Taking Offense: the New American Way

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The reaction to the CDC’s recent recommendations regarding alcohol consumption by young women is so thoroughly absurd I can only shake my head in befuddlement. Maybe I’m hardened – or sensitized, depending on the vantage point – by my experience of infertility and loss, but these sophomoric diatribes by would-be feminists seem to veer into the terrain of petulant toddlers resistant to accepting certain basic realities. Is this what we are becoming: a culture in which sniveling and complacency have replaced a spirit of personal accountability and initiative that we once celebrated and strove for as an ideal at the foundation of our national identity? Here, in my space, I want to assert that there exists a quieter subset of women still grounded in common sense who have not been swept up in the same wave of hysterical outrage that spawned a multitude of faux-intellectual debates about red coffee cups in December.

Fact: Alcohol is bad for growing fetuses.

Why on earth is this a point of contention? It is simply true. The CDC, an agency charged with protecting our collective health, is responding to a populace that is conceiving half of all pregnancies by accident, and since gestation is not a gender-neutral sport, that really leaves women (yes, women) with three choices: (1) use contraception, (2) curb your drinking, or (3) rant and pout to avoid accepting any adult responsibility for the welfare of a potential unborn child. It seems that many women of child-bearing age have opted for the latter, and loudly, given national platforms in major media outlets.

Exhibit A:

No alcohol for you, young women! The most important fact about you is not that you are people but that you might potentially contain people one day. After all, pregnancies are often unplanned, so now it’s not just women who are trying to become pregnant but women who aren’t who need to lay off the alcohol, because ‘You never know when pregnancy might strike!’ and ‘Think of the children!’

Um, yes, love, if you have sex, don’t use protection, are of reproductive age, and binge-drink, you may be putting a child’s health at risk, which actually is a pretty “important fact.” And, yes, we do have an adult responsibility to “Think of the children” by accepting some culpability for what we do with our bodies. Does that cramp your style? Then use a fucking condom and have at it.

The second non sequitur somehow derived from the CDC’s infographic stems from the list of risks along the right-hand side, which has been bandied about and editorialized to mean that the government is blaming women for being victimized by rapists and other violent offenders. (See item one under “For any woman.”)

p0202-alcohol-exposed-pregnancy

Um, okay…

Fact: Alcohol impairs judgement.

Maybe in their naive idealism these young women feel entitled – entitled being the operative word – to stomp their feet and hold their breath over the unfortunate truth that the world can be a very ugly place such that it behooves us to remain alert and thoughtful as we make moment-to-moment decisions. Our parents cautioned us just the same because, like the CDC, they were concerned with our safety and welfare. We are all more vulnerable when we are drunk, and we are more likely to act impulsively and engage in the kinds of high-risk behaviors that lead to many of the life-altering consequences on this list. Obviously drinking is not

…a type of witchery that can whip babies into existence out of nowhere.

These kinds of rhetorical antics are childish and counterproductive. Call it the ‘Nanny State,’ sure, but recognize that the government is also responding to statistical data that implies significant and oft-preventable human suffering. Should we also move toward the kind of greater social enlightenment and child-rearing that will reduce incidents of violence against women? Obviously. Should we allocate resources to provide education, STD screening, and affordable contraception to women of limited means? A resounding yes. However, it is possible to pursue multiple avenues toward a single goal simultaneously. Maybe we could put our big-girl-panties on and work toward a more adult appreciation for the subtlety and complexity required to solve big problems by taking the CDC’s statement at face-value.

11 thoughts on “Taking Offense: the New American Way

  1. Thank you. The offense at this has been driving me nutty.

    They’re not saying no alcohol – they’re saying to limit it to no more than 8 drinks a week. Are we all suddenly 21 again and can’t get by with fewer than 8 drinks a week? And hey, like you said, use a condom. That’s called being responsible, and not just in terms of alcohol on a fetus.

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    • The tone of the pieces I’ve read on this act as if this simple graphic is the only recommendation the government has ever published in the history of the world about alcohol, sex, STDs, and contraception; therefore, the weight of the world has been placed solely in the laps of women. I just find that silly. The CDC and the Surgeon General have published many recommendations directed at both men and women about safe sex and the risks of alcohol. You know, like, looking at things in context is important.

