Pill and Pen: Contraception and Unwanted Pregnancy in Global Literature and Popular Culture

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Friday, March 7, 2014 - 12:00am to Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 12:00am

The symposium explores the discourses of birth control in (recent) fiction and film from around the world as well as in artifacts of popular culture. It examines the way these questions are shaped imaginatively in different genres and attempts to view these discourses as expressions of social and cultural conflicts negotiated around the globe. The comparative and international perspective is a key aspect of the conference.

There will be two keynote lectures. 1. Shelley Chan on the Chinese one-child policy in the works of Nobel laureate Mo Yon. Chan is a Professor of Chinese Language and Cultural Studies at Wittenberg University. 2. Carl Djerassi on “The Rise and Demise of the Pill.” Djerassi is a world-renowned chemist, one of the “fathers of the Pill,” and author of “science in fiction.”

Attendance (no registration)

All presentations and lectures are free and open to students and the public.


Friday, March 7     2390  University Capitol Center

12:30-1:00 p.m.

Coffee and Tea

Welcome: Waltraud Maierhofer, Walter Gruenzweig, and  Steve Choe

Opening Remarks: Downing Thomas (Associate Provost and Dean of International Programs, U Iowa)

1:00  - 2:30 p.m.   2390 University Capitol Center

                Contraception and Politics in Television

Moderator: Meenakshi Gigi Durham (Journalism & Mass Communication / Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, U Iowa)

Jessica Borge (Film, Media, and Cultural Studies; University of London, UK). “Where was ‘The Pill’ on the 1960s British Screen?  A Survey of the Evidence.”

Markus Schleich and Jonas Nesselhauf (Comparative Literatures, U Saarbrücken, Germany). "’I Will Take You Off This Medicine If You Abuse it’ - Politics of Contraception in Contemporary US Quality Television”

3:00 – 4:30 p.m.   2390   University Capitol Center

                Abortion in Film and Non-Fiction

Moderator: Steve Choe (Cinema Arts, U Iowa)

Kirsten Kumpf Baele (German, U Iowa) and Sofie Decock (German, Ghent U, Belgium). “Pregnant Girls in the Attic: A Cinematographic and Spatial Analysis of Patrice Toye’s Little Black Spiders”

Cynthia Laborde (French, U Iowa). “He Has a Voice too: Abortion through the Eye of a Man”

Keynote 1    5:00 – 6:30 p.m.     100 Philips Hall

Welcome: Morten Schlütter (Chinese Religion; Director, Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, U Iowa)

Introduction: Jennifer Feeley (Chinese Literature, U Iowa)

Shelley W. Chan (Chinese Language and Cultural Studies, Wittenberg University)

“The Forbidden Pregnancy and the Abandoned Children: On Mo Yan’s Fiction about the One-Child Policy and Abortion in China”

Naming himself “Mo Yan,” literally meaning “do not speak,” the Chinese Nobel Prize laureate speaks abundantly with his pen. Prof. Chan will examine how Mo Yan’s fiction discloses his solicitude for the lives of his fellow Chinese citizens and his eagerness to explore controversial and sensitive topics, such as the one-child policy and abortion in China. Besides Frog, will discuss a couple of stories by Mo Yan.

8:00 p.m.   Film viewing.     100 Philips Hall

                4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007)

Followed by Question and Answers.

Saturday, March 8

8:30 – 10:00 am      302 Schaeffer Hall

                Politics and Activism

Moderator: Ellen Lewin (Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies / Anthropology, U Iowa)

Ciara Meehan (History, U of Hertfordshire, UK). “Negotiating Social Change: The Riordans and the Contraception Debate in Ireland, 1965-1978”

Isabella De Soriano (U Iowa). “Institutional Use of Long-Term and Permanent Contraception.”

Donna J. Drucker (History, TU Darmstadt, Germany). “Sexual Behavior and the Science of Contraceptive Testing in the mid-Twentieth Century United States“

10:30 a.m. – 12:00      302 Schaeffer Hall

                Responses to Planned and Unplanned Pregnancies

Moderator: Ed Folsom (English, U Iowa)

Regina Range  (German, Concordia U, Montreal, CA). “The Theme of Unwanted Pregnancy in Gina Kaus’ Literary and Filmic Work.”

Karissa Haugeberg (History, Tulane U). “Contraception and Unwanted Pregnancy in American Teen Television Series, 1990-2013.”

Walter Gruenzweig (U Dortmund, Germany). “From the Pill to the Pen to the Pill, Again: Carl Djerassi’s Discursive Constructions of Birth Control.”

2:00 – 4:00 p.m.     302 Schaeffer Hall.

Family Planning and Abortion in Fiction and Film. Presentations by University of Iowa Undergraduate Students

Moderator: Waltraud Maierhofer  

Lisa Sullivan. “Family Planning and Contraception in 20th-century Dystopian Fiction.”

Alexandra Cordes. “The film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days and Abortion in Communist Romania.”

Maritza Pineda. “Abortion in Recent Mexican Cinema.”

Coffee reception, sponsored by the University of Iowa Honors Program

5:00 – 6:30 p.m. Keynote Address.   Old Capitol. Senate Chamber

Welcome: Russell Ganim (Director Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, U Iowa)

Introduction:  Walter Gruenzweig (University of Dortmund)

Carl Djerassi. “The Rise and Demise of the Pill.”

Djerassi (born 1923, Vienna), is a world-renown American chemist, novelist, and playwright. As a scientist, he is best known for his contribution to the development of the oral contraceptive pill. In the past twenty years, he has produced a large number of novels, plays and also poetry which he subsumes under the genre of “science-in-fiction” and “science-in-literature” and which are translated, published and presented all over the world.

Dinner for all symposium speakers and moderators. TBA.

Sunday, March 9    302 Schaeffer Hall


9:30 am – 11:00 a.m.    

                Television and Popular Culture

Moderator: Miriam Thaggert (English and African-American Studies, U Iowa)

Natalie Fixmer-Oraiz (Communication Studies, U Iowa). “Telling Cautionary ‘Whales’: Disciplining Teen Pregnancy in U.S. Popular Culture.”

Beth Capo (American Literature, Illinois College). "Woman Rebel: Margaret Sanger and Contemporary Popular Culture."

Jamie Wagman (History / Gender & Women’s Studies, St. Mary’s College). “The Pill and Great Performances (Cycle After Cycle)”

Concluding Remarks



This conference is sponsored by the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; the departments of German, Chemistry, Cinematic Arts, Pharmacology as well as Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies; Global Health Studies Programs, the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, the Center for Human Rights, the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Honors Program, and International Programs.


Waltraud Maierhofer

Steve Choe

Symposium organizers: Waltraud Maierhofer (German; U Iowa), Walter Gruenzweig (American Studies & Comparative Literature; U Dortmund, Germany), Elizabeth Heineman (History / Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, U Iowa), Steve Choe (Cinema Arts, U Iowa).

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact the event contact person listed above.