Category: Feminism

Quick Hormonal Birth Control Science Explainer

Yesterday, I saw a guy suggest that women who lose insurance coverage can go buy one of seven birth control brands offered by Walmart for $9—and that sounds like a broadly-applicable solution, but only if you don’t understand hormonal birth control. Most birth control pills have two hormones in them: one which convinces your body it’s producing a hormone it isn’t producing, and one which binds with a hormone in your bloodstream to mask it and convince your body it isn’t there. There are more than a dozen variations of each of these components, and hundreds of ways they could be combined.

How a given hormonal combination reacts with the body of an individual woman varies widely. The same pill will raise one woman’s sex drive and kill another’s. It’ll clear up one person’s acne and give another one acne. It’ll cause one to gain weight and one to lose it. It might be mood stabilizing, or cause severe depression. There are hormonal sliders the pill is moving, and you have no way to know in advance what this woman’s presets are, let alone how responsive her sliders will be to a set of chemicals she hasn’t tested personally.

Think of birth control pills as if they’re chili. There’s a whole bunch of different things called chili, and even if you know you want chili, a particular batch might have no ingredients in common with another batch. It might include elements you’re allergic to, or might be too spicy, or it might have none of the characteristics you want when you say “chili”. Beans v no beans, white v red, chicken v beef v vegetarian – the world of chili is vast.

Unlike with chili, you need a prescription for hormonal birth control, because although you’re probably safe if you’re on the same pill you’ve been taking for a while, you don’t really know how your body is going to react to a new one and it could react by forming blood clots that try to kill you. Testing a bunch of different kinds is strongly discouraged, and also impossible because your pharmicist wouldn’t give you a different kind of pill than the one prescribed to you. On top of that, the first month after you switch or start a pill variant is the most dangerous – is the time you’re most likely to have a life-threatening adverse reaction. When you think about switching types, you weigh that risk against the side effects you’re already experiencing.

(Why not opt out if it’s so dangerous, you might say. The answer is that pregnancy is even more dangerous. Sincerely, that is the reason the FDA thinks the risks are acceptable for female hormonal birth control but not male hormonal birth control.)

To make this less abstract, here are three forms of hormonal birth control I have used and how my specific body reacted to them:

Microgestin (norethisterone acetate and ethanyl estradiol) is great for me. I feel totally normal for the most part, with better skin and a slightly increased sex drive which is enough to be fun but not inconvenient.

Microgynon (levonorgestrel and ethanyl estradiol) is what I was prescribed when I moved to England, where Microgestin was not available. It makes me way more teary than my normal self. Not for the most part depressed, but more likely to burst into tears over something small. During two of the seven days of the month when I took spacer pills (the ones with no hormone that allow you to experience withdrawal bleeding, aka fake period) I felt delicate and bereft and wanted to be held by my partner – felt like I was mourning a very early miscarriage. This is a strange experience to get from a pill you take to ensure an egg will never be released and fertilized, and it felt simultaneously real and fake, the way “hangry” feels falser than angry.

Qlaira (dienogest and estradiol valerate) is what I was prescribed in Italy. The first month, I had terrible headaches. Those cleared up, but for the entire two years I was on this, I was emotionally flat and had no sex drive, and experienced constant dryness in parts of my body that shouldn’t have been dry. I didn’t get my libido back until more than a month after I stopped taking it.

None of this is a guide to what other women could expect. We can’t compare notes and say “I liked this one; you should try it” or “you have almond-shaped eyes, so clearly the best pill for you is lavender-colored.” However, you can see why maybe it could be a significant daily burden not to be able to take your preferred pill formulation. Of the three pills I listed above, Migrogynon is the only one with generic $9 Walmart equivalents. Otherwise, they offer progesterones I haven’t tried: norgestimate, norethisterone (not the same chemical as norethisterone acetate), and desogestrel.

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Vengeance Demon at Heart

A pretty common narrative in stories of male misbehavior is that the woman is told to keep it quiet because “do you want to ruin his career? do you want to break up his family?” This is apparently a very effective (and very messed up) way to take some of the best parts of socialized femininity (empathy, concern for community) and warp them into something harmful, which is my least favorite kind of con.

But also it draws my attention to how much of a vengeance demon I am at heart, because yes absolutely I want to ruin his career and break up his family. That’s exactly what I want—it sounds great. I’ve never been sexually assaulted and I’ve never met this guy, but I am basically a tornado in human form. If you’re reading this, I have probably considered breaking up your family and ruining your career at least once and probably right now. I think about doing it to my own self, even. I might actually be one of the Furies.

