According to Twitter, there is a movement in place to poison the modern woman. They are not talking about the many governments that have decided we must bear babies even if that means our uteruses becoming septic. They are not talking about the mental poison of patriarchy still consigning women to our place as second-hand citizens. No, they are talking about birth control.
This recent tweet that I saw is emblematic of the discourse. Birth control is lumped in with other “scary-sounding” common medications such as antidepressants. The tweeter takes a real problem, the common practice of dismissing women’s health complaints, and instead of addressing the roots of this issue, which are misogyny and capitalism creating the perfect storm of a medical system when doctors are incentivized to get you out the door as fast as possible, blames birth control. There is no evidence, of course, but the strong language blames birth control for common health woes such as infertility (the worst thing that could ever happen to a woman of course) and gut issues, which have turned into a bizarre Internet shorthand for any ailment.
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At first I thought I was imagining my overreaction to these tweets. Maybe they seemed to be everywhere because the law of the algorithm dictates that your phone will show you stuff that makes you mad as a hornet and typing at 1 A.M. But they really were popping up on my feed, retweeted by my mutuals who I knew were normally feminists and rational people, at an alarming rate. The tweets were written by holistic influencers like the one above, She-E-Os peddling assorted supplements and questionable medical procedures, and people whose tradcath alignments were just under the surface if you scratched hard enough. Was I imagining it? Had everyone else gotten together to annoy me personally?
It’s not just my observations. Linkfluence, a social media monitoring company, published a report tracking mentions of contraception online. The report found that most of the online conversations happened on social media, such as Twitter, and over the past few years the trend has shifted from mostly positive to about 30% mixed or negative tweets. Many tweets link birth control with conditions such as endometriosis and infertility using hashtags.
Again, there is no scientific evidence connecting birth control to any of these conditions.
The problem goes deeper than spreading misinformation—it’s the internet, and you’ll find someone who will believe anything. Who cares about birth control misinformation when there’s at least one person convinced Rome isn’t real? But in a time of narrowing space for women’s reproductive freedom, not just in the United States but globally, the online conversation around birth control boosted by well-meaning individuals trends eerily close to the party line put forward by conservatives and far-right loons that have made it their life’s mission to permanently look women in the maternity wards, if they want us to receive the modern comforts of childbirth at all.
In the United States conservative evangelical movement, birth control has been linked directly with abortion since at least the 2010s with the Tea Party. Partially a cynical misogynist ploy, partially a genuine inability to grasp science, the religious right equates birth control with abortion because in their doctrine, anything that stops a sperm from implanting into an egg from happening is abortion.
Of course, this line of thinking is not popular with anyone who is not already completely brainwashed, so to win their anti-birth control fight, the religious right has changed tactics. Journalists have uncovered that groups such as Students for Life use language that mimics the language of wellness influencers to talk down on birth control. Birth control is unnatural, toxic, and causes conditions such as “post birth control syndrome,” a fake “disease” made up by a social media wellness influencer to sell supplements that will help you overcome this false condition.
Some influencers are horrified to see their products co-opted by the religious right whose ideas they don’t agree with, but the same influencers weren’t ashamed of using people’s very real problems with birth control to sell supplements that will do nothing. Others seem to be intentionally toeing the line of the religious right rhetoric, maintaining plausible deniability while hiding their true colors as religious nuts. It doesn’t matter an influencer’s intentions, the effect is the same—some leaders in the wellness space have created an audience that is very receptive to right-wing myths about birth control.
This tweet is about IUDs, another form of birth control that gets frequently demonized along with the hormonal birth control pill. From a scroll through the OP’s account, they seem like a run-of-the-mill hippie natural influencer (they recently went viral for demonizing antidepressants so like I said, run-of-the-mill hippie natural influencer. Intentionally or not, this tweet actually hews very close to right-wing talking points. Obsessions with the natural body and fear around corruption is a far right dogwhistle which the phrase “your precious body” plays into nicely. Groups like Students for Life contrast the natural, “pure” body with polluting substances such as IUD metal and hormones in their slogans, which sound eerily similar to this tweet. The phrase “eventually wreak havoc” speaks to vague yet nasty consequences of an IUD which are of course undefined.
In the reply to the tweet, the OP links to a natural fertility managing method, which is of course not nearly as effective as an IUD or hormonal birth control, but people that turn to the Internet for advice can be easily misled. Pushing natural, often ineffective family planning methods is also a popular right wing talking point, as they rebrand conservative religious excuses for family planning such as the rhythm method as “green sex.”
