After the scientific revolution, we were given the means to shape nature in our own image. After the sexual revolution, we were permitted freedom of what to do in the bedroom (and elsewhere). One single invention, an intersection of both worlds, has done more to reknit the warp and weft of human interaction than any other. Not the vaccine nor the automobile – no, it was the contraceptive pill. The contraceptive pill was the great equaliser. Without it, women’s mass entry into the workplace – indeed, into public life – would have been almost impossible, for it permitted the female sexual desire to manifest with as little consequence as that of men.
It was never the intellect, will, or talents of womanhood that were the sources of sexual inequality; it was biology. Reproductive biology, at that. One sex bore the consequences of intimacy for many months; the other, many minutes. Even the exalted Queens of old remained passive in private chambers when an heir was desired; their public functions superseded by a duty to reproduce. The divine right of queens gave them riches and power, but not reproductive control. Eliminate all reproductive differences between the sexes, eliminate almost all meaningful differences between them at all. To a great extent, the contraceptive pill did just that.
Equality was achieved, but equality entails a sense of grey. A certain paucity of meaning. An age of science can cope with grey, for science does not require evaluation, only understanding. It does not require colour, variety and awe. But grey is not a state in which the human condition can exist for long. Perhaps, it is something primitive – perhaps, it is a consequence of consciousness itself – but humans require more than understanding. They require meaning. Life without meaning is as fire without heat. It is not worth sustaining for long.
As is so common in history, it was an ‘insider’ who eventually brought warmth and colour to this grey fire. A scientist, later known under the pseudonym ‘Pandora’, made enhancements to the contraceptive pill that proved hugely popular. Within her lifetime, she had inspired a movement. It was not quite a religion, nor a cult. It was something new, perhaps hitherto unknown. It was as mystical as any religion, as compelling as any cult, but had a foundation in modern science. It provided the antidote to the daily grey. Using the rhetoric of religion but language that was familiar to daily life, the growth of the movement was exponential. It promised radical freedom, self-realisation and euphoria – all in scientific terms. Digital networks soon promulgated these ideas together with the knowledge of the pill among those who most craved a sense of existential meaning: adolescent women.
Pandora’s enhanced pill was not only free from the adverse side effects associated with previous versions. It also enhanced the sensitivity of erogenous zones and slowed the skin’s ageing process. While remarkable, of course, these were of little concern when compared with what made Pandora the icon she became. Her contraceptive pill, if used for sustained periods between puberty and sexual maturity, caused fundamental changes to the way that ovaries produced eggs. After cessation of use, eggs produced could only develop into the female sex. An entire generation of women, tempted by a desire for youth and sexual stimulation without consequence, went on to produce a generation that was entirely women.
The movement was led by a group of activists for the pill’s use. They called themselves the Lemnites, in homage to the women of the Island of Lemnos who, according to ancient myth, slaughtered the Island’s entire male population. To most the origins of this name was not known. The Lemnites gifted Pandora with her mythical epithet: ‘the First True Female’. Their influence was not only cultural but political. They fielded candidates for elections and while initially they seldom won positions, their presence was formidable enough that well-established candidates adapted their policies to appease demands. Their initial demands being appeased, they only became more radical, and what once seemed unthinkable became commonplace. Such demands were abetted by a cultural environment already sympathetic to the empowerment of women and the denigration of men. The seeds of inversion were long germinating.
Until the 20th Century, men had been dominant physically, socially, and politically. However, the trajectory of progress did not stop once it had reached its purported destination of equality. The female flower, once reaching the height of its male counterpart, continued to grow, blocking the sunlight from those below it. Pandora’s pill arrived just at the point of equilibrium. It provided progress in excess. The once-dominant sex became the cultural inferiors – a disposable imitation of the fairer sex. Eve, rather than an appendix to Adam, was now considered his improvement. As a non-violent means of subordination, the new contraceptive pill was embraced with recklessness, if not levity.
Conversely, a culture of shame developed towards girls who questioned the pill’s use. “How could you not support the empowerment of women?” they would be admonished by their peers. Whereas the extinction of men was a meaningless joke; the failure to take the pill became a serious moral failure. Far from seeming a radical goal that would fundamentally change the world forevermore, the so-called ‘End of Men’ was unquestioned. The Lemnites projected into the popular imagination a vision of female superiority. It was a social ideal, ‘The Great Sisterhood’, where women lived in harmony – free from the ‘toxic’ influence of men. An ideal that was made possible by Pandora’s pill. This was the new meaning, the warmth, the colour that was given to humanity: the female utopia.
The pill, like Pandora, was given an honorific. It was ‘the Aphrodisiac’ – referring to its sexually stimulative effects and the pagan goddess, Aphrodite. She: the pinnacle of the female form, of female sexuality liberated. The mystical icons of an ancient religion were adopted for political purposes. One could not enter a shopping centre, tattoo parlour, or private home without encountering iconography of Aphrodite, Eve, or Pandora in some form. Somehow, this managed to give the movement a veneer of profound significance. In the void of grey, sympathy was even kindled among those who had previously chided religions as foolish. ‘Well, the symbolism is a bit much – but it is just symbolism, after all. There must be something to it else people wouldn’t be so passionate. And it all started with scientific discovery, you know. Not like those other religions.’