Jean Carlin, M.D.

A few days ago, my husband’s great aunt died; she was the only of my in-laws who I called by a familial name (Aunt Jean instead of Jean) – as did the rest of *my* family. Ciro says she was difficult to get along with, but I guess I met her late enough in her life that it was less true (and I didn’t need to depend on her, so I could enjoy her company for what it was). She was incredibly kind to me, and I was in awe of her. The day we met, a large rare flower in her garden bloomed. I’ll miss her very much.

Ciro writes:

Two days ago, one of the pioneers of refugee and cross-cultural psychiatry, Dr. Jean Carlin, MD, PhD, died in her sleep at her home in Seal Beach, CA. She was 86 years old. She took with her a lifetime of experience and wisdom that inform our understanding of the human cost of war to this day, and during Vietnam in particular informed U.S. refugee policy. More than anything she felt called to her work because she saw clearly into the abyss and cared very deeply about people. She spent her life trying to help them.

I said she was 86 years old. She was born in 1930. That means she moved into her teen years during World War II, and that when she was entering medical school, it was in 1950s America. She was one of three women in her class. It was routine for students who weren’t making the cut to be informed via a terse postcard in their mailbox, with no explanation. She was a woman from a poor single-parent household, surrounded by privileged men, aware that she could be dismissed at any time for any reason, in an era when female doctors in America were so rare that people frequently thought she was joking.

She spent two tours in Vietnam at a village children’s hospital, treating victims of war and its attendant horror with inadequate supplies and no electricity (candles at the foot of the bed). Children burned, children maimed, children with cholera. Viet Cong attacks in the area were frequent. She recalled one night-time alert that came while she was trying to save the life of a dying baby girl. The attack forced her to carry the girl through a field of knee-deep mud and weeds in total darkness, compressing the tiny body rhythmically against her own chest to respirate her, until she could reach an emergency ward. The baby did survive, as did many others in her care.

She returned later to work in the refugee camps, and her time there lead to a senior consultancy on the relocation efforts of the U.S. government. I haven’t been able to find a complete count of citations of her work in research literature, but it’s over 100. I think about it a lot when I read about Syria, about profound trauma combining with dislocation and total loss of culture and identity, about it following the survivors through generations. It haunts me to see it so completely, as it must have haunted her.

After the war she moved into forensic psychiatry, working for courts and mental hospitals and social services, with survivors and casualties of a different kind. Budget cuts and political resistance meant this work was frequently unpaid, underpaid, or paid very late, but she continued to do it, for the same reason she went willingly into war zones.

She was also my great aunt, and she loved me like her own child, of which she had none, nor did she ever marry. The truth is she wasn’t easy to be around, and that made her perpetually lonely.

Which isn’t fair. It’s not fair that with a human compassion so fierce, with courage so great, with such a complete willingness to sacrifice, that she should ever have wanted for love of her own. I can’t get past how sad it makes me. I hope I was a comfort to her. I will miss her very much.

All the World is Waiting for You

Dyed my hair blueblack today. I may be a little excited about Wonder Woman.


Brian says:  Did you dye it with the tears of men?

Romie: Sort of? I made my husband apply it and he was very stressed out by the fear he might (1) fail to dye my hair (2) accidentally dye several other surfaces (3) or both.

Brian: I’m just referring to the guys who are getting very upset about the all-women screenings of Wonder Woman.

Romie: I have been following the strategy of screening messages from those guys. I throw up blocks like they’re missle-deflecting gold bracelets.


Nic says: I used to do blue-black – kind of miss it.

Romie: It is one of very few colors my hair hasn’t previously been! I’m liking it.


Carrie says: Hoo boy just found out BDS Lebanon is boycotting, so my outfit is changing (adding my purple kafia). I realize this is not enough but my ticket is bought already and I do want to go.

Romie: When you’re a member of (or ally of) mutiple sometimes-overlapping oppressed populations, I suspect it’s somewhat revolutionary to be joyful when there is an opportunity to feel delight—to find hope in the community of other imperfect strivers.

I like the kafia idea.


Acevedo: [tosses back long dark locks] you were saying….?


Angie says: GREAT excuse for a selfie, tbh!!

Romie: INSTEAD I CRASH A MAN’S SELFIE

wonderwoman hair

Angie: SO WOMAN, MUCH WONDER

Summer: Your clothes match. I’m agog.

