Girls and the Pill: Sex, Health and Managing the Self

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Smith, Lisa Ann




This thesis examines the place of the oral contraceptive pill within the context of girls as subjects in contemporary Canadian society. In many ways, discourses that associate pill use with choice, reproductive rights and increased control over the body for women are still prevalent today. Yet, there is an increased emphasis placed on autonomy, self-realization and empowerment, as well as the life-style benefits of the pill; further, young women, not women generally, are the target of campaigns that seek to encourage pill use. In attempting to examine the discourses that constitute young
women as subjects on the pill, I have brought together interviews with young women currently taking it and texts from the print news media, pharmaceutical advertising and public health communications. This thesis contributes to Foucault’s later work on ethics and care of the self and practices of freedom, which examines how government of the self occurs within the context of relationships with others. However, through engaging in a dialogue with post-structural feminist accounts of gender and the body, feminist studies of science and technology and recent work on emotional regulation and
emotion management, I consider the particular characteristics of subjects and the way that work on the self occurs on an ongoing basis in daily life. In this thesis I argue that young women are actively engaged in constituting ethical conduct, while at the same time the conduct of young women is shaped by various pill discourses. As such, in this thesis, I do not determine whether young women should or should not use the pill, nor do I establish the degree to which it enables or limits choice, reproductive rights and freedom. Instead, I am interested in how tensions surrounding the pill
produce ethical dilemmas that young women navigate on an ongoing basis.


Sociology - Theory and Methods
Women's Studies




Carleton University

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