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Earlier in the week, I stood in line at the pharmacy. This is nothing new for me. I take several different medications to treat a multitude of chronic illnesses. The workers there know me by name. I’m what you might call a good customer. Living the life of a professional patient has its own demands and obligations.

I live in a part of the city adjacent to a major university. During my daily errands, I frequently encounter undergraduate students taking a break from class. Ahead of me in the queue that afternoon was a stressed out, worried young woman. When it came her time, I saw an immediate look of concern in the clerk behind the counter. Perhaps without meaning to, the cashier made a great show of her purchase. Though she held the label of the box upside down, ostensibly to protect the student’s confidentiality, I could still see its contents. It contained Plan B.

Whether the woman working at the pharmacy was aware of it or not, her behavior reinforced a cultural narrative. By implication, she gave the impression that the purchase was something shameful or embarrassing. While she may not have intended to embarrass or guilt her customer, she unintentionally contributed to an existing culture of silence. Even now, women blanch at the thought of talking openly about their gynecological exams, pap smears, or mammograms.

Feminists have sought to demystify a woman’s reproductive life, sexuality, lady bits, and every decision that she makes of her own volition. They’ve encouraged women to speak openly about their abortions, their miscarriages, and their pregnancy scares. Staying mute about such things implies that there is something mortifying and unmentionable about a woman’s sexuality and reproductive system. Men may not wish to speak about erectile dysfunction or prostate issues, but they are less hemmed in or stigmatized. Others without the same reproductive organs have not sought to regulate or control their use.

I imagined the circumstances of the young woman’s plight. I envisioned a hookup gone awry, a broken condom, each a part of the nascent sexual experimentation that many of us experience while in college. Unfortunately, there can be a terrifying and unsettling aspect to this new freedom. That said, many of us have been there a time or two. I’m not a woman, so there’s a limit to my comprehension, but I know fear and panic when I see it. From that perspective, I pitied her and hoped for the best.

When I was in college, one of my good friends exhausted the whole of her paycheck paying for Plan B. She probably had nothing to worry about, but she didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances. She had sex with her boyfriend regularly, usually without protection, but understandably didn’t trust the results of the withdrawal method. Pregnancy scares became fearsome things that required constant certainty, even if her approach might have been excessive.    

In high school, I counseled a male friend of mine in a similar state of panic. He was deathly afraid he’d gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Fortunately, this was not the case. Greatly relieved, the two of them resolved to be more careful next time. Each of us learns similar lessons in related ways. When we are learning about sexuality we are also learning about ourselves. We are testing the limits of our autonomy as newly minted adults, and sex is part of that exploration.

Though I may plead for locked doors to open and women to speak, I can only make a respectful request. For many, privacy isn’t always oppressive. Though the details of my own life are always available to the curious, I know that others would prefer a very different approach. What is comfortable to one person might be oversharing to another. I remain of the opinion that it is only when our common life experiences shine through that we recognize our struggles are not really that unique.

Originally posted to cabaretic on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 07:09 AM PST.

Also republished by Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 07:09:31 AM PST

  •  I suppose some men getting Viagra would flaunt it? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Penny GC

    Regardless, if, and it's just an if, the young woman had been forced, then this humiliation would add to the scar, the hiding, the damage, but that's only an if

  •  Why would someone use plan B (0+ / 0-)

    as a regular means of contraception? I know that's not really a question of privacy, but the approach seems puzzling to me.

  •  Same as it ever was and it (5+ / 0-)

    galls me that women are still having to endure the judgment of nosy pharmacists. I've mentioned this before but I'll mention it again.

    I was put on the pill at 15 to mitigate against ovarian cysts. I also had horrible horrible periods from the get go and the pill also helped with those.

