Last night, Samantha Bee, Cybill Shepherd, Dr. Ruth, Cosmopolitan's editor-in-chief, and a lot of rich people gathered to wish the Pill a happy 50th over steak and cocktails. It was pretty fun, especially when Samantha Bee laid into Cosmo.
"Cosmo, Cosmo," said Bee. "The GQ of the G-spot, the Newsweek of nookie, the Harper's of hitting it. The publisher of all the hard news that other magazines are afraid to touch. Like, 'The Dumbest Thing You Can Do To Your Boobs.' And 'Are You Enough Of A Bad Girl?' You're never going to see those in The Utne Reader." She continued, "I have to thank you for all your sage advice over the years. Like the ten things I can do pantsless this holiday season. And for giving me the okay to have sex outdoors!"
The gala was a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, the National Institute for Reproductive Health, and the Haitian family planning charity Profamil Haiti.
It was kind of a strange scene. There were two Real Housewives in attendance. And the cocktails were served with napkins that had jaunty little vintage illustrations, captioned things like "An attitude is a terrible thing to waste," "Has anyone seen my hormones?" and, "She thought of him fondly as 'Plan B.'" Enormous vintage Cosmopolitan covers decorated the room. ("Are You Neurotic? A Quiz.") An all-female a capella group performed an arrangement of "You Gotta Have Faith." Cybill Shepherd sang lines from "O Canada" and "The Times They Are A-Changing." The amazing Dr. Ruth Westheimer's clipped, Teutonic tones came over the P.A. to invite us all into the ballroom, because it was time for dinner. And for some reason, Kate White of Cosmopolitan was receiving an award.
Softening her approach, Bee also called Cosmo "a magazine that, in its way, is as political, as smart, as insightful, as any of the so-called serious news magazines" and "the first magazine to write about the Pill, and speak to the fact that single women, sometimes, actually, duh! — have sex. And not just have it. Like it. Enjoy it. Are disappointed when others aren't very good at it."
When White took the stage, she pointed out that in her twelve years at the publication, Cosmopolitan has covered the Pill 112 times. "I'm very proud of our efforts," she said. "When Helen Gurley Brown relaunched Cosmo in 1965, one of the cover lines on her first issue was, 'The New Pill That Promises To Make Women More Responsive.' She told me years later that she wanted the line to read, 'The New Pill That Promises To Make Women More Responsive In Bed,' but her boss made her change it. That guy probably rolled over in his grave when he saw me put the word 'Va-Jay-Jay' on the cover."
Every one of the speakers paid tribute to the Pill itself. Shepherd spoke very movingly about how grateful she was that, when she started having sex as a teenager in Tennessee, her mother took her to their family doctor, who wrote her a prescription for what turned out to be the Pill. (After asking about her sexual activity, he told her what he was giving her would make her periods regular.) "And I thank Dr. Nate Atherton for that," said the actress. Kate White said, "The Pill has given more women the freedom, the choices, and the chance to live the lives that they yearn for." Ms. co-founder and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin, accepting a lifetime achievement award on behalf of Gloria Steinem said the availability of the Pill was key to "the one freedom that precedes all others: the freedom to control one's own life."
"So here's to my tiny, daily dose of freedom," said Bee. "And also estrogen and progestin."
I do not actually take the Pill — non-hormonal birth control suits me better — but I, like more than 80% of American women, have used it for various periods. (Sorry — couldn't resist.) But as much as there is to find fault with as regards the pharmaceutical industry's approach to women's health and the scarcity of research dollars for sexual health, it's still true that the advent of the Pill has been foundational to many of the advances women have made in the past 50 years. "The right to decide for ourselves when and whether to have children," Steinem, who was at a speaking engagement in Canada, said in a pre-recorded video, "is the single greatest determinant of whether we are poor or not, whether we are healthy or not, whether we are educated or not, and whether we are able to be in the workforce outside the home or not."
Steinem also reminded the crowd that we have a long way to go. Which we do: But I'm glad women have the Pill in our arsenal just the same.