when it comes to the risks. Now, Ricki Lake is on the case.

Lake, the woman behind the 2008 life-changing documentary The Business of Being Born, has made hormonal birth control the focus of her next documentary. The film, called Sweetening The Pill, will be based on author Holly Grigg-Spall’s new book Sweetening The Pill Or How We Became Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control. The book, as Deadline Hollywood writes, will look into “the safety and long-term effects of hormonal birth control.”

It’s about time.

From Yaz to the Nuvaring, Lake and her Business of Being Born partner Abby Epstein want to take a hard look at the everyday risks women take to avoid pregnancy.

“In the fifty years since its release, the pill has become synonymous with women’s liberation and has been thought of as some sort of miracle drug,” said Lake and Epstein. “But now it’s making women sick and so our goal with this film is to wake women up to the unexposed side effects of these powerful medications and the unforeseen consequences of repressing women’s natural cycles.”

When I first saw the news about Sweetening The Pill, I was thrilled. Regardless of what you think about Lake and The Business of Being Born, anyone taking a closer look at childbirth or hormonal birth control can only be a good thing. Yet Jezebel’s article about Lake’s documentary, “Ricki Lake’s New Documentary Will Try To Scare You Off Your Whore Pills” is confusing. In the article, Hillary Crosley says, “Ricki Lake, who scared many women into home births with 2008’s The Business of Being Born, is at it again.”

This is that “feminist” attitude I just don’t understand. The self-defeating use of the term “Whore Pills” — it’s not funny, just stupid — and the implication that any information gleaned from the documentary isn’t worth thinking about because yay for birth control no matter what it might do to our bodies!

How is anyone taking a closer look at health issues that impact women so drastically in life a bad thing? Whether or not you think a home birth or hormonal birth control is the way to go, isn’t an in-depth look at something that has long been controlled by men and money a good thing? Isn’t knowledge still considered power? Even if you think Lake is going to do a one-sided hatchet job, as so many Jezebel commenters said, don’t you think women interested in learning more about hormonal birth control and its risks will be able to watch the film and make those decisions on their own? Is the implication that we’re all so dumb we can’t make knowledgeable decisions once Ricki Lake has spoken?

Millions upon millions of women of all ages take the pill every day, and many of these women — women who consider themselves healthy and selective as to what they put into their bodies — are absolutely clueless when it comes to how it works, even though it impacts every organ and function of the body. It’s a drug. In fact, it’s a powerful drug, the effects of which we’re only just starting to realize, and most women don’t even think of it as a drug.

Birth control is a brilliant invention, and I understand that it’s been unbelievably liberating for women across the globe. But the very serious and sometimes deadly side effects are rarely discussed, even with the women who take the pill. Teens are taught that it’s the responsible thing to do; mothers take their daughters to get first prescriptions as a kind of rite of passage. Our desire to hold this pill aloft as some kind of triumph for feminism has made us blind to the fact that, in the end, the pills are created by companies for money.

Learning the possible side-effects is our responsibility. Sure, you might be aware of some of the short-term side effects, including headache, dizziness, nausea, mood swings, decreased libido, and weight gain, but are you aware of other deadlier side effects? Liver disease, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, or blood clots? We’re just now starting to hear of lawsuits stemming from embolisms related to blood clots — what else are we going to learn? And, as MedicineNet.com notes, “women with certain medical conditions, such as a history of breast or endometrial cancer, may be advised against taking oral contraceptives, as these conditions can increase the adverse risks of oral contraceptives.”

That’s a serious laundry list of side effects that needs to be taken into account so you can weigh the risk and benefit of taking the pill, especially when there are so many other forms of non-hormonal birth control available. The alternative to the pill isn’t pregnancy — it’s other, less risky forms of birth control that don’t have the potential to hijack your body, make you sick, and possibly even cause death. We don’t yet know what the pill is going to mean for millions of women as we age, but we’re on the cusp of finding out, and if Ricki Lake can offer a few insights, I’ll be one of the first to watch Sweetening The Pill.

Yes, the birth control pill also helps women who suffer from debilitating periods, and for many women, the benefits of taking it outweigh the risks. The point is, you should know exactly what you’re taking, and you should be aware of all the factors before making the decision to go on the pill. Because once you do, you’re messing with your body’s chemistry, and if it affects you negatively, it could be a long time before you feel good again.

If you know the risks and it works for you, by all means, take the pill! But arrive at that choice carefully and deliberately, with as much information as you can after weighing all the risks and benefits. Don’t just view it as a symbol of liberation and feminism or the empowering thing for women to do.

As a commenter on Jezebel notes,”True women’s liberation doesn’t come in a pill, it comes in our understanding of our nature.”

Image: amazon.com

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