Why Boots refusing to reduce contraception cost really is a big deal
The recent outcry regarding the continued high cost of emergency contraception at Boots may, on the surface, seem overstated. Sexual health clinics offer the morning after pill for free, and if that isn’t accessible, other high street stores like Superdrug offer the pill for a cheaper price. However, despite these options being available, Boots cited inappropriate use and potential complaints about the service as reasons to keep the cost at an astronomical £28.25. This is ludicrous, and their attitude tells us a lot about prejudices which remain in the mainstream of our society.
By suggesting that women are unable to use the product appropriately, Boots is forcing a position which allows it to control the sex life of women and take the moral high-ground against women using the product. The message portrayed assumes that women are using the morning after pill like sweeties, taking it after every sexual encounter as a casual form of contraception. As a woman, I can assure you that it is not something women want to take, especially on a regular basis. No woman wants to head to a pharmacy or clinic and have someone look down their nose at you for needing the MAP in the first place, pay a small fortune and then still be concerned about the risk of pregnancy.
The narrative that the product remains expensive due to backlash they have faced for selling it tells even more of a story. It demonstrates how possessing a positive and moral image is more important for Boots than providing a vital service for women, their biggest target market.
Much greater than this issue itself, is the wider implication of continued attempts to police female sexuality. You need only look to social media for blatant examples of sexism. Jess Phillips MP, who chairs the Women’s PLP, received an email entitled ‘you sound a real slag’ after penning a letter criticising Boots and tweeting an endorsement of smear tests. Addressing a woman who chooses to have multiple sexual partners in this way is calculated in order to harm and humiliate her for her behaviour. Such insults are a demonstration of male discomfort with women’s sexual freedom, despite setting entirely different standards for themselves.
It is not just men who police women’s sexuality either. Women police themselves and others due to the internalised misogyny they now hold. I have met women who will not have sex as they think it will make them less attractive, or will not dress in a certain way due to fears of their boyfriend’s disapproval. Looking for proof? Internalised misogyny is walking into a Boots and seeing packs of condoms on display 3 for 2 while standing in line in shame for the MAP before paying £30 for it (this could well be someone’s weekly food budget.)
The refusal by Boots to lower the cost of emergency contraception is so much more than it appears. It shows us all clearly that people are still uncomfortable with female sexuality, and that women are deemed incapable of taking their sex life into their own hands. The sexual abuse targeted towards women both online and in real life demonstrates the attempted censorship of, but also disgust surrounding women who are sexually liberated. When large high street brands such as Boots fail to take this into account, or identify emergency contraception as a vital product, it is clear that complete sexual liberation for women is a long way off.