Romie: Mine isn’t clothes; it’s a blanket. We match on many levels but “comfortable ambient temperature” is not one of them.


Angela says: My purple turned red; am considering spinning in place until am brunette and in satin tights myself.

Andrea: Totally thought about doing this, too!!! Solidarity cloaked in midnight blues!!!

Angela and Hillary, Sitting in a Tree

Normally, I say “look beyond the personalities; look at the issues,” but given Trump’s instinctual style, this newly invented feud with Germany looks an awful lot like an attempt to go after Angela Merkel—an experienced female political centrist with a global outlook who sometimes wears a familiar-looking blue pantsuit. I think there’s some misogynist transferrence going on, and I don’t think it’s mine.

Would not be surprised if Trump starts saying “crooked Germany” out of nostalgia.

By the way, you’ve probably missed this (well done, you), but the idea that Hillary and Angela are lesbian lovers running a sinister liberal conspiracy has been much explored by both Breitbart and Russian propaganda mills (explicit propaganda, not state-run news) over the last few years, so I’m guessing that will turn up again, too. Because women can’t be friends, or admire each other, apparently. Women and men can’t be friends, but also women can’t be friends. Too catty. Lock them in towers is what I say.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing


Maria says: For reals. He’s got a beef with women in power. Let’s not forget his bizarre reception of Merkel after his inauguration. Nevermind that she’s held her tongue about him for four months. He’s made it clear that our U.S. allies are his enemies.


Rebecca says: Jesus Howard Christ. The same Breitbart that claimed Colbert was being homophobic? You don’t get to have it both ways.


Rosi says: Yep, and powerful women are always lesbians… *eye roll*

Maria: I’d tap that.

Romie: Yeah, it is kind of a lovely idea. I hate Breitbart both for sexualizing something that’s not sexual, AND for assuming I’d be upset by such a couple, when holy cow. I dream of being an Angela Merkel in a romantic relationship with a Hillary Clinton.


Jeff says: Angela Merkel earned a doctorate in physical chemistry, one of the most difficult subjects to understand. She’s brilliant, and insecure men sadly often have a problem with brilliant women.

To the Teen Girl Targeted on the Portland Train

Teen Targeted On Portland Train Thanks Strangers (CNN)

Oh, hon. I know I’m talking to my TV and you can’t hear me, but I am talking anyway. Sad girl, it breaks my heart to hear you say, “They lost their lives because of me and my friend.” They lost their lives because a violent, angry, confused man wanted to kill them. Their last wish, their dying wish, was that you and your friend feel welcome and safe and valued. I want that too. I hope somebody nearer by can tell you. I hope everybody can tell you, over and over, until you have been told enough times that you are able to believe it.


Angela says: It’d be cool if the president said it, or in any way acknowledged it, instead of amplifying the message that she’s a problem.

Romie: I don’t think of us as having a president right now, since the guy elected to the office doesn’t seem to want to take the role on. We’re going to have to fill in as best we can. For instance, although I don’t have the statutory powers, I’m going to do what I can to be president, and to represent all of us and the best of our hopes. Please join me in also being president.

Hillary and Me

I’ve always had trouble talking about how much I love Hillary Clinton, because it’s uncomplicated. To me, her greatness is totally obvious, and has been for the 25 years I’ve known about her. But I mostly keep quiet about it, because my admiration doesn’t seem to persuade anyone who doesn’t already like her.

That’s a strange thing, by the way. People who usually trust me to know what I’m talking about go into sudden berserker mode, like I’ve said the magic words to summon Beetlejuice. I concluded some time ago that one of the best ways for me to support Hillary Clinton was to rarely speak about her directly.

I don’t brag on myself very much either, you may have noticed.

I like this quote from communications director Jess McIntosh, one of Hillary’s campaign strategists:

“Should she have showed more emotion? I don’t know. We don’t know whether women who show less emotion get to be the president. Should she have been less hawkish? I don’t know. We don’t know if we can elect a pacifist woman president. We can’t point to where she diverges from a path that other women have taken because she was charting that path, and that might fuck with your analytics a bit, as it turns out.”

—”Hillary Clinton Is Furious. And Resigned. And Funny. And Worried.” (Rebecca Traister, The Cut)

I have been glad to have somebody to copy from for the last couple decades. Because I know, even if some other people can’t seem to make the connection, that a lot of the likeable things about me are cribbed from somebody else who I saw act that way.