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Drinking, Pregnancy And Sexism: The CDC's Women-Only Focus Is Retrograde

The introduction of the home pregnancy test in the 1970s came with much controversy. (Tatiana Vdb/Flickr)
The introduction of the home pregnancy test in the 1970s came with much controversy. (Tatiana Vdb/Flickr)
This article is more than 3 years old.

The primary reason I am confident that women’s gains in recent decades in the U.S. will never be totally reversed is the wide availability of birth control. Thanks to Margaret Sanger’s extraordinary energy, dedication, and courage, about a century ago, we began to change from being a nation in which it was illegal to inform women about birth control options, to one where our great-grandmothers could seek out information, and devices.

There are so many pieces to liberating women from their historically-typical positions of servitude — allowing them to own property, to divorce, to learn to read, etc. --  yet to my mind, broader access to birth control was a tipping-point-moment that sometimes doesn’t get its due.

Why, in 2016, would the CDC even dream of addressing only women? Where are their partners?

In the century since Sanger, we’ve made good progress, but we have a long way to go. American families lack supports — like affordable top-quality day care, safe, excellent schools, and more flexible work hours — that should, in the richest nation in the world, be basic — a done deal. And the “second shift” still falls disproportionately to women.

Furthermore, it’s naïve to believe that what’s been accomplished will automatically remain in place. History shows otherwise. Lots of really important steps towards equality — whether of gender or of race — evoke backlashes that overtly or subtly erode or undo them. Indeed, I’m not sure we want to face how much activism is really necessary to more firmly bolt our gains into place. (And, by the way, I’m not making a covert case for Hillary versus Bernie.)

One good example of backslide is how our government spokespeople seem unable to accept that birth control is also available for men, and that both partners are responsible for a woman’s pregnancy.

Exhibit A: the CDC’s new policy on pregnant women and alcohol. Putting aside that its absolute prohibition is news to those of us who gave birth to healthy children even after drinking the occasional glass of wine, the women-only focus is retrograde.

What am I fussing about? Here’s the beginning of the CDC press release:

“An estimated 3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 years are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy, according to the latest CDC Vital Signs report released today. The report also found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible do not stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control.”

Forgive me for being crass, but are they talking only to single women who are alone in their apartments drinking and pursuing solitary sexual activities aimed at impregnating themselves? Now there’s a scenario to make national policy about.

has anyone studied what happens to male drinker’s sperm? ...tell me that men who are soused and procreating aren’t just as responsible for possible fetal harm as women are.

Why, in 2016, would the CDC even dream of addressing only women? Where are their partners? Why are they not admonishing men to control how much they drink if they are pursuing parenthood, and admonishing them to protect their future children by using birth control if they are out with women who are also enjoying a drink? They might even spend a moment reminding them to be wary assuming consent from women who may have had too many drinks.

And where are the studies about fathers and alcohol? Tell me that a vodka-soaked sperm is undamaged in all ways. What do we know about the way repeated binging might pickle it? Yes, I totally understand that women have eggs for a lifetime, and men produce new sperm. But has anyone studied what happens to male drinker’s sperm?  Even if there’s no science, tell me that men who are soused and procreating aren’t just as responsible for possible fetal harm as women are.

It’s ridiculous that these heavy-toned medical warnings are aimed only at one gender. Two people enjoy sex together, but only one is responsible for pregnancy? The society resists giving women the control they have every right to have over their own bodies, and at the same time continues to hold them asymmetrically responsible for the health of their children. Enough already.

Related:

Janna Malamud Smith Cognoscenti contributor
Janna Malamud Smith is a psychotherapist and writer.

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