The Vagina Apocalypse

The Vagina Apocalypse

Kate Rich (University of Texas, Austin, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3187-7.ch006
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Intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been the subject of contentious debate on all sides of the political spectrum. In response, many have created various IUD-related texts that are not only controversial, but allude to apocalyptic themes. Apocalyptic discourse has previously been studied in relation to religion, mass media, the environment, and masculinity. The feminist or even feminine style apocalypse, however, has yet to be explored. Widespread feminist movements use the apocalyptic genre to communicate dystopian urgency about women's reproductive rights. Simultaneously, alternative medicine movements are a source of persuasive texts that both co-opt feminist themes while making use of apocalyptic genre to deter women from certain birth control methods. This chapter analyzes feminist texts in the alternative medicine movement through the Instagram accounts positioned against IUDs to evidence how the feminist apocalyptic genre functions. Greater implications for apocalyptic genre, medical discourse, and feminist symbolism will be addressed.
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The end is near for vaginas. Or perhaps it is already here. From exclusive sex education curriculum (Harrison-Quintana & Patterson, 2019) to the nearly constant assault on reproductive rights (Guyette, 2019), female anatomy struggles for complete autonomy. In this perpetual state of fear and uncertainty, a controversial object has risen: the intrauterine device (IUD). This long-term form of birth control has been at the center of what I deem a feminist apocalypse.

Since the Trump administration was elected to office, IUD insertions have increased by 21.6%. Some have speculated that this significant jump could be attributed to urgent discourse about long-term contraception being aimed at white middle-class women (Caron, 2019; Pace, Dusetzina, Murray, & Keating, 2019). Starting in 2016, headlines like “Get an IUD Before It’s Too Late” continue to emerge (Ryan, 2016). Globally, materials and protests pushing for reproductive rights allude to feminist dystopian fiction. This includes Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, now a popular series on the Hulu streaming network (Beaumont & Holpuch, 2018).

These compelling cultural and rhetorical moments continue to hold salience in American society, especially after strict antiabortion laws were imposed in Alabama (Parham, 2019). The resulting panic and ominous tone toward reproductive rights can only be described as apocalyptic given their allusions to impending doom.

The subfield of apocalyptic studies has yet to fully explore either how gender or sexuality functions in the genre or the genre’s implications for gender and sexuality. As a result, we are less equipped to identify instances where feminist and apocalyptic themes are simultaneously at play in various contexts. Representing womanhood as “in crisis” may have a profound impact on behavior, particularly how young women and perhaps people who do not identify as women make decisions about their reproductive health in the future.

The prochoice movement, however, is just one of many actors invoking a feminist apocalypse. Alternative medicine movements are also pushing their own version of an end of the world, or the uterus in this case, with feminist themes. For example, many alternative medicine social media accounts have been driving the narrative that IUDs cause a sickness referred to as copper toxicity. Copper toxicity is an excess of copper in the human body that prompts a wide range of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms. These digital spaces often express distrust towards doctors, tell users IUDs are poisoning their uteruses with high copper levels, and urge women to remove their IUDS. Investigative journalist, Scilla Alecci contends that those who preach copper toxicity tend to contradict medical advice and scientific research because “women who cannot find a scientific solution end up considering theories on nutrition and alternative treatments as a possible remedy to their psychological and physical distress” (2015).

Recent scientific research confirms that copper IUDs cannot bring about copper toxicity and that high levels of copper in women’s bodies usually predate their use of a copper IUD (Zhao, Liu, Sun, Hu, & Wang, 2017). To be fair, earlier versions of IUD birth control were extremely flawed, making it easier to convince some to distrust the current state of the device. In the early 1970’s, the first IUDs gave some women pelvic inflammatory disease, pain during sex, and high risks of pregnancies that ended in septic abortions (Couzin-Frankel, 2011). Additionally, women, especially those with nonwhite and disabled bodies, have a long and substantiated history of being discriminated against within medical institutions (Haraway, 1997). Birth control, in particular, has historically been used as a form of reproductive genocide against black women (Gould, 1984). This troubling history, when combined with a medical system that routinely reinforces structures of power, makes it understandably difficult for some women and people with female body parts to trust medical contraception (Foucault, 1973; Sifferlin, 2014). Even so, doulas, nonmedical companions who can facilitate reproductive matters for individuals without resorting to historically oppressive medical procedures, often hold similar views on copper IUD usage. For instance, one birth doula (Taylor, 2018) writes:

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