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Can women be in charge of anything, really?

  • Published at 11:16 am October 9th, 2016
Can women be in charge of anything, really?
At the dawn of the “sexual revolution” in 1967, a 26-year-old product designer called Margaret Crane, in charge of designing lotion and lipstick tubes at a pharmaceutical company, came across a row of shiny tubes displayed at her New York office. When she asked what they were, she was told that these were tubes to collect urine in and send to the doctor’s office, to test for pregnancies. Later that night, Ms. Crane started working on an idea, and started to build her own prototype of a do-it-yourself pregnancy test. She had seen friends find out too late about unwanted pregnancy, and get desperate for abortions, at a time when abortions were still generally illegal, and 26 states barred women from obtaining contraceptives. However, as she discovered, the road to finding out about your own pregnancy was not an easy one. To make a very long story short (but please, read a piece titled “Could women be trusted with their own pregnancy tests”, its absolutely brilliant), in spite of many oppositions and her company trying not to give her credit for the test they finally did patent, the first ever home-kit for testing pregnancies is now displayed proudly at the Smithsonian, with the crackerjack Ms. Crane claiming rights when she contacted a New York Times journalist, four years ago, asking why had she been omitted in a story they wrote about the origins of home pregnancy tests? I love stories about women inventors, but this was much more than that. In 1967, the misogynistic reactions from a group led by (surprise, surprise!) men ranged from panicked reactions at the thought of “hysterical women jumping of the bridge when they found out they were pregnant” to a doctor writing “patients (i.e. women) cannot follow the simplest instructions”, in a national newspaper! This was 40 years ago, when from what we can glean from certain television shows, it was all right to slap your secretary’s butt if she did good work, or if you just felt like it; but I wonder if fundamental perceptions have changed since then, in undermining a woman’s agency in taking control of her own body, and her ability to take her own decisions when it comes to it. When I feel cynical about the world though, I think of certain stories. And one I keep on repeating is the sea of change that took place in Bangladesh, starting in the mid 70s. A team of female health workers went door to door, in an 88% Muslim predominant area called Matlab, distributing contraceptives, counselling women on their use and side effects, and accompanying them to health facilities, and in the history of the world, this is not an easy thing to do. This is a story of women acting as agents of change for other women in creating collective capabilities, and the overall effect of this very successful campaign is that the fertility rate in Bangladesh came down from a whopping 6.7 to 2.2. Incidentally, this was also 40 years ago. I will never forget that frisson of delight and disbelief I felt when I saw that faint line appear on the pregnancy test, which now costs about 3 USD. For that, and not having to wait two months for results to come back from the doctor’s office, or having to pee on bags of wheat and barley, as the ancient Egyptians did to find out about pregnancy, and so much more, thank you Ms. Crane!  
The author’s real name is Gupi Gyne. When she is not writing, or sharing feminist views, or standing up for the downtrodden and voiceless, she is in her basement building a home made, fan blade, one man submarine to take around the world. The characters in this story are real, and any resemblance to fictional characters, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental. For more, please visit her blog at https://gupisworld.wordpress.com/, or email her at [email protected]

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