Work in the Precarious Economy   /   Spring 2016   /    Notes And Comments

Pink Pills and Economic Man

Joseph E. Davis

In his 1982 book Gender, the social critic Ivan Illich made the provocative argument that the prevailing social and economic order, structured as an association of possessive individuals competing for scarce resources (i.e., the Homo economicus of economic theory), creates uniform and interchangeable men and women, who are believed to “perceive the same reality, and have, with some minor cosmetic variations, the same needs.” A system of unhindered economic competition and commodification, he maintained, requires a “genderless sexuality” in which men and women largely say, do, desire, and perceive “the same thing.”

Just such a deep presumption of basic sameness underlay the recent and aggressive political campaign to win Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a drug—now commonly referred to as the “pink pill”—to treat “sexual dysfunction” in women. The pressure campaign, “Even the Score,” was orchestrated by a pharmaceutical company with a lackluster product—flibanserin—but the vigorous support of twenty-six organizations, from the National Organization for Women and the National Council of Women’s Organizations to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. The pro−pink pill forces claimed that it was “sexist” that men had drugs to treat sexual dysfunction while women did not. It was high time, they argued, that the FDA level the playing field by approving flibanserin, the availability of which would provide some small restitution for decades of prioritizing “men’s sexual dysfunction…over women’s.” Pressing this demand were members of Congress, 60,000 signatories to a petition, compensated thought leaders from the academy and industry, and powerful lobbyists working on behalf of Even the Score.

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