Monday, July 23, 2007

The Period of Choice

[Cross-posted from] --

Very soon in pharmacies across the country, the contraceptive Lybrel will become available to those women with a prescription. Instead of menstruating once a month, as with traditional oral contraceptives, or once every three months, as with the more recent Seasonale and Seasonique, women will be able to eliminate menstruation altogether.

Wyeth hails Lybrel as the great liberalizer (hence the name). Advertising from the manufacturer stresses the drug's practical benefits -- less time off from work, higher productivity, and healthier relationships.

Unfortunately, this marketing strategy has created a backlash in a community of women still reeling from the Supreme Court's most recent holding on abortion. Instead of framing the decision to use Lybrel as one of choice, the marketing campaign has been accused of being paternalistic ("use it because it will be better for your husband or your boss"). Whether or not the marketing team was composed of more men than women is unknown, but the consensus is that the advertisements indeed emphasize how wonderful Lybrel is for those surrounding the woman, as opposed to the woman herself.

Ever since the advent of the pill feminists have been concerned with the implications of treating menstruation as a disease as opposed to a natural occurrence. By characterizing the process as an ailment in need of treatment, such drugs only further enforce the view that a woman's body needs to be "controlled." At the same time, the multi-million dollar industry clearly indicates many women see the personal benefits of regulating menstruation, particularly those women who suffer from severe premenstrual syndrome.

So what's savvy Big Pharma to do? Focus on the benefits Lybrel will have for the woman on a personal level. Not only will this strategy serve the useful function of informing potential patients, but it will also emphasize what many women feel is threatened today - choice.

-Roopali Malhotra

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