Go pills or no pills

Female soldiers under prolonged isolation

One small but important piece fell into place recently. Not a fundamental part of the story (it’s pretty much written) but a detail that will not-so-subtly influence everything else.

Remember that in SJ, a former elite military unit (including female soldiers) become isolated, partly in another world, for many months. At the time Scout goes on her mission, this isolation lasted for more than nine months. On top of that, the group is turned into a fundamentalist religious cult by their new leaders.

I had been researching for quite a while about what happens to people under such circumstances. It’s likely that morale and discipline will go down the drain during permanent deployment in hostile space. Supplies will dwindle. People will start to drink (unless religion forbids it), aggression levels will rise, and – likely – there will be gender related tensions. We are seeing this in the real world, unfortunately, as well.

So I thought I had a pretty good idea about the situation. I was wrong.


Image by Matthew Bowden.

I got a question about the pill, Ma

Because a key question was how this affects women. This is actually surprisingly difficult to understand from a typical male perspective. After all, there are certain problems we (men) simply don’t have. I only really understood the implications bit by bit (in retrospect, I want to facepalm – how did I not see this coming?), and it certainly made for some interesting research. Asking my mother on the phone about what happens if you don’t take the pill anymore was a highlight. Fortunately, there is the internet. I had to look up a lot of things that men usually don’t pay any attention to – how many contraceptive pills would a soldier carry, how many tampons are in a box, what are the details of the female cycle – and then I had to do the math and make some newly-educated guesses. The results I arrived at were significant.

What would actually happen?

It turns out that in a near-future European army, female soldiers would probably end up wanting to completely suppress their menstrual cycle during deployment, simply because of the stress and sanitary concerns. That means taking a pill every day, skipping the placebo pills. One pack lasts for 28 days, minus the 7 placebos. So four packs would last you three months. You would probably not be carrying more than that. After you stop taking them, the menstrual cycle would return in roughly six months (it varies) and you’d need to deal with it.

How to deal with menstruation (not to mention birth control) under stone-age circumstances is another interesting question, and one that provided surprising (and sometimes horrifying) answers after I did some more research. Suffice to say, there are some very interesting methods that are definitely useful for game developers to know if their game has female protagonists. Ask Mr. Google.

Add to that a male-dominated military environment in which women are constantly at the risk of harrassment or worse. After nine months of isolation, it would certainly start to get very interesting very quickly.


Round about the time where Scout enters the game, things have gotten pretty bad. The only supplies still available are things like “go pills” (battlefield drugs.) Medical supplies would have become rare. Band-aids would be everywhere. Morale would be at an all-time low, and female soldiers would by far have it worst (especially the few poor souls who were not permanently taking pills when it hit them.)

So what happens in SJ is that a couple firebrands band together simply out of the need to protect themselves and care for the most basic needs. But with a male leadership who don’t give a shit about women’s complaints, how do they get their needs covered?

Turn to the enemy. That’s how.


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