Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Little Girls! Just Say Yes to Your Dreams!

March 18th, 2013 by Chris Bobel

Seen this one yet? (or the (eerily) related “Birth Control on the Bottom“?)

We posted “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” (written by Carissa Leone in 2011) in our regular installment Weekend Links on Feb 2. I had a mixed reaction. And when a couple re:Cycling readers described the video as “nasty,” I knew we needed to dig in a bit.

Let’s discuss.

There’s something very absurdly funny about eating birth control, even if the women are still tweens and the birth control is merely mulit- colored jelly beans intended to get young girls in the pill-popping groove before they are saddled with a baby and an half-finished high school education.

First of all, women CAN eat their birth control, donchaknow… Warner Chilcott brought to market their chewable, spearmint flavor oral contraceptive, Femcon Fe, for women who have difficulty swallowing pills and apparently, find stopping for 30 seconds to swallow water.

But I digress (I guess I just want to be clear that we are ALREADY munching our pills).

It is hard not to love how this sketch takes down the pandering to the girl tween market. Oh lordy. There’s so much potential there! (one estimate figures that kids aged 8-12 years are spending $30 billion OF THEIR OWN MONEY and nagging their parents to spend another $150 billion annually!) Little girls quickly move from Disney to diets, from fingerpaint to fake eyelashes, from tutus to belly shirts…..I have seen it with my own girls and it feels, frankly, like an inexorable force.

Viral sketch writer Carissa Leone graciously replied to my questions regarding the piece. When I asked her what inspired her, she channeled her Women’s Studies training (go team!) and supplied her two main reasons:

(1) “I saw a little girl on the subway,holding a baby doll in one of those pretend baby slings…and I thought, “If only she really knew what motherhood was like. I wonder if anyone has explained the authentic experience. I wish she were carrying a briefcase and reading a teeny issue of Ms. magazine instead… “


(2) “The idea that women can/should have it all, in terms of relationships and families and career still seems to be put forth as a tangible (and”correct”) goal in Western culture. It’s a pressure I and many other peers feel, and one that I don’t think is truly possible, or necessarily awesome.”

And Big Pharma takes a hit, too, per the spot’s director, Brian Goetz, who offered this when I asked him about what led to the sketch:

“I wanted to do the video because the script spoke so well to the branding of pharmaceutical commercials, where no matter what the product, as long as you say there’s a problem and that you have the solution, throw some happy people and fun b-roll in it, you’ve got a successful campaign. On top of that, it’s always fun to legitimize terrible ideas in sketch comedy. And if that means having multi-colored jelly bean birth control pills, all the better.”

But I think there’s more to it that that.

Why do I find myself laughing and crying at the same time? Well, I just finished my advance copy of Holly Grigg-Spall’s forthcoming Sweetening the Pill  or How We Became Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control (out this Spring with Zero Books). In it (and here as well, on this blog), Grigg-Spall makes the case the hormonal contraceptives have become so normative that we, as consumers, permit an imperfect (at best) product to flourish even while other options may be more appropriate. The one-pill-fits-all mindset is so pervasive and bores in so deep, so young, Grigg-Spall argues, that when someone says, ‘hey! I don’t want to be on the pill,’ these—what she calls “pill refugees” — are hastily branded as irresponsible, antifeminist, or just plain dumb. That is, the pill gets constructed as our savior, our liberator, our saving grace, even when its not.

And that’s where this spoof enters….since the pill IS all these things, let’s get those girlies on board NOW! Why wait? Good habits start young, after all. And product loyalty is not just for toothpaste and laundry detergent….

And so, “Sassy Girlz Candy Birth Control Pills” is super smart feminist critique. It calls out the enduring wrongheadnessness of romanticizing motherhood and co-opting what I would call a tragically hollowed-out pseudo feminism harnessed to push product:

  • Little girls playing Mommy is cute, and kinda bullshit!
  • Its never too early to teach little girls about options!
  • She’ll know that birth control means winning a college scholarship

Yup. There’s lots of problems with that. Thanks to the feminist satirists to help us see.

But I have to say one more thing.

