Fifty years ago the Pill changed everything, including the movies
A quick glance at the summer release schedule points up this anomaly: The hot franchise movies this year are mostly chick flicks — “Sex and the City 2″ and the new “Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”“Iron Man” is about to start clanking but, except for him, the studios have temporarily run of out superheroes. Unless you reach for the likes of “Jonah Hex” or “Marmaduke” (he’s a dog). Thus the girls may be dragging their boyfriends to date movies this summer that are a lot daintier than last summer’s “The Hangover.” Besides choosing the movies, the women may also be picking up the tab, which seems appropriate since more women are working than guys and they’re calling the shots in more offices. (When they’re not, they’re filing suit — witness the mega-case charging a guy-bias at Walmart.) There’s a certain inevitability about all this since this month marks the 50th anniversary of the birth-control pill, a momentous innovation that changed the relations between the sexes in unexpected ways. The Pill celebrated the sexual liberation of women, but 50 years later it has also ushered in an era in which women are paying the bills, delaying the babies and also looking after the sputtering ids and egos of their guys, most of whom have been laid off or never had a job to begin with. It’s a fascinating trade-off: Controlling your reproductivity means increasing your productivity. The first few years of post-Pill America were a time of hubris. Women rejoiced in their sexual freedom and the boys did all they could to help. Businesses started hiring more women because they knew their new recruits wouldn’t automatically start having babies. Women got the message: In the 1970s alone the percentage of women in law schools soared from 10% to 36%. A couple of generations later, however, society is at once more liberated and more repressed. Conservatives and evangelicals have decided that contraception weakens the marital bond by separating sex from procreation. Thus in Sarah Palin’s America, young people aren’t supposed to talk about sex, just engage in it. The subtext of every church scandal or political scandal (Ensign, Edwards, Sanford, Spitzer) is always sex. Meanwhile marital bonds have weakened, not because of the Pill (the only relevant pill these days is Viagra) but because couples live too goddamn long. The inventors of marriage were thinking of short-lived peasants, not 90-year-old geriatrics. The action at the box office this summer hence will provide an appropriate metaphor for society’s contradictions. The girls will try to convince their boyfriends that the multiple wardrobe changes in “Sex and the City 2″ comprise compelling dramaturgy (varicose verite instead of cinema verite) and that homoerotic vampires are more intriguing than the cast of “The Dark Knight.” Their dates may even listen. After all, the girls will be paying for the tickets and likely buying supper afterwards. Fifty years after the Pill, society is giving off very mixed signals. Sexual freedom was supposed to bring enlightenment. I actually believed that. What was I smoking?