By Erika Mathews
Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article that made us feminists shake in our boots. “The crisis seems to be cementing traditional gender roles,” the piece read. A poll for the Times found that women with families are bearing the brunt of the increased workload due to coronavirus stay-at-home measures. Even if women earn more than their husbands, the responsibility of housework, childcare, or distance learning for their school-age children tends to fall upon the mother.
Unfortunately, it may not come as a surprise to many that women in opposite-sex partnerships often disproportionately shoulder certain loads within the partnership. As an example, this has been happening with our bodies in the realm of family planning for millennia.
The Coronavirus and Inequality
Given that May is the month back in 1968 that the U.N. declared family planning a human right, it seems fitting to shine light on an opportunity before American society to drill away at outdated gender roles. It’s also an opportunity to tackle the socioeconomic inequality we’ve witnessed the coronavirus expose.
The opportunity I’m referring to lies in male contraceptives. The challenges around gender parity and socioeconomic inequality that are now staring us in the face amid this pandemic are exactly why Having Kids is calling upon Congress and the National Institute of Health to prioritize the research, development, and deployment of the male pill and other long-acting, reversible male contraceptives — or “LARCs,” for short.
Male Birth Control and Greater Equality
How can LARCs address such longstanding problems so deeply embedded within our society?
Research shows that smaller families benefit children and that the economic disadvantage correlated with the alternative tends to perpetuate a greater divide between those with and without. Still, we see the U.S. tax system incentivizing larger families, though incentivizing pregnancy delay may better set up women and future generations for greater equality.
Since family planning was declared a human right five decades ago, women have made great strides in terms of physical and economic well-being. Still, nearly half of pregnancies in the U.S. today are unintended, which costs taxpayers $15 billion annually. In a few short months, the COVID-19 pandemic has made family planning even more difficult due to lack of access to contraceptives and to reproductive healthcare.
While the discussion around family planning often centers on abortion, it should go without saying in today’s politically polarized America that any solution propelling us forward — while side-stepping partisan hot spots — should be a no-brainer. This should be baseline territory. Pre-fertilization forms of birth control, a category into which male contraception falls nicely, show promise to be excellent candidates for building bridges across the political aisle. Unfortunately, apart from the “pullout” method and abstinence, women in the U.S. currently have over a dozen options for pregnancy prevention while men have only two: condoms and vasectomies.
Why Men Should Take Larger Role in Family Planning
Recent studies show that American men want the ability to use their bodies to further participate in their right to family planning. While vestiges of a more sexist yesteryear set speed bumps on the track toward deploying more viable male options, we’re incredibly close to breakthroughs in the field, and this is no time to let up on the gas pedal. If fully tested and approved in the U.S., LARC options like RISUG and Contraline could empower men to share more equally in family planning through leveraging their own bodies, helping reverse the trend of traditional gender roles being “cemented.” Our friends at the Male Contraceptive Initiative have outlined several others.
Again, men want more options to play a larger role in family planning. We women — certainly in our new, less certain reality when fewer couples are opting to get pregnant — could use the support. Ultimately, when communities and parents cooperatively embrace better family planning, we can invest more in every child and create the future we all deserve.
For these reasons, we at Having Kids call upon the National Institute of Health and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo — chairpeople of congressional committees on health that oversee family planning matters — to increase funding for the research and development of male contraceptives.
A variety of safe, commonsense, accessible options, along with communities and parents cooperatively embracing better family planning, are key to providing coming generations the future they deserve. Male LARCs would serve as a huge step forward in getting us there.
Erika Mathews is the executive director of Having Kids, a U.S.-based non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness for The Fair Start Model, a human rights-based, child-focused approach to family planning. Erika holds a bachelor’s degree in English/Journalism and German from Rutgers University.