Whether Pandora herself intended such a consequence is unknown. She was vilified by many and deified by many more. It mattered not which side argued with more force or credulity, for the impact was already felt. Pandora’s pillbox had been opened. Attempts to ban the use of the pill only made its usage more widespread – an object of prohibition is desired all the more. The government campaigns were not always dignified; persecuting teenage girls for trying to avoid pregnancy was not well received. It was frowned upon at best, seen as an authoritarian violation of rights at worst.
The methods of production were not hidden in any pharmaceutical company’s vault. They were published in multiple scientific journals and, hence, were widely available to those who wished to illicitly produce the pill. Pandora sought no patent. She wished for her discovery to be accessible to all who desired it. The black market in the pills resulting from their prohibition inevitably led to their contamination. There were cases of teenage girls being hospitalised from consumption of pills produced in unsanitary environments. The public pressure was ultimately too great; the confiscations futile. The prohibition ended.
Negligence cases were brought against Pandora, the doctors who prescribed her pill, manufacturers who produced it and even pharmacists who distributed it. Much deliberation was had, many hours were spent constructing powerful cases against them. All in vain. The hurdle was this: for Pandora to be liable, it had to be shown that she had caused harm to the people who used her pill. But this could not be demonstrated. In addition to the benefits, pill users could only give birth to female babies. No judge was willing to say that a newborn child was a source of harm simply because she was not male.
Thus history had been made and the direction of the future was determined. Opponents of the movement were resigned to bitter acceptance. They lost the ability to articulate their sense of loss. The men among them, in particular, were emotionally drained. Their fears and frustrations were repressed by a culture that surreptitiously encouraged their silence. Many developed a profound anxiety of the kind that can only be achieved by the contemplation of non-existence. Some men resorted to suicide. Not from misery, but a sense of purposelessness. More than once was this ridiculed as ‘simply accelerating the process’.
Most men, those less inclined to think long-term, were less affected. After all, daily life was largely unchanged. Life went on – until it did not. The slow decline of the male population could not be witnessed in real-time. The revolution was peaceful. No men were forcibly extracted from their homes. No men were made public examples of. The only possible sign would be a wry smile – a smile that betrayed amusement, or cruelty, or both. It could be the smile of a colleague, a waiter, even a lover. It was a smile reserved against those facing retribution. A smile against those who deserved their fate. A smile induced by the thought ‘you are not long for this world’.
Thus was the advent of the Age of Aphrodite. The Great Sisterhood was founded in increments. There was no foundational moment, but subtle shifts in culture. Nobody mandated the automobile, the personal computer or an internet connection, but ubiquitous they became. The End of Men came about with a series of individual choices that nobody truly chose. Each choice a drop of acid falling onto a sheet of blue litmus: at first, invisible; in time, entirely transformed to pink. Without any resistance to the change, the transformation is inevitable. What is more, to one pigment among millions without a perspective of the whole, the incremental changes pass all but unnoticed.
As the keen-eyed have no doubt observed, there was a fundamental flaw in The Great Sisterhood. As with all planned societies, the unintended consequences were what threatened its very existence. Pandora’s pill ensured that women would only give birth to females. Yet, the need for male participation in conception remained. Although a ‘miracle of science’, the pill could not rewrite reality. Women were not now asexual – they could not reproduce without men. The End of Men would bring about the End of Women if the Great Sisterhood were fully realised.
The Lemnites endured for many generations and saw their vision of reality unfold almost entirely – but not quite. As creators of the future, they were afforded political positions almost without question. They had the power to ensure that the reputation of their cause was not tarnished, both through propaganda and policy. Their semi-religious status meant that those who questioned the Lemnites were considered blasphemous. As with all political movements based on division and subordination, there was one truth for the public and another for the highest ranking members. One public ‘truth’ was that another miracle had been managed. They claimed to be able to reproduce sperm cells without a human body. Lab-grown sperm, as it was called.
The truth was that the few men left alive at the ‘founding’ of The Great Sisterhood were induced into a kind of sexual servitude. No compulsion was required – none had enough self-esteem left to refuse. They were quarantined in a secret location and required to donate their sperm regularly. This would be stored for future use. Every year, when women reached the age of maturity (which, in The Great Sisterhood, was considered twenty-one), they would undergo the impregnation ceremony. Motherhood, the essence of femininity, was a rite of passage. They would use the ‘lab-grown’ sperm for auto-insemination. Thus, a new generation of women was created (in nine month’s time). One man alone would be the genetic parent of thousands.
Another necessary untruth spread by the Lemnites was the perfection of The Aphrodisiac. As with any drug, it was not effective every single time. The constitution of roughly one in fifty thousand women was such that they were resistant to the female-sex effect. Mothers so constituted had their male children immediately removed without the mother’s knowledge of its sex. They would be informed that, due to unforeseen consequences beyond anyone’s control, the baby had not survived. The baby would be taken to the male quarantine zone and raised apart from society. After puberty, he would be expected to perform the same service as the other servile men. Thus the male underclass was sustained. It was, of course, not guaranteed that a male would be born. The future of civilisation rested on mere chance – and it was a chance those in power took for the sake of the cause. But Chance, herself the daughter of Aphrodite, does not always behave as intended. It was believed by the Lemnites that they had successfully isolated every single male born into The Great Sisterhood. This was yet another untruth. All except one.