We continue our conversation with Holly Grigg-Spall, author of Sweetening The Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control. In this episode we’re diving in a bit deeper to talk about the “Pro Period Movement”, moon cycle circles, and conforming to the male mold in, well, everything. We talked with Holly for quite a while, but were giving you the ‘best from the rest’ in Part 2 of The Pill.
You can read more about moon circles in the LA Times: 'Moon circles' give modern women an ancient way to connect
You can also read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler, MPH:
The music in this episode was composed by:
Aleks Evanguelidi: I don't want to take the pill. However, something tells me, I'm taking the pill!
Patti Quintero: Where are we finding most resistance?
Holly Grigg-Spall: If you say I'm better at detailed work in my third week of my cycle, and I'm better at coming up with amazing ideas in my first week of my cycle, if you start talking about that they're like, oh okay. Can we trust you?
Patti Quintero: Welcome to Under The Hood. I'm Patti and today I'm here with Chelsea Levy, our executive producer.
Chelsea Levy: Alex got called to a birth today, so I'm filling in. In this episode, we're continuing our conversation with Holly Grigg Spall, author of Sweetening The Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control. So if you haven't listened to Part 1 of this conversation, go back and give it a listen, because we're diving in a little bit deeper with her today.
Patti Quintero: And to be really clear on this episode, We are not telling you not to take the pill. But we are really pro information that helps us make informed choices that work for us individually.
Chelsea Levy: Our sole mission on Under The Hood is to shine a light on the things that have been left in the dark or really more accurately the things that we've been left in the dark on, for a little too long. What we're advocating for here is informed consent in every area of our health.
Patti Quintero: And a few things to take note of is that Holly mentions the concept of menstruation as the fifth vital sign. We'll be touching on this really important topic later in the season. We also mention moon cycles in this episode. So if you're not familiar with them, they are a fairly recent trend based on ancient tradition of women gathering based around the lunar cycle. We'll include a related article in the show notes of this episode.
Patti Quintero: Also if you find yourself wondering who said what, there are full transcripts of all our episodes on our web site at under the hood podcast dot com.
Patti Quintero: We could have talked to Holly for hours and we really almost did. But what we've included here is what we think is most important, what is most often neglected, and we really pulled the best of the rest. We're starting things off today with Holly's thoughts on what's been coined as the pro period movement and how it might help in providing more information to women about their cycles. Let's take a listen.
Holly Grigg-Spall: NPR called 2016 The Year of the period. I wrote a piece for Alanis Morissette blog about what she liked to call, which I thought was great, the pro period movement. Which is interesting because it's actually not that pro period a lot of the time. Actually kinda anti-period just rebranded.
Patti Quintero: Tell us a little about that.
Holly Grigg-Spall: It's important to know that a lot of the time talking about the pill is not a part of it, in the same way that often talking about menstrual cycle health is not a part of it. It's all about no shame, which is fantastic. Talking openly about the fact you have your period, which is fantastic. Often 98 percent of the time talking about how horrible it is to have periods, which has value in itself. Absolutely.
Holly Grigg-Spall: But the health element of it is left out which means absolutely the hormonal contraceptive element is left out because it is a very difficult issue in the US to discuss and it is purposely left out. So when they are talking about period pride and period positivity, a lot of the time the women aren't having periods, they're having withdrawal bleeds that they've medicated year in year out since they were a teenager and nobody wants to really look at that and they're often doing it for, either they're scared of coming off because most recently a conversation I had was because the woman was scared of gaining weight too and that was literally what was keeping her on it despite the fact that she knew that it was causing her a lot of really bad mental health side effects.
Holly Grigg-Spall: Or they're staying on it because they don't know about alternatives, or because they want the convenience of it. They need the convenience of it. And again that's not a judgment on my part despite the fact that they're espousing this period pride and sort of talking about you know undoing the taboo and things like this of the menstrual taboo and the shame, they still need to exist in a world that expects them to do certain things and be a certain way, right? And they feel that they can only do that if they are actually taking the pill and controlling their cycle. It's kind of ironic. And it also just means that we are only really ever having kind of half the conversation at any one time.
Holly Grigg-Spall: You know I've been on and off member of the Society for menstrual cycle research for a long time. And they've got great people like Chris Bobel and Elizabeth Kissling have been doing work around like the taboo and shame for a long time integrating health and integrating the concept of menstrual cycle as the fifth vital sign. Talking about withdrawal bleeds and the pill etc. But the newer thing that's going on which often is related to product, is also coming out of social media sharing and it's transparency yeah it's not folding in much of this conversation. And at some point I think it will but it isn't doing it now.