    The first time I went o pick up my prescription ( prescription being the operative word) the pharmacy assitant loudly called to the pharmacist "birth control consultation" in front of a long line of people. And yes, my immediate fear was that the whole pharmacy was staring at me and thinking slut. 30+ years (and a lifetime of confidence that I didn't have at 15) later, I can still feel the anxiety of knowing I'd have to walk past the line of people behind me with their judging eyes.

    The pharmacist gave me a snotty look and had the nerve to say "little young for these aren't you"?  Through fear, shame, guilt (did I mention I was Catholic and there was someone from my church in the line) ...I managed to get out that my  doctor had prescribed them for cysts. He gave me a "uh-huh" kind of look and then finished his consultation.

    As a result of those pills, I was able to plan for and have a baby later in life when I was ready because they ensured that my ovaries didn't explode or have to be removed.

    And while this isn't about Plan B per se, it is the same core issue. The right to privacy. The right to determine for oneself ones reproductive path. The fact that no one ever asks men about this. The fact that it's a civil rights issue where women are treated as unequal citizens because of biology.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book.

    by Vita Brevis on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 08:55:36 AM PST

  •  my incident (3+ / 0-)

    was a pharmacy tech loudly saying my name, the name of the prescription (Valtres), and "your antiviral medication" on the crowded waiting space of a Walgreen's. With a look on her face.

    I had the prescription for shingles, not herpes, But everyone there knew what the tech's opinion was.

    Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

    by postmodernista on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 09:00:32 AM PST

  •  I am living this today. My daughter's friend (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Richard Lyon

    had sex for the first time and the condom broke. She has an appointment today and I sent a letter for her to be able to miss the last two classes of the day so she can go with her friend to get plan B and contraceptives. She is scared to tell her Mom and Stepdad. I have so much fear in my heart for her, she is so young and your first experience bringing even more pain, guilt, fear. I don't think men quite get this. For women of child bearing age any and every time you have sex, it could lead to pregnancy! I have told the friend and my daughters that if they are sexually active best to use several types of contraceptives because not one (except abstinence) is 100%.
    The pill might not be strong enough dose or you forget to take it, the condom could break or slide off during, you might no pull out in time or there is pre-ejaculation. It only takes one sperm and one egg and one 'mistake' to make a child.
    So yes, RL, contraception can not work or be less effective and usually the way you find this out is oops!
    I am just glad she felt she could come to me for advice, and the first thing I told her was I was glad she did and that she should strongly consider talking with her Mom when Stepdad is not around, as I would be upset if my daughters didn't come to me.
    Also, they tried to be careful! So hard to be a kid and have these hormones and think you are doing everything you can it just isn't enough...
    So here it begins for me and having daughters...
    Peace and Blessings!

    For those abused, war torn and blood-soaked regions of the world: due to our apathy, our need for cheap shit, and our wars on terror and drugs, we apologize for the inconvenience.

    by Penny GC on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 11:26:40 AM PST

    •  I have learned something new today. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Penny GC
      •  Thanks, I think it is just the difference (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Richard Lyon

        that the guys don't have to think about every single time!
        Every possible way. I am glad my situation could help you. This is not snark and I don't mean to be harsh, but as women of child bearing years we HAVE to think about it.
        Too many horror stories, too many unwanted children, to many babies in heaven, to much pain.
        And then we have to re-fight the war on women every week, it really does get exhausting.
        So thank you for being someone who cared enough to ask.
        Peace and Blessings!

        For those abused, war torn and blood-soaked regions of the world: due to our apathy, our need for cheap shit, and our wars on terror and drugs, we apologize for the inconvenience.

        by Penny GC on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 11:49:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  PS, I try to learn someting new every day. (0+ / 0-)

          Daughter of teacher and all.
          Peace and Blessings!

          For those abused, war torn and blood-soaked regions of the world: due to our apathy, our need for cheap shit, and our wars on terror and drugs, we apologize for the inconvenience.

          by Penny GC on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 11:52:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I had just always read about plan b (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Penny GC

          in terms of the controversies of rape victims having to fight off the birthers in their efforts to get access to it.

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