Complaining about how IUDs and birth control were normalized is particularly eyebrow-raising when you consider how hard women had to fight to have these medications legalized, let alone normalized, and how that fight is ongoing for millions, if not billions, of people around the world. Until a few decades ago, American women simply did not have the right to decide if they can be pregnant or not. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “ Indeed, many leaders of the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s pointed to contraception as an important tool for social justice.” No less a person than Martin Luther King Jr. championed the importance of birth control as a way of not only giving women control over their bodies, but also a way to create a more equal society. To modern middle and upper class women that have always known birth control will be a possibility for us, it’s perhaps difficult to grasp the barriers that occurred when women were not in control over their bodies since it seems like such a distant reality for us, but for those attempting to take birth control away, it is not so distant because that is the future they wish for us.
As an aside in this already lengthy essay, you may have noticed that when discussing birth control, I use women and girls. It’s worth emphasizing that women and girls are not the only ones that use birth control as it is an important medical need for trans men and nonbinary people as well, and this need is often ignored in the discussion of birth control. However, it is a deliberate omission in this essay as the discourse I am analyzing deliberately erases trans men and nonbinary people as those very same movements are seeking to erase trans and gendernonconforming people from existence. Also, so much of the wellness rhetoric demonizing birth control centers around selling a vision of the natural, traditional woman that is feminine, cis, and straight. The discourse has layers.
I can understand why people are tweeting this. There are real concerns to express about birth control. Many women have shared horror stories about side effects getting ignored or actual medical problems getting masked because doctors automatically prescribed them birth control.
That’s what makes me furious about these tweets. People making them know that others have legitimate concerns and frustrations with birth control. They know that so many women have been harmed by a medical system that is discriminatory. Then, they use this righteous anger to spread disinformation, subtly integrate people into their far-right ideas, and gain social media clout.
Sometimes, the profit motive is even more literal as the people making these social media posts are heads of sketchy companies selling untested supplements and other products they claim will help women manage their health.
This tweet is designed to get engagement in the way I mentioned above. It addresses several real problems that AFAB people have: period pain, dismissal of their pain, medical unwillingness to address the root cause of people’s pain. It uses exaggerated language to fuel emotional identification among the audience: doctors prescribing birth control isn’t just careless, it’s malpractice! It’s also important to note that the earliest misinformation about birth control on social media targeted Black influencers and communities, something communications researcher Sydette Harry pointed out. The OP, a Black woman herself, leans into the community connection to get traction for her tweet by linking to a panel with Black female doctors (as well as several debunked sources about birth control).
Then, the kicker drops: OP owns a wellness brand focused on helping women “know their cycle.” She doesn’t want you to use the pill, which is scientifically proven to reduce period pain while doctors work on identifying a root cause if there even is one. She wants you to pay for her snake oil multivitamin. She doesn’t actually see her audience and their experiences of getting dismissed at the doctor’s office. She sees their pocketbooks.
It’s true that many AFAB people experience negative side effects when taking birth control. I know, because I was one of them. I was on the Pill for about four years, from the age of 19 to 23. I went on it to manage my period pain, but eventually realized it was exacerbating my depression to the levels of suicidal ideation. I was lucky enough that after an initial dismissive gynecologist, my second one (a man, by the way) helped me find different doses until I found a dosage that made me feel alright. I still wanted to see if I could be happier without the Pill and I wasn’t sexually active for a while, so I eventually quit.
While conversations about birth control’s side effects absolutely need to happen, those conversations should be grounded in facts and evidence, not fear-mongering and pseudoscience. My experience with hormonal birth control was not universally positive, and I don’t think it’s the right choice for everyone. However, I am very glad that it was a choice I was able to make. Right now, there are a lot of people looking to take away that choice and making people afraid of birth control only makes that easier.
I don’t think your favorite wellness influencer knows they are a tool of the far right when they peddle their magic supplements to solve a problem you don’t actually have, but a good number of them probably don’t care as long as they make you buy stuff.
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i've also noticed this and thought i was the only one. people seem to forget how revolutionary birth control was when it first came on the scene, particularly for women's rights. that wasn't too long ago in the past. seems to be a lot of backsliding in feminist discourse because of all these tradcath/terfy types suggesting theyre some new wave of feminism rather than right-wing infiltrators unhappy with their lot within regular right wing (read: highly misogynistic) circles