Holly Grigg-Spall: So we focus on the period and we don't talk about the menstrual cycle or we'll often hear you often hear like women think menstrual cycle means your period. So whatever's going on the rest of those days is not discussed, especially not ovulation, because women are encouraged to not ovulate until they are ready to have a child. And so you know we don't talk about the other side of that which is the other half of the cycle which is the reason you have your period, it's the thing that drives your cycle. The thing that creates the hormones and we don't talk about that at all. So yeah so we've got a long way to go.
Patti Quintero: So it's almost like it looks pretty on the outside with moon cycles and you know all the add ons that are meant to kind of help us empower that expression but we're missing the link of - is it really happening if you are on these modifiers.
Holly Grigg-Spall: Oh yeah I agree and I think the problem there is that light with the moon cycles stuff and the connection to the moon and all that thing that's coming out now that we I think was invented in L.A. and then passed on to the rest of the world essentially, is that they just they don't talk about it.
Holly Grigg-Spall: So I would bet a lot of the women running the moon cycle circles etc don't probably take the pill, but they're never going to talk about it. You know I meet a lot of women in that world who have never been on the pill. They were brought up a different way. Their mothers didn't believe in it or whatever has happened along that way. But the problem there is that they just don't talk about it.
Holly Grigg-Spall: We have a real problem in our society where we're very fearful of the idea of judging other people's choices, and it's very hard to have a conversation where people don't think oh you're judging my choices. So we can't talk about whether you remove your body hair or not, without people thinking you're judging their choices. Of course that's because we live in the U.S. and Americans, the culture is very much about self direction and individualism and being self-made and self created and God forbid literally you ever suggest to anyone that anything impinges on the choices they make, like society, capitalism, culture they don't want, nobody wants to hear that we all want to think that we're very intelligent and above all that and we make all our own decisions all the time.
Holly Grigg-Spall: So it makes it very difficult to have any conversation about anything that women have had to choose to do and I often start those conversations myself by saying, I was on the pill for ten years because it diffuses what can happen, which is that you get this defensiveness and sense of shame and sense of being judged and criticized. So I'm like, let's get past that I do go for ten years I'm not, I don't think there's anything about you for taking it. How does it make you feel.
Chelsea Levy: So I think what Holly is asking sounds really simple right? Why don't we just ask ourselves how does this make me feel. But that becomes a really difficult question when we haven't really been conditioned to know ourselves.
Patti Quintero: How can we really understand how we're going to feel at different stages, how you know the beginning of the cycle, end of the cycle, middle of the cycle. This really changes how we exercise, how we feel, what we do, what we, eat our sleeping patterns. We've spent a lot of time fitting ourselves into this specific mold that maybe doesn't even match our internal clock, or what our body is biologically speaking to us. Maybe there is this fear of exposing our femaleness or how that's going to be seen on the outside of or actually honoring those internal messages. Maybe even just making us learn to ignore it.
Holly Grigg-Spall: It doesn't just come down to the individuals. Society is created around the male model. So I went just went to a wellness weekend, probably 70 percent women at this conference slash wellness weekend. Everything was still geared around the male model, which means that all the exercise classes and everything to do with fitness was pushed to the very early morning. And that is due to the fact that men's testosterone is at it's highest in the morning. So they should work out first thing in the morning. It's actually not advisable really for women to do that from a hormonal standpoint. Of course many women do and they're fine, but that actually is created around the male hormonal model.
Holly Grigg-Spall: All the things that we talked about, diet, fitness, how to lose weight, how to feel better, how to do yoga, how to do everything everything everything everything you talk about. All the research that backs up anything that you hear? 99 percent of it is only research coming from things and concepts and lifestyles and diets etc. that have all been tested only on male bodies, or using the male body as the ideal or the example.
Holly Grigg-Spall: And so from top down everything you could possibly think of, we have designed around the daily cycle, hormone cycle of men. The seasonal cycle. And we have nothing around the menstrual cycle at all. So we know that we have, I talk about my book, like uniform productivity demands that we're always productive to the same degree every single day, in the same way. Or you know how many tech companies do my friends work for have meetings at 7 o'clock in the morning, like two hour meetings from seven o'clock in the morning. Why? Because all the men are massively high off testosterone and like, that's their time to shine basically. So everything is designed around that. So it's not just women and their connection to their bodies individually and how we feel about our bodies, although yeah of course that is important and especially if you work with women. That's where you're going to make an impact. But yeah, I mean it's society level you know, and that's often why, like I was saying before like women taking the pill because there's a certain expectation.
