Times Won’t Change, You Should.
Or, the revolutionary ancestry of Tinder
This blog post is an introduction to our upcoming student salon, "A Matter of Time".
"It is only a matter of time." When we utter these words, we cling to the comfort and conclusion offered by imagined inevitability. It’s in the same category of phrases as "give it some time", "time will tell", and my personal favourite: "This too shall pass." Any of the above can be swiftly utilised in any difficult situation seemingly beyond an immediate solution, allowing us to find purpose and peace in passivity.
Often delegating responsibility for a matter to time can be the only thing that grants us permission to rest and let go. Sometimes there really is nothing we can or should do about something. And especially today, when we reward "the hustle" with approval and recite our resolutions and bucket lists on our knees before bed, embracing inaction can be a revolutionary act.
But revolutions rarely happen through inaction. Instead, change takes place through concerted effort. Time is no actor, let alone an activist. Even when we need time to reflect, it is not time that reflects. So there is no such thing, really, as a matter of time – not in the way we defeatedly throw the phrase around, at least. On the flipside, many things do seem to be at the mercy of time: as I am writing this, we have less than 10 years to halt climate change and some weeks to save UK hospitals from overcrowding. On many other issues, we’ve run out of time already.
So really, when we want inspiration, consolation, and revolution, we should look at who changed the world before, which – newsflash – wasn’t the clock. It is always people, even when we don’t give them any thought.
There are more examples than I could ever cover, so I shall only take one. And let that be one that we think about little, but which has fundamentally shaped society nonetheless – the Sexual Revolution.
We seldom have reason to seriously think about the battles of the sexual revolution – safe and legal abortions and queer rights being some significant exceptions, of course. Contraception has been preached to us since childhood; we swipe on Tinder for everything from casual sex to life-long partnerships; and most of the people reading this probably watch porn. We rarely recognise these things as a consequence of the sexual revolution, and when we do, we rarely recognise the sexual revolution as a consequence of any organised effort. Instead, we tend to just believe that "times have changed". We opt to unravel the implications rather than the causes of the lives we lead today.
But really, whether you think Tinder and porn sites are good for society or not, they follow from an concentrated effort to change the way we view sex.
Arguably the most formative point of the Sexual Revolution was the development of the contraceptive pill. The pioneers of the pill were Margaret Sanger, the founder of the American Birth Control League, and Gregory Pincus, a scientist known for his experiments in IVF. Sanger believed that women could not enjoy freedom or sex unless they had the means to control whether they became pregnant, and over dinner she convinced Pincus to take on the controversial challenge of developing the contraceptive pill. When the pill became available to women "publicly and solely for the purpose of sexual pleasure", as historian Hera Cook writes, it ushered in a whole new era of sex — a Sexual Revolution indeed.
Perhaps the reason we rarely think about this revolution that defines much of our lives is that we have mixed feelings about its legacy. And perhaps the reason we don’t remember its pioneers as inspirational revolutionaries is that neither of them seems unambiguously praiseworthy. Sanger was known to be involved with the racist eugenics movement, and the pill itself was tested on impoverished Puerto Rican women and patients at psychiatric hospitals. Hardly an image most of us would want to model ourselves after.
Yet, precisely the ambivalent legacy of the early advocates of the Sexual Revolution calls us to deliberate the significance of individuals. It is easy to remember heroes, but it is conflicting to reflect on those with a mixed legacy; how can we balance the achievement of women’s reproductive rights against the vileness of eugenics? It is understandably attractive to overcome the conflict by sidelining individual actors and asserting that times have simply changed.
But going down that road, we surrender our own agency and responsibility to the ever-changing times. And in reality, it is only people who can make the difference; some of them heroes, many of them bigots, and most of them like you and I.
So what we do matters. And what we don’t change – time won’t change either.
Vladimir Marko, From Aspirin to Viagra: Stories of the Drugs that Changed the World. Springer 2020.
Hera Cook, The Long Sexual Revolution: English Women, Sex, and Contraception, 1800-1975. Oxford University Press 2004.
Written by Aada Orava. Edited by Robert Fletcher.
The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Aada Orava — not TEDxWarwick.
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