BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

The Power of a Little Pill

Posted by egehl on May 17, 2010

I will admit that as a young woman there are many things I take for granted that my generation has had the luxury of having.  One of those things, which has played prominently in my life and countless other women, is the ability to have control over when to have children and whether to build an established career.  

This month, ironically on Mother’s Day, marked the anniversary of the birth control pill.  It was 50 years ago that the U.S. FDA approved the pill that forever changed the lives of innumerable women.  Today more than 100 million worldwide take the pill.  For decades women have had the opportunity to take charge of when and if they have children, and how they want to cultivate their educational and professional lives. 

For the first time in U.S. history, women have overtaken men in the workplace in professional roles. As of 2009, women represented half of all workers and are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American households. That’s certainly a big change when women made up only one-third of all U.S. workers before the pill was created.

It may seem like a stretch, but the pill has a huge connection to the advances women have made in the workplace.  When the pill was created working women finally had a choice.  They could decide whether they want to follow in their mother’s footsteps as a housewife earlier or later in their life, or not at all. 

In addition, women weren’t the only ones that embraced this sexual freedom and societial shift.  Companies increasingly needed and sought women’s professional skills and the economy embraced both men and women earning an income.

The birth control pill gave women the opportunity to delay having children and start their own companies, accept the promotion they were going after, and explore their professional dreams.  Women could take the time to focus on their professional pursuits without having to juggle an unplanned pregnancy. 

Fifty years ago women became part of a trailblazing generation of entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors and other professionals who were able to plan their personal lives in a way that felt right to them.  They could design their lives in a way that complemented where they were emotionally, intellectually and physically. 

The creation of the pill coincided with the second wave of feminism and the fight for equal rights because it gave women a concrete tool to level the playing field with men. They no longer had to be mothers first and put their careers second. Without the pill, women would almost certainly not have made it into powerful senior positions, represented more than half of college graduates, or constituted a growing part of the workforce. The pill allowed for both their entrance and ascendance in the workplace.

There’s no denying that the pill triggered the sexual revolution because women no longer had to worry about getting pregnant, and could have sex outside of marriage. Women could live their life without the “what if” of pregnancy hanging over their heads and this was liberating for a lot of people.

Women could not achieve financial and professional power in society if they didn’t have control over when they have children.  Women could spend their formative years in their 20s and 30s focused on their education and building their careers if they choose, and not let their body automatically decide their fate.  If it’s their decision, women have the power to delay their child rearing years which allows them time to shape who they are and have children when they are ready. 

The pill brought generations of women time and control which forever changed the lives of countless women and their families.

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