I'm working late at the restaurant. Brunch was more brutal than usual and my friend Mark and I are stuck doing paperwork well into the dinner hour. As we count our credit card receipts for the hundredth time, my cellphone on the table between us lights up and the alarm goes off. "BIRTH CONTROL!!!" flashes across the screen.
Mark thinks this is the funniest thing he's ever seen. The idea that I would have an alarm to remind me to take my pill is hilarious, and the idea that it went off in front of him is even more side-splitting. He's teased me about it off and on from that day on, whenever he gets bored of joking that I might be knocked up.
Here's the thing: None of this bothers me.
I make a point to be honest and open about my use of contraception: it's my microscopic form of rebellion. I don't shout about birth control every chance I get. I'm a very quiet feminist, relatively speaking, but I am not ashamed of my sexual choices, and I refuse to make any extra effort to hide the fact that I'm sexually active in a healthy way.
Unlike most women, if I'm on the street or out to dinner and it's time to take my pill, I don't rush to the nearest bathroom to take it in secret. I don't hide the package surreptitiously inside my purse and face a wall to try and sneak the pill into my mouth without it being seen. I don't make a big show or flaunt the pill in people's faces, I just pop the thing in my mouth and move on. But by taking it so openly and in public, I'm resisting the idea that the use of contraception is something I should hide. If I had to take a Tylenol for a headache I wouldn't be ashamed to do so in public, so why do women feel pressure to keep our birth control pills a secret? Perhaps it's because every time I take that little package out of my purse, I know that someone out there might be judging me. I'm practically daring a stranger to call me a slut.
One woman I know takes her pill so early in the morning that it's often still dark outside and she usually tries to go back to sleep afterwards. She willingly disrupts her sleep because she believes that there is no other appropriate time of day to take care of her reproductive health. Why can't a woman feel comfortable taking her pill while at work or school in the same way she would feel comfortable popping a mint or a piece of gum into her mouth? Why does the fact that I have a reminder alarm on my phone seem so funny? Why can't a woman's reproductive health be as banal and boring to a stranger as her headache?
Perhaps because, if birth control was banal, we would have to accept that women have sex for pleasure. Or that women sometimes need to manage all that bleeding no one wants to think about. Or that some women just don't want to be mothers. All of these ideas still make some people uncomfortable and birth control pills act as a visual reminder of these issues.
This is why I take my pill in public. Because I believe that those issues shouldn't be shameful, embarrassing, or swept under the rug.
I'm very lucky. I live in a liberal neighbourhood in a liberal city in a liberal country. The chances of me being shamed in public are pretty slim. In my community, it's generally socially acceptable for a woman my age to be sexually active and not be ready for children. However, we all know that not everyone agrees with this, and many people are still very critical of our society's current sexual mores. There's always a risk that I will be considered immoral, slutty, or promiscuous, and that risk is much higher for women from different backgrounds or who live under different societal standards. Within my secular left-wing bubble, it's relatively easy and safe for me to be open about contraception and express my sexual agency in this way. This may not be the right path for everyone.
A person's decisions about their body and their sexuality are often very private and personal. I'm not advocating that every little detail be made public. If a woman wishes to keep her reproductive decisions private for any reason she should never feel pressure from anyone, feminist or not, to do otherwise. But I do want to challenge the idea that contraception must or should be kept secret among "polite" company, or that "nice" girls don't need birth control pills.
Because I believe that reproductive health should be considered a normal and shame-free part of healthcare, I will continue to take my pill wherever and whenever I like. Go ahead and call me a slut. I dare you.