Dear CDC: I am more than just an incubator

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Dear CDC: I am more than just an incubator

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The rumors are true: I am a binge-drinking nymphomaniac. You never know what’s going to happen once I get a drink in me. One minute, I’m sitting at a bar, enjoying a glass of wine, and the next I’m in some dude’s bed with my underwear spinning above me, hanging from the ceiling fan. I can’t help it: I am a woman. I have no self-control or self-awareness. At least, that’s what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) believes.

On Feb. 2, the CDC published a report informing women that they should abstain from alcohol if they are sexually active and not currently taking birth control, due to the risk of exposing a developing fetus to alcohol, which can lead to physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities at birth.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is serious and very sad. I agree that women who are trying to get pregnant and women who are pregnant should certainly abstain from alcohol to avoid these life-long illnesses and disabilities for their children. All women—and men—should have information regarding the risks of consuming alcohol while pregnant. I think that’s what the CDC wanted to do with their report, especially since what prompted this report was a rise in FAS: a good intention with a failed message.

The logic of this report stems from the fact that about half of pregnancies are unplanned. So let’s think about the CDC’s recommendation again: they told women to abstain from alcohol if they are not taking birth control and if they’re sexually active, due to a rise in FAS.

This is what the CDC is really saying: Women, when you drink, you get drunk. When you get drunk, you have sex. If you’re not on birth control, you get pregnant. Then, assuming you’re not aware of your own body and how it changes and functions, you don’t realize you’re pregnant. Since you don’t realize you’re pregnant, you’re going to drink even more!  Since you’re drinking and pregnant, your child will develop FAS. And when you give a moose a muffin…but you get it, right?

The CDC doesn’t think women are capable of knowing when they’re pregnant. If it’s not clear already, I strongly disagree with the CDC on this for many reasons. They don’t make mention of many caveats, like contraception is not easily accessible for everyone—like students who go to universities like SLU that don’t prescribe birth control or offer other forms of contraception, but that’s an issue for another day. Additionally, the CDC failed to mention women who may be abstinent, lesbians, or have sexual partners who contribute to the creation of the child and the possibility of terminating the pregnancy.

However, my two major problems stemmed from the sheer impracticality and ridiculousness of the report. It is playing to the archaic ideology that women are put on this earth to pump out babies, and that’s it.

Let’s start with how absurd it is that if a woman wants to go have some drinks with her friends, she needs to be on birth control first. Maybe your friend Lisa or Joanne asks if you, a woman, wants to go out Friday night, to a club or something, because there are a lot of clubs here in St. Louis—I’m trying to make this as realistic as possible! Anyway, Lisa and Joanne totally want to go out and let off some steam, maybe have some cocktails because they’re feeling like getting a little out of hand this Friday. You think this sounds like so much fun, but then you remember you stopped taking your birth control when you broke up with Jason last month, or maybe you accidentally skipped a day, and you say to Lisa and Joanne: “Hey gals, I’d really love to, but can we reschedule for say, I don’t know, 30 days from now when I know my birth control is working at its best? You know how I get when I drink! [Winky face emoji, woman dancing in red dress emoji, eggplant emoji].” Insanity.

More importantly, this recommendation sends a message women have been hearing since the beginning of time. The CDC implied that women are not individual human beings: we are incubators. It’s not an original thought, it’s always been like this. It was like this when our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and their mothers grew up. It will probably be like this when your daughter grows up.

Creating life is beautiful and babies are beautiful, but to look at women and say, “This is what you’ve been put on this earth to do, this is your greatest purpose,” is intrinsically unequal and sexist. It’s demeaning to the women who choose not to have children. It’s not a purpose: it’s a life choice. Dripping in the misogyny and condescension of patriarchy, the CDC’s recommendation says, “You ought to change your life, change your habits, because someday you will get pregnant, and that will be the fulfillment of your existence as a woman.” It seems like we, as women, will always be boxed in by the definitions placed upon us: we will be beating on these glass ceilings until our fingers are broken, our knuckles bleeding—just trying to free ourselves from one less barrier in our pursuit of unencumbered liberty.