Monday, April 26, 2010

The Pill's fiftieth anniversary

I'd like to keep on with the argument of my previous post, and I invite the LD to join in.

An occasion is offered by an article in the last issue of Time, devoted to the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Pill, its discovery and its effects, especially on the "sexual revolution" of the following decades.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae vitae, which raised an uproar of protests among Catholics, in particular in America.

What did it say that was so offending? The right answer might sound more or less like this: it reminded men, male and female, that they are by nature bodily beings, with all that this implies.

I heard said that the Pill represented a liberation of women from the burden of unwanted pregnancy. Well, the same Time's article remarks, women have always known how to avoid pregnancy when they didn't want it. Yes, contraception might have been less secure, but was available. Then we could say that it liberated women from the fear of unwanted pregnancy. Even this, I think, is relative. A decade later a much more dreadful way to liberate themselves from unwanted pregnancy was allowed, by the Supreme Court in the States and by the legislature in Europe.

No. I think that the long term effect of the Pill, foreseen by Pope Paul, was another.

It contributed to change the imagery of men. So that being bodily didn't require anymore the acceptance of the limits involved in it. What else could it mean to say that women were liberated by the Pill from a burden? Which burden, if not that of being women? A similar liberation was there expecting men.

No need consequently to identify with our own body (if you know what I mean).

However, it wasn't the Pill to start this change. It actually started already four centuries ago, when Descartes drastically distinguished, nay, separated res cogitans and res extensa, mind
and body, and saw men not as a unity of both, but as made by a strange connection of them of which he didn't know how to account.

Corollary: if sex belongs to the body, this means then that mind is asexual and can dispose of the body the way it wants.

Call this Cartesian dualism, or, with a more sophisticated notion, gnosticism.


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