Holly Grigg-Spall: And taking the pill helps you meet that expectation which you know as far as society is concerned. To me it didn't help me meet it at all. I couldn't write, I couldn't go to work, I couldn't be productive, I couldn't think clearly I had brain fog, I wasn't creative. I found it hard to write one paragraph. I had no energy, I had you know I had a lot of ways it hampered me in my life. But the teaching is that it will help you because you won't have your period. You won't have your hormones and you won't be hormonal and you won't be changeable and you won't be shifting and you just be the same.
Aleks Evanguelidi: So imagine if you are you even if you are experiencing all of these rises and peaks of what would be considered typical and of course everybody's different there really are no carbon copy hormonal cycles. Obviously that's what the pill is trying to induce for women. But in a woman who's now owning all of her hormones and experiencing the tides and the fluctuations and you kind of put her now in this contemporary setting of this third wave of feminism, right, that we're experiencing which is this freedom, the sexual freedom and that's really what it was about. It's like I want to have all of me in this experience of sexual expression with my partners. We're finally able to have an experience that's unbridled. What's possible now inside of this context? You know when we are no longer regulated. What is possible in learning about our cycle and understanding it? Are we now capable as a organized chaotic group of women to supersede our potential as seen in the past?
Holly Grigg-Spall: I think that's why it's kept from us. Absolutely. I mean obviously if it wasn't a powerful thing to know or a powerful thing to experience, then we'd all know it and experience it already, because it wouldn't matter, right? But that's why things are suppressed and that's why knowledge is suppressed because it is powerful. So for me I talk about the intuitiveness of being in touch with your hormonal cycle in terms of everything from your libido to your energy levels to your desire to be social or not social to the kind of work I prefer to do at different points in my cycle. So the things I'm better at at different points in my cycle. And that has always been difficult to talk about for women because we always feel quite rightly in some ways that discussing how different we are will be used against us. So if you say, well my experience is this it's this and you know I do have changing hormones and I do feel differently. Week to week can I am better at detailed work on my third week of my cycle, and I'm better at coming up with amazing ideas on my first week of my cycle. Like if you start talking about that, they're like oh okay, what does that mean then, does that. Can we trust you? You're not the same all the time?
Holly Grigg-Spall: Of course men are not the same all the time. Donald Trump up at three o'clock in the morning because his testosterone is going nuts. And he's like just tweeting away, being a big egotist, and then probably by 6:00 o'clock he has a big slump and goes to sleep and has a nap and you know like they're changeable too.
Holly Grigg-Spall: But the idea is that they're not. And that we are. And so admitting that he's become like a difficult thing, because it's seen as a weakness to be changeable. And so then when you do say it then it's like oh okay now that's going to be used against us. So like oh god was it when Hillary's first campaign, Hillary Clinton's first campaign, where there was this study that came out that said women change their voting habits based on where they are in their cycle. Like your political standing would change whether you were ovulating or premenstrual. Like that's what it can be like.
Chelsea Levy: Ugh, I remember it when we recorded this. I could feel my heart beating a little bit faster. Little beads of sweat on my forehead, the frustration rising. It just feels like this association between "female" and "weak" is so contrived and systemic. And really if I think about it for too long it just makes me depressed. But I think I'd rather get angry, and maybe teach my own daughter to know better than that. And not just teach her but show her.
Patti Quintero: Yeah and I mean that's part of the mission of Under The Hood. How do we figure out a way to uncover the narratives that go way back to the first conversations that we're having with our daughters and with our sons so that we can shift this paradigm. And speaking of the next generation we touched briefly on the environmental effects of the pill. We'll pick back up here.
Aleks Evanguelidi: Something that's been interesting and curious to me and I saw you touch on it in your book. And I'm sure now since writing you've probably gotten a lot more feedback but the pharmacological pollution. So I don't want to take the pill right now. However something tells me, I'm taking the pill! There's a lot going on with phyto estrogens with the chemicals in the environment. However based on just dipping your toe in the research what have you found.
Holly Grigg-Spall: Yeah I actually was at the UCLA conference last year. Oh it had a fantastic name, the conference by I can't remember what it was, which was all about endocrine disruptors in terms of scents. So artificial scents used in our environments, but also chemicals from carpets and paints and various things. And the guy who did that original research into the androgyny in frogs– not androgyny – seeing them change sex essentially, through chemical exposure. He gave a presentation and you know I in my lunch break was like talking to a few people, but I wanted to say you know I've been here for half the day now and you're talking about what's in the carpet, like the air freshener, the perfume everything. Nobody is talking about the pill. Nobody was even mentioning the pill and they're like, well yes but we're talking about endocrine disruptors that we don't willingly expose ourselves to.
