Gina Barreca: It's time for men to wear a ‘raincoat,’ share birth control responsibility

The Hartford CourantFebruary 2, 2014 

So Judge Judy calls and says, “You’re the feminist, right?”

This is not the start of a joke; this was the start of my day.

Judy Sheindlin, known to the world as the most successful woman on television, is known to me as the girl next door. In Brooklyn, N.Y., her family’s house was scooched in right next to ours. Her tiny, ancient grandmother used to yell at me if I played too long in their yard or picked honeysuckle off their vine.

Judy Blum was the first girl I knew who went to college or, for that matter, graduated from high school in a timely manner. To say I admired her would be an understatement – and our neighborhood was not known for understatements. We’ve remained friends and allies. After all, we share more than a history; we both have strong opinions, decisive manners and voices that sound like traffic. But my days don’t often begin with a call from Judy’s CBS/Paramount trailer in L.A.

“I want to rant about (Mike) Huckabee’s speech,” Judy said. No “hello” or “how are you”; she gets as directly to the point in real life as she does on TV.

She launched into her argument. “So we want to free the women of America? You know what would free the women of America? Make men accept responsibility for birth control. Forget the glass ceiling. Let ’em use condoms. Then Huckabee wouldn’t have to worry about spending too much money on women’s reproductive process. Women could stop inserting or injecting birth control, both of which can have terrible effects on our bodies. Guys can just put on a raincoat.”

“It also helps prevent disease!” I piped up, always the chorus to Judy’s aria.

Right before clicking off, Judy said, “Remember, a Trojan is more than a horse.”

Old arguments against condoms immediately started parading through my head, however, complete with picket signs and sandwich boards. “Not always effective!” “Decreases sensitivity!” “Awkward to use!” They were like rolled-up balloons with frowny faces.

Let’s examine these arguments one by one: “Not always effective”? What birth control method is always effective, apart from the one usually recommended by Republicans, such as Foster Friess, who suggested the best contraceptive method is for women “to put aspirin between their knees”?

For a certain kind of believer, abstinence, like financial poverty or a lethal injection, is fine in its place – and that place is always inhabited by Other People.

Speaking of lethal, many forms of birth control for women have been barbaric, daring us to put our health at risk: IUDs were terrifying in their earlier forms, and chemicals in the initial incarnations of the pill radically altered our bodies.

Neither a version of a birth control pill for men nor any kind of rusty-bicycle-like contraption preventing pregnancy has ever caught on for men. Surprised?

How about the argument that men find condoms “awkward to use”? Imagine if they were handed diaphragms. Talk about awkward to use. Guys would have simply started playing Frisbee golf with them. Not to mention that if he finds condoms awkward, just think about how awkward he would find an unwanted pregnancy or an STD.

I’ve saved my favorite – “decreases sensitivity” – for last. He doesn’t want to use a sheath because he’s so sensitive that it’ll “ruin his moment”?

Perhaps he doesn’t understand the kind of impact a toddler would have on that “moment.”

His girlfriend probably understands it, though: The National Bureau of Economic Research announced that MTV’s “Teen Mom” has helped lower teen births by 5.7 percent. That’s almost as effective as an aspirin – but more like a baby aspirin.

Perhaps the GOP is relying on the combination of MTV and Huckabee simply to skeeve the women of America into giving up sex. Maybe that’s their plan to promote abstinence?

Joking aside: Birth control is not a moral issue; it is a medical one. It should, therefore, be covered by insurance. And yes, it is a women’s issue, but not only a women’s issue; it’s a case for Judge Judy, but not for Judge Judy alone. It’s a case for condoms, but not only for condoms.

Birth control matters to everybody on the block.

Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, author of eight books and columnist for The Hartford Courant. Find her at www.ginabarreca.com.

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