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  2. Yes to this. Mostly.

    If I am honest, I had a similar reaction when I first read these recommendations. Not because I’m a crazy drunkard or because I think alcohol is good for fetuses… More because of how it is framed. The onus is mostly on women to keep themselves and their potential fetuses safe. Okay, that’s biology. I get it.

    However, I think I would have responded better if the takeaway was that *couples* had to make smarter decisions. Ladies: don’t go on a bender, have unprotected sex, and expect that this will have no impact on a potential pregnancy. Moral of the story? Use protection. You could also frame it like this- Gentlemen: don’t go on a bender, have unprotected sex, and expect that this will have no impact on a potential pregnancy. Like the ladies, you should use protection.

    There is an undercurrent here about how the responsibility of a sexual encounter is on women. This is in part because of basic biology, but also because of our historical attitudes toward men’s and women’s sexuality. In a much more extreme example, you see this rhetoric when we talk about sexual assault. There are tons of articles or suggestions for how women can protect themselves, but comparatively few on how men can… you know, NOT assault people.

    Isolated, I totally agree. Be grownups and recognize that there are ramifications for your actions. But taken in the context of how we disproportionately hold women responsible for the negative outcomes of sex, it does make me bristle.

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    • I agree with most of this regarding attitudes toward women. I just don’t think it’s particularly relevant to this pretty straightforward graphic about women and alcohol and gestation. The CDC has separate and elaborate statements regarding contraception that they’ve directed at both men and women.

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  3. I tend to agree about the responses being pretty over the top. I’ve never been drunk, drink rarely under normal circumstances, didn’t drink while TTC, and certainly under no circumstances drank when I was pregnant.

    On the other hand, as much as I agree being pregnant is obviously limited to those who have particular anatomy, alcohol can be disastrous for a fetus, a lot of pregnancies are unplanned, and the binge drinking culture is not good for anyone, this particular CDC pronouncement, coming at a time when avenues/providers of affordable birth control have become a political hot potato, left me a bit cold. I mean, why not direct a similar campaign about curbing binge drinking and personal responsibility in men at the same time, the party who actually has to put on the condom? Certainly, STDs, violence, cancer, etc, all apply to both genders. Like you say, it’s possible to pursue multiple avenues toward a single goal simultaneously. And I do think that dismantling the highly dysfunctional relationship US culture has with alcohol and sex is a worthy goal that would make life better for all.

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    • Well, the gutting of Planned Parenthood does complicated the message, though I think that is (sadly) two different arms of the same entity functioning independently. I also just think a lot weight and interpretation has been heaped onto a sort of simple and targeted statement that says – hey, unprotected sex can result in a baby, so be mindful of your drinking. I’m willing to bet that the CDC or the Surgeon General have indeed made broader statements about alcohol use that apply to both sexes.

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  4. I wish people would get up in arms about actual laws that negatively affect women vs. suggestions made that benefit women. I think if other tactics had worked, the CDC would have left it alone. But, clearly, other tactics haven’t worked so they needed to step it up.

    I feel like everyone is on a hair-trigger lately, trying to find ways to be offended.

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    • Yeah, it takes on a quality of ineffectual squawking. The defunding of Planned Parenthood – now that’s an issue I can sink my teeth into because it has real consequences and nefarious intents.

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    • That is interesting, particularly the stuff about fetal genetics and how it influences susceptibility to FAS. I see her point about the shades of gray, but I think the CDC “doesn’t ‘do subtle” because of the breadth and range of their audience. That’s why pictures and graphics that can reach citizens with even the most limited education/literacy. And let’s get a grip: if you’re savvy enough to take issue with the lack of nuance, then you have no excuse for not using contraception OR having enough awareness of your cycle to abstain when appropriate. The stuff about contraception/violence/alcohol for “women, but not men” is where she loses me because this is not the only set of recommendations the CDC has ever published in the history of America, and, in fact, there are elaborate documents that discuss these issues as they pertain to both sexes. I’m not sure why people should be so surprised that a statement about FAS is directed at women since men are biologically irrelevant to this isolated risk.

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