Patti Quintero: Right.
Holly Grigg-Spall: But of course women don't willingly expose themselves to the pill as an endocrine disruptor because we don't even know it's an endocrine disruptor. So nobody's willingly taking it going, oh I'm using natural shampoo and natural soap and natural makeup and not using synthetic scents and I'm using essential oils instead of perfume. Nobody's doing that and then going oh yes but I'm swallowing my daily endocrine disruptor.
Patti Quintero: Right.
Holly Grigg-Spall: It's not wide knowledge. So I think it's difficult and I do talk about a little bit in my book and I have a good friend Laura Elridge who I think I quote in regards to environmental endocrine disruptors. There of course is a lot of things in our waterways. Painkillers antidepressants SSRI's, there's a lot of things in there. And of course again saying that the pill is in there, and focusing on that, is unfortunately always going to turn negatively against women, because we're the ones taking it right that's our problem.
Holly Grigg-Spall: So yeah I think there's a lot of things to worry about what's in our environment. But I think what's more interesting is that many of us are very much actively trying to avoid endocrine disruptors in many areas of our lives. Knowing that conventional nail varnish is something we should avoid, receipts is something we should avoid, we know now. But we don't talk about the pill.
Patti Quintero: I agree. I Think there is so much emphasis now on foods genetically modified foods like you said, what's in our plastics, in our containers that we're storing food in? But that's not something that's mentioned that often.
Holly Grigg-Spall: No. And I think you know especially the people that you and I and we all are friends with and hang out with are pretty aware read ingredients labels and there's a lot of kind of consciousness of that. But yeah, often quite understandably the pill is the last thing on the list. You know I attend a lot of health wellness conferences these days for a variety of reasons, and I'm always like the sort of the one sat at the table being like, hey what about this?
Patti Quintero: So the question is where we finding most resistance here?
Holly Grigg-Spall: The resistance is coming from that it's a political hot potato. And the way that it is contextualized in the U.S. especially in terms of access in terms of government deciding whether women should or should not have access. That really overrides all conversation. So the idea that you would talk about it critically as medical or health issue is really like very secondary or even better is actually just preferred to be you know suppressed and ignored because that could potentially perhaps prevent us from continuing to have access. Which is very fair.
Holly Grigg-Spall: Because when Donald Trump was elected within about two weeks on Rachel Maddow she had a piece all about Breitbart right? And one of the crazy Breitbart articles that was presented in Rachel Maddow was an article that had the headline, The pill makes women crazy. Guesst what I've been arguing for years. But I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Breitbart reader. So there's always in this conversation you have to contend with the fact that yes, people who want to control women, who are essentially anti sex and definitely anti women, don't like the pill because they do see it as liberating and sexually liberating especially, and encouraging sex and all these things right. And we still live in a culture that in the U.S. is you know, you have a lot of people who grow up in an environment where their sex is seen as shameful. You don't talk about it and it's dirty. So there's a whole mess of stuff going on there that kind of means that it's like the thing you don't bring up because it's too much to talk about. It's too much to fight through.
Holly Grigg-Spall: And the idea is that as a liberal intellectual independent-living person, you choose not to do that because you think it's going to.
Patti Quintero: Take away your right.
Holly Grigg-Spall: Yes eventually. Yes exactly. So if you were if so if we all started saying, yeah actually you know it does have these terrible side effects they'd go OK well you don't need it then do you. It's complicated.
Patti Quintero: It is complicated. So if I'm realizing hormonal birth control is not for me, what are my options for not getting pregnant?
Chelsea Levy: This definitely is a huge topic to cover, and it's one we're going to leave for a future episode. But in the meantime, you can check out our show notes for more resources on fertility tracking and getting to know your cycle.
Holly Grigg-Spall: For more information on a Holly Grigg-Spall, an updates on the upcoming documentary inspired by her book, you can head to her Web site sweetening the pill dot com. You can also follow her on Instagram at Holly dot Grigg Spall and Twitter at Holly Grigg-Spall all one word. And if there's something that you're curious about or that you think that we should be sharing on under the hood please head over to our Web site. Under the Hood podcast dot com and send us your thoughts.
Chelsea Levy: To stay up to date on all our new episodes and upcoming events. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram at under the hood underscore podcast.
Patti Quintero: A big thank you to our executive producer Chelsea Levy, to our producer Jennie Josephson. We will see you next time.