Leone and I discussed (what I consider) the unfortunate below-the-belt invocation of gender dysphoria to as she put it, “most absurd, heightening beat” in the sketch (here’s another, more recent example of same, on SNL). I don’t think trans or gender queer or otherwise gender variant people should ever serve as punchlines, as I told Leone so in our email exchange. When I inquired about this moment in an otherwise spot-on sketch, she said that is was never intended it as a negative perception of transgendered kids. But still  it is, and I think it points with a big fat finger at how much work we still need to do to move trans issues from margin to center.

Let’s push forward without leaving anyone behind. Let’s laugh at feminist satire that avoids (even unintended) transphobia. Let’s keep our targets clear and our allies clearer. Let’s say YES to that dream, for real.

9 responses to “Little Girls! Just Say Yes to Your Dreams!”

  1. Thanks for digging deeper, Chris.

    I agree with you that is wrong to put down (even in jest) those who are biologically men but feel like and seek to become women in our society.

    That combined hormonal contraception (COC, as commonly abbreviated) is accepted by society as a norm, is to state the obvious. However, most women would not dream that this translates into inhibition of scientific inquiry. It does.

    My colleague and I in a comprehensive, physiology based (and never published) review of the safety of extended COC or the so-called “cycle stopping contraception” were basically scoffed when we called for placebo-controlled trials. All of the studies (approved by the FDA and other regulatory bodies) compared extended COC with the standard 21 days on and 7 days off cyclic COC.

    Furthermore, when negative things about COC are investigated in legitimate scientific studies, for example the cross-sectional comparison of bone density in a population-based sample of premenopausal women who had ever taken COC (86% of the 25-45 year old Canadian population) versus never use of COC, that paper was rejected multiple times for various reasons over three years before finally being accepted for publication. Why? because it showed those who had ever used COC had lower bone density.

    Our challenge is this: How do we transform the concept of Normal for these little girls from a Pill “cycle” to a physiological ever-changing but marvelous ovulatory menstrual cycle?

  2. Chris Bobel says:

    And what a challenge it is. I so appreciate your comments, Jerilynn, and your tenacity as a researcher and advocate for women’s health.

  3. Laura Wershler says:

    Thanks for delving further into this sketch that did leave me feeling ambivalent about its humour and value as critique. I can’t wait to see how Holly’s book might open the conversation about how the pill has, as I like to say, become the “standard of care” treatment for being a girl. Pretty soon, no doubt, this will switch to the Mirena IUD, now recommended as the best birth control for teens by ACOG.

  4. Chris Bobel says:

    Thanks. Laura. I, too, am so eager for the conversations *Sweetening the Pill* will provoke us all to have. Bring it!

  5. Win says:

    I have to say I disagree with your assessment of the final beat of this sketch. It seemed that the joke was not about transgendered people, but about the dangers of haphazardly feeding hormones to children. It was about over medicating and the unforeseen consequences – a fear many parents are familiar with (GMOs, phthalates, hormone-fed livestock). Trans is not the punchkine here – and for you to suggest that that is a depiction of a trans person is actually pretty offensive. Even the parent of a trans kid would not want them to end up like the image in the last beat – it’s absurd and monstrous under any circumstances.

  6. Chris Bobel says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Win, I agree that the depiction is offensive and I think that’s one of the main reasons I bristled at it. I find that using gender bending as a *worst case scenario* is reckless—and done too often. I do see the point being made here, but I think making it by showing a gender variant child, especially a cartoonish version of one, positions trans people as other, as strange, as something to be jeered at….I do appreciate your point, though, very much and will keep thinking about it. Glad you took the time to comment.

  7. Win says:

    Let me be clear – I do not find the depiction in the video offensive. Because it is not a depiction of a trans person. It is a little girl who has mistakenly been changed into a crazed raving adult man by taking unchecked amounts of candy-like hormones. That is not what trans people are and the video never suggests otherwise.
    What I found offensive was YOUR assertion that that was a depiction of a trans person.

  8. Chris Bobel says:

    I hear you, and I agree. The depiction is not at all an accurate depiction of a trans person. I appreciate your pushing me to make that clear.

  9. James says:

    Isn’t this similar to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis?

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