The gender bias of family planning
Gender bias is an issue that directly impacts everyone on the gender spectrum. We’ve seen it, and most of us have experienced it. When it comes to contraception, childbearing and child-rearing there’s a clear and obvious bias in the way we view the role of gender; they are two areas that remain relatively unchallenged on the equality front.
Two thirds of Australian women aged 18 to 49 either use some method of temporary contraception, or have permanent contraceptive protection. This data is gathered from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The release is titled “Family Formation: Family Planning.” It’s nearly two and half thousand words long, and yet not a single one of those words is “men”; despite containing data about the planning and spacing of children, there’s no mention of men or their role in planning a family. This is because we, as a society, still see family planning as the remit of women.
As a national not-for-profit provider of abortion and contraception care, we are uniquely placed to observe gendered biases in action when it comes to sex and pregnancy. We see women blamed and shamed for seeking an abortion, but rarely if ever do we hear people calling for equal accountability from the partner who was part of the conception. Women seeking abortions are overwhelmingly paying for the procedure themselves, again, despite the fact that at some point someone else was involved in necessitating the procedure. Even the more liberal minded among us will see an abortion as a woman’s financial, physical and emotional responsibility since she is the one who can become pregnant and therefore needs to deal with the consequences.
The responsibility for contraception falls predominantly on the shoulders of women. Since the advent of the pill society has developed a large number of alternative contraception methods, all focusing on preventing pregnancy in women. The options for men, however, still remain limited. Even the most effective contraceptive method available to men, the vasectomy, has remarkably low uptake (less than 10% in Australia).
The antiquated attitude of responsibility when it comes to contraception and pregnancy is a form of socialised gender bias. Ultimately we need to accept that contraception and prevention of unplanned pregnancies is the remit of both women AND men.
We need to seriously question how gender roles are represented in the media, our workplaces, and by our politicians. By taking a good hard look at gender representation and traditionally assigned roles and questioning their fairness and equity, we can take a step towards addressing gender biases like the inequality we find in contraception responsibility.
To see more about gender bias, and how it is present in the media we consume, check out Marie Stopes Australia’s Gender Bias Bingo game.