Everyone Has the Right to Their Own Opinion
Perhaps, upon opening this article, you’re already rolling your eyes. Perhaps you expect me to join the hordes of irate students and berate Harry Arnold, author of the contentious, “You Want Some Plan B With Those Skittles?” Perhaps because of my position as Editor-in-Chief of The Golden Antlers you expect me to treat this issue under the guise of humor. Never you fear! This is not a tirade, it is not a personal attack on Harry Arnold, it is not a joke. This article not only raised our collective consciousness relating to reproductive health issues, it also raised our awareness of the way we treated those with minority opinions. As a campus that prides itself on political awareness, we have to remember that we can’t pick and choose when to grant rights; free speech is free speech no matter what. To be clear, I am fundamentally opposed to the article Arnold wrote and what it stands for, yet I hope to engage with his argument in a thoughtful and respectful way because he—like anyone else—absolutely has the right to make his opinion known. By challenging his opinion, I am engaging with it, not condemning Arnold as a person.
What Plan B Is and Isn’t
Plan B is, according to WebMD, emergency contraception. It prevents or delays ovulation and may interfere with fertilization of an egg. Plan B is not an abortion. General consensus among Pro-Life advocates agrees that abortion is interfering with or destroying a fertilized egg after it has been implanted, but that is not what Plan B does. Though the mechanisms are very different, Plan B and condoms both prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. Does Arnold take issue with free, accessible condoms available all over campus? If both condoms and Plan B are effectively the same, (if not practically, to insinuate that they work the same way would be an oversimplification) then why does Arnold take such issue with Plan B specifically? (Check out this link for a handy adorable video about what Plan B actually does.)
The Article Reflects a Lack of Respect for Women
Immediately after the article was posted, the comments section was abuzz with students expressing outrage over (and, in rare cases, support of) the use of the word “female” in contexts like, “when a female makes the decision to use Plan B.” Some students knew it bothered them yet couldn’t explain why. The answer is as much grammatical as it is symptomatic of patriarchal control. “Female” is appropriate when used as an adjective (“gee, look at those female leaders making us proud!”) or as a noun to describe an animal (“that narwhal is a female.”) To use female as a noun in any other context relegates women to a lower status of power. The Oxford English Dictionary (the grandaddy of all language resources) explains that when used as a noun ‘female’ denotes: “simplicity, inferiority, weakness or the like.” The OED further explains that using ‘female’ synonymously with ‘women’ is “now commonly avoided by good writers, [except] with contemptuous implication.” (Here for more info.) So naturally, when Arnold used “female” in a non-adjective context, it rankled quite a few of us. The word, whether intentionally or unintentionally, established the hierarchy of power and decision making by reducing women, and in the context of this debate about women’s health, it was inappropriate and misused.
Arnold takes issue, primarily with the “instant accessibility” the vending machine provides, arguing that Plan B has long been available at Student Health Services which forced students to directly interact with SHS staff in order to purchase the medication and, Arnold argues, “consider the aforementioned consequences.” This, too, shows a lack of both tact and logic. By arguing that interface with an outside party is necessary, one argues that women are incapable of weighing the benefits and harms associated with Plan B on our own. Just because the act of buying Plan B from a vending machine itself is instantaneous and easy absolutely does not mean that the decision and thought process are. Additionally, due to articles like Arnold’s, the use of Plan B is often stigmatized; the fear of embarrassment in walking up to the SHS window and asking for Plan B in front of a full waiting room may be enough to deter students from getting the medication they desire. As women who have consciously made the decision to have sex, we are also capable of deliberating and navigating the consequences of failed birth control (an occurrence that, according to this New York Times article, is all too common). It is commonly known that Plan B’s effectiveness decreases as time passes, so making it harder to access only increases the likelihood that the medication will be ineffective, thus forcing a student to consider an abortion or an unplanned pregnancy, a situation the author would surely not prefer.
As part of my research for this article, I conducted an unofficial poll about student feelings concerning the Plan B vending machine that received about a hundred replies. I can in no way claim that this is a scientific study, but I would like to address some of the most frequent arguments.
Many students in support of the vending machine lauded its ability to allow women to make an important decision in a timely and non-judgmental manner. Nearly ten students discussed using Plan B in the past and explained that they were put off by Student Health because of long wait times and perceived judgmental or rude staff. Shannon Miller ’16 explains, “as someone who’s taken Plan B twice, let me assure you: I was fully aware of how it would impact me and took it anyway. You don’t take it if you don’t need to, but when you do need it, you should be able to take it ASAP.”
Other students argued that without access to cars (or a close, confidential relationship with an RA or similar leader) they could not get to Walmart or another pharmacy that may be so accessible for some. (Luckily, nearly everyone agreed that in cases of rape, students should have unfettered access to the morning after pill.) A student who contested the machine’s implementation argued, “if you choose to take part in the hook up culture, be aware of the consequences, prepare, and if something happens or you get ‘carried away’ then you should have to deal with the problem by going into the health center.” In addition to the fact that this language is heavily evocative of slut-shaming, it does not address the possibility that mistakes happen, and birth control methods fail. Not to mention the fact that people make mistakes; we’re only human! The SHS is also not open on the weekends, when we can probably safely assume people are running the greatest risk of having to deal with failed birth control; the machines are a way for people to “face consequences and deal with the problem” when the Health Center is not a possibility. Arnold quotes Dr. David Grimes, who claims, “Repeated use of EC wreaks havoc on a woman’s cycle.” This is true; however, an unplanned pregnancy can wreak havoc on a woman’s life.
This debate over the accessibility of Plan B comes down to education and trust. Arnold took issue with the Dean of Students’ email because he felt it implied “bias,” “nonchalan[ce],” and had an inappropriately casual tone. I disagree. If one exclamation mark denotes a strong endorsement, then the DOS office is regularly having heart attacks over snacks (“SNO CONES!!!!!!!!!”). If the email appeared celebratory, it was because it was celebrating the hard work of students, faculty, and staff who worked for over a year to institute this change. However, I do agree that because Plan B has potential side effects and risks associated, it is appropriate to educate students about the resource that has become available. While I do not agree that DOS treated the subject matter inappropriately in the email, I do think they could have provided more information on the morning after pill or at least an indication of where students can go to find more information. (For more, look here and here.)
So yes, knowing how to use Plan B safely, effectively, and appropriately is a matter of education. We must educate ourselves and others so that this resource is used correctly. In the grander scheme of things it comes down to trust: trust that women on campus are capable of making decisions in difficult situations, trust that our peers are able to safely express their opinions however popular or unpopular they may be, trust that the school has our best interests at heart, trust that as a community we are responsible enough to know when the time is right to make the choice to take Plan B. I trust you to make the right call, CMC, and I trust that we will continue this conversation in an intelligent and respectful manner.