Some More Talk About Contraception

So when I was in grad school –

Oh, wait, I need to be more specific, don’t I? When I was at UIC, getting my MA in English with a Gender and Women’s Studies concentration, I took a class with this woman. It was a great class full of stuff I’d never thought about before, like there was a book about how the “first wave” of feminism in the latter half of the nineteenth century wasn’t just suffragettes. There were women doing a lot more work on the daily lives of women and had these ideas about communal apartment buildings with a common kitchen and day care center and laundry and stuff, so that women could do these housekeeping tasks communally and more quickly and therefore have time to do other shit.

And she also listened to us whine about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s racism for a while and then pointed out to us that we exhibit racial ignorance when we declaim female genital mutilation so vehemently without understanding that there are two different things going on – the bad kind where clitori, labia, etc. are cut off, sewn together, etc., all in an effort to make sex actively unpleasant for women because otherwise they’d be dirty, dirty whores; and a practice wherein just the clitoral hood is removed, roughly the anatomical equivalent of male circumcision, and then the girls’ sexuality is celebrated with an all-night party in their honor, and allegedly such an operation actually makes sex more enjoyable, because the clitoris is more easily accessible. And while I know some women would argue that actually their clitori are too sensitive for more access to be enjoyable to them, the point is that the rhetoric around the first kind is, “Women are dirty whores and must be prevented from enjoying sex,” and also that the procedures themselves are highly painful and awful and make sex bad for life, and with the second, the pain is not so bad or so permanent, and the rhetoric around the second kind is, “You’ve hit puberty! Time to get down with your bad self! Woohoo!” And that’s very different.

One of my favorite things she told us was about Iran and family planning, and thinking about it now, I wasn’t sure I was remembering it correctly, so I looked it up. That’s right, people. I did research. For you. Please, please, don’t think you have to run out and buy me expensive chocolates. Homemade cookies would be fine.

Anyway, I was remembering right. In the wake of the revolution in Iran in 1979, the rhetoric there was very, “Have more babies! Have more babies for the cause! More soldiers for Islam! For Iran! For the Revolution!” Family planning institutions were dismantled; health officials were ordered not to speak about contraception. Predictably, the birth rate in Iran went through the roof.

Then about five or six years later, the government of Iran went, “Oh, shit.” Because they did not have enough kindergarten classrooms for all these kids. Or water. So they got very serious about government-sponsored family planning education and coverage. All couples must go through family planning classes in order to get a marriage license. Families are encouraged to wait three to four years between kids, and to have only three kids. They encourage the latter by restricting maternity leave benefits after the third child. There are tons of clinics, mobile clinics and other health care facilities centered around family planning AND – wait for it – THE GOVERNMENT COVERS 80% OF FAMILY PLANNING COSTS. Yes, including the Pill.

Yes, you are reading this right. In crazy, right-wing, fundamentalist Iran, where women can’t show ankle, they can get the Pill, no problem, from their fascist religious-right government.

No, let that sink in. One party in this two-party country thinks it’s wrong to ask businesses to have health insurance plans that cover contraception. Not only that, but one of the two front-runners for that party’s nomination for PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES seems to think that sex should only be procreative, and that contraception and abortion of any kind ought to be forbidden.

But in IRAN, the government will pay for 80% of your Pill. They even have a government-run condom factory.

(I never thought about condoms being made in a factory. I mean, obviously, they are, but now I’ve got an image of it in my head and it’s making me giggle. Because I’m twelve.)

“Come on, Ricki. You wouldn’t want to live as a woman in Iran.” No, I would not. As a Jewish woman, I think Iran would be a pretty bad place for me.

I just want to point out that, look. I am a liberal/progressive Reform Jew and feminist who thinks that the only sex that is immoral is sex in which one or more parties cannot give or have not given consent. But I get that there are people who, for religious and/or moral reasons, really think sex should be restricted to married couples, and while I respectfully disagree, and also think they’re being unrealistic, and that you can’t apply such a standard to the nation via legal means because we have, you know, a separation of church and state around here, I understand why they think the way they think.

But. Even if you think that all sex should be married sex, it still doesn’t make sense to expect that either a) married couples will only have sex when they want children, and will avoid having sex of any kind unless they can afford to support any child that will result in that sex, or b) married couples will simply have all the children that their desired sex life will produce, and that will be fine for both the family and for the state in which they live.

And not only does it not make sense, just, like, thinking about it for more than five seconds, but fortunately for us, Iran already ran the experiment. They do not have separation of church and state, so they felt perfectly justified in applying a religious mandate not to have sex outside marriage to everyone. Then they decided to also religiously mandate baby-making. Their resources were overwhelmed in about half a decade. So they decided that it was perfectly in keeping with strict religious principles against non-marital sex to also support family planning and the reduction of the total number of babies being born. They even educated men and women about sex for pleasure and how women should enjoy it and men should have the patience to get them to the point of enjoying it! No, seriously! That’s sex ed IN IRAN.

Now, things have changed slightly since the article I linked to was written. Apparently there was a “Two is Not Enough!” campaign in 2006. And I don’t know if they’re still doing the sex-for-pleasure education. But still. Iran. Our Republican party is to the right, in matters of sex, of IRAN.

That is all.


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