Volume 26, Issue 1, Spring 2012
Competing Social Norms
Why Women Are Responsible For, But Not Trusted with, Contraception
A necessary component to reproductive autonomy is being trusted to make reproductive decisions. In the case of contraception, however, women are considered both trustworthy and untrustworthy. Women are held responsible for contraception and because responsibility usually stems from trust, it appears that women are trusted with contraception. Yet myriad laws and forms of surveillance and normalization surrounding contraception make women seem untrustworthy. Relying on Amy Mullin’s conception of trust that we trust those who we assume believe in the same social norms we do, I argue that this tension results from two competing social norms. One norm governing contraception is that people should be self-sacrificing, a norm with which most women align due to traditional gender roles. However, there is a norm that women are irrational in general as well as in contraceptive matters and consequently should not be trusted to use contraception. In order to combat both these norms, I make concrete recommendations for increasing knowledge of contraception, normalizing its use, and trusting both women and men with it.