Mad Men, Popular Culture, the Duggars, and Birth Control Run Amuck

Birth Control Pill Container --- Image by Beathan

By Scott Keith

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: he’s a man, what the hell does he think he’s doing telling me––a woman––about birth control? Well, I’m not going to tell you about birth control, nor am I going to tell you it is right or wrong to use various sundry types of birth control. I simply have made what I think is a fairly obvious cultural observation. Birth control, or at least the topic of birth control, whether you are pro or con has run amuck.

I have observed this phenomenon for several years. But recently, I was watching Mad Men and a light bulb went off in my head. You see, I resisted watching Mad Men for a good long time. The last thing that I need is one more show to add to the list of binge watching opportunities. But, after the 100th person told me I would love the show, I relented and began to watch. The simple truth is, I do love the show! Smoking and drinking, men acting like men and women acting like women, all of these are things that appeal to me.

But early on, in the first season, something happened that made me realize what a big issue birth control is and has been since the sixties. Peggy, at this point in the show, is Don Draper’s new secretary fresh out of secretarial school. She has not yet had wild ambitions of becoming an advertising mogul; she simply wants to be a New York style executive secretary to a very worldly boss in a very worldly office. She is from a devout Roman Catholic family, but senses that she may want to “have a little fun” in her new life. She, knowing the risks of what she is planning, decides that she needs to get on birth control. The doctor––at what I’m sure is her first gynecological appointment––is condescending, quasi threatening, and judgmental of the fact that she, an unmarried woman, wants birth control. Eventually he relents and writes her the prescription with the warning that if she is too cavalier in her lifestyle choices, he will stop providing her with contraceptive assistance.

mad-men-1 (1)

Now those of you who watch the show know that the contraception apparently fails, and that after her first time “doing the deed,” Peggy gets pregnant. But that is not the point and that is a story for another time. If the show is correct in its portrayal of the time, and I think it is, the point is that the attitude was one of utter judgment toward an unmarried woman who would seek such measures. Hence, birth control was something that was rarely discussed and was frowned upon. Again keep in mind, I am not claiming that this is right or wrong. I am simply noting an observation. If she needed birth control she must be a bad person, stupid, licentious, even slutty perhaps.

Fast-forward some 55 years, and where have we landed? Well, my wife and I were listening to a very popular talk radio station that is a juggernaut in the greater Los Angeles area around the afternoon drive time. For those of you that live down here, you are probably familiar with the hosts whose initials are J & K. The more talkative one, J, went on a 5 minutes tirade about how stupid a woman would be if she were to allow herself to get pregnant before she was “ready” and all “set-up” to have a family and take care of a baby. The implication being, of course, that she is stupid if she is not using birth control of some sort.

Gone are any of the judgmental tones due to the fact that she may or may not be sexually promiscuous. No, sexual promiscuity is fine; perceived carelessness is the target of our scorn. It is almost as if the tables have completely turned and now the only immoral thing is to NOT be on birth control, even after marriage. Birth control has gone from being that thing that identifies a woman as careless to safeguarding she is not. Married, not married, from my observation it doesn’t even matter. Our society seems to be saying that unless a woman is on birth control until she is absolutely in the perfect place and position to have a child, she is careless, unthinking, and even stupid.

pregnancy-gestatio_2637113b

As a reaction to this, I have run across those Christians who are in the “Quiverfull” movement which perhaps has been popularized by the Duggar family. This movement bases its procreative beliefs on Psalm 127:4: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” Further, it is the teaching that all “truly godly” families will “trust the Lord” with their family planning. Children are always viewed as a blessing from God. All forms of birth control (the Pill, IUDs, condoms, and even natural “rhythm” type methods) are considered to be a lack of trust in God’s plan and desire to provide for you and your family.

Now as I said, I have no intention of showing my hand here. No one should attempt to explain their position on such complicated issues in 1,000 words or less. So, I will not either. But again, my position or opinion on whether or not all forms, or no form, of birth control are right or wrong is not the point. My question is: where is the actual love for the women in all of this? The one common denominator, in my never to be humble opinion, is that it seems like every time we discuss this issue, the women involved seem to be secondary to the conversation.

photography-sunlight

There has to be a better way. Discussions of a person’s love, care, freedom, health, desire, intimacy, loneliness, hurting, wants, heartache, despair, and desperation all seem to go by the wayside in favor of sanctimony. This, to my observation, is true on all sides of the argument. It seems like even when it comes our sisters in Christ, we are always telling them what they need to do on this issue, rather than asking them how we can serve them. Put more simply, how can we help? Certainly, I think some forms of birth control are wrong. Certainly, I think that the pendulum can swing too far to the other side, even at times endangering a woman’s health. But mostly, I think we are just jerks who always think we know what is best.

I think that we, guys, rightly take 1 Corinthians 16:13 very seriously: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” Yet we often don’t listen to the next verse when we are deciding what is right or wrong for someone else, especially when that someone is a woman, and the issue is something like birth control. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says “Let all that you do be done in love.” Sorry, no real answers today, just food for thought.

JaggedWordLogo2