Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Hi, Baby-Making Factories!

1.  The USAToday's Summary of New CDC Recommendations

The Big Brother has arrived!  According to the USAToday:

Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they're using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.
"The risk is real. Why take the chance?” Schuchat asked.
The CDC estimates 3.3 million women between ages 15 to 44 are at risk of exposing a developing fetus to alcohol because they drink, are sexually active and not using birth control. Even when women are actively trying to get pregnant, three in four continue drinking after they stop using birth control, according to the CDC report.
There is no known safe level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy, according to the CDC. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women abstain completely from alcohol while pregnant.

The bolds are mine.  Read the first bolded sentence and then the second bolded sentence.  Notice any difference?  The hook in the article tells us that all women not using contraception who belong to a usually fertile age group should stop drinking, for the sake of future babies (whether planned or completely imaginary, and even if they will be born to someone else).  Even Lesbians, hermits, nuns, other celibate individuals and infertile people should abstain from alcohol!  Any woman might accidentally fall upon a penis, I guess.

Now imagine the Pre-Pregnancy Police coming for you if you try to get a drink and don't have enough wrinkles to prove your new legal drinking age! (1)  Bartenders and other volunteers might refuse to serve you that glass of wine or at least first demand to know if you are on the pill, and then decide if you are allowed to drink.

The Pre-Pregnancy Police doesn't yet exist.  But the Pregnancy Police, in the form of not only actual police but also concerned volunteers is a real thing and a real pest for pregnant women. I guess one advantage of this new recommendation is that now those helpful strangers can pester all younger women equally and not just the ones who are visible pregnant.

After writing that rant about the USAToday summary I read what the CDC  actually says:

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.
Alcohol use during pregnancy, even within the first few weeks and before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). There is no known safe amount of alcohol – even beer or wine – that is safe for a woman to drink at any stage of pregnancy.

Bolds are mine.

That is not the same as the first sentence in the USAToday story.  I wish newspapers didn't promote shitty journalism.

2.  The CDC Recommendations.  On Statistics And Medical Studies.

But even more I wish that the people at CDC had a better understanding of statistics, more transparency about what  medical research actually shows and doesn't show.  I also wish that they had hired someone who would have edited the writing  in this sentence:

 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.

Those 3.3 million women don't all have "a developing baby".  They are potentially at risk for becoming pregnant.  Those two are very different things, and what is developing during any resulting pregnancy is not called a baby until it is born. 

For the statistical problems, consider this quote that was used in the USAToday article as well as in the original CDC report:

About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.

That half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned does NOT mean that every woman has a 50% chance of having an unintended pregnancy!  Yet all public health announcements aimed at fertile women seem to assume that the 50% frequency difference applies to every single fertile woman, even those who don't have heterosexual intercourse.

The actual situation is quite different, as this Guttmacher Institute graph shows:

I quote from the graph:  The two thirds of US women at risk of unintended pregnancy who practice contraception consistently and correctly account for only 5% of unintended pregnancies.

I suspect that the CDC researchers who wrote the recommendation did take that Guttmacher information into account, because the recommendation doesn't extend to women who use reliable contraception.  But the USAToday made a hash of it all and the CDC still parrots the statement without giving that sentence I bolded.

Even the more moderate statement from the CDC is not moderate when it comes to certain hidden assumptions about what various groups of women can be asked to sacrifice and for what types of reasons. To see why that is the case, let's talk about the medical evidence on fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Iowa Primaries. Lessons on Gender Politics and Gender in Politics.

Did you know that 2016 is the first year when a woman has won the Iowa caucus?

I learned in 2008 how extremely unpleasant it is to write about women in politics during the presidential campaigns when there's only one woman running and all the other candidates are men.  Almost everything I said was interpreted to apply to that one woman (and her policies), Hillary Clinton, and not to women in general.  And the very same thing is likely to happen this time, too. 

Those reactions are somewhat understandable, for a bizarre reason:  There are few women in US politics (80% of the US Congress is male, 44 of the 50 state governors are men).  But those few women get the limelight much more often than their sparse numbers would suggest.  Hillary Clinton, in particular, has lived in the limelight for a quarter century.  She is everywhere!  She hogs the limelight!  She leaves no air for any other female politician!*

She belongs to the political elite.  She is married to the political elite.  Her name recognition is global.  She has already spent eight years in the White House, albeit as the spouse of a president, a role which has always been completely open to women.  She has had a political career of her own.

The media and the Republicans have analyzed every move she makes, we all (if old enough) have assessed whether she should have left her womanizing husband or not.  We all (if old enough) have read enough about her incredible ambition, her incredible egotism and her incredible coldness.  We all (if old enough) can list several policies she has supported which we detest.  And of course some of us attribute to her even those policies of her husband she didn't work on.

All samples of size one create tremendous problems of interpretation.  Is Hillary treated the way she is because of her own personality or at least partly, because she is a woman in politics?  Would an otherwise identical man be treated the same way?  There is no way of knowing.  We need a bigger sample of women in politics to tease apart the effects of  a person's politics and personality from the effects of sexism, whether subconscious or overt.

That's my dilemma.  How do I interpret the way Hillary Clinton is treated from a wider feminist angle?  What are the lessons we can draw about the treatment of women from watching her experiences?

I'm not sure.  But there is one message which is becoming increasingly clear:

Monday, February 01, 2016

From Betty Friedan to Beyoncé. Or Making Waves in The Pond Of Feminist Thought.

"Betty Friedan to Beyoncé: Today’s generation embraces feminism on its own terms."  is an interesting recent piece in the Washington Post.  It belongs to the general genre of articles which analyze generational change in feminism, usually only within the United States, and almost always with a focus on young women.

This version is a nice one.  It asks several great questions, offers nuanced answers to many of them and also gives survey evidence on the beliefs and values of some in the "today's generation" of feminists.  Its treatment of the role of popular culture and the Internet in feminism is worth reading and so are the juxtapositions it makes between the second wave of the 1960s and 1970s and what is happening today.

So I enjoyed reading the piece.  Still, most of me finished that reading with a strong desire  to interrogate* bits and pieces it mentions, including the comments of many of the interviewed individuals, and to use the article as a springboard for diving into some deeper feminist waters.  To make more waves.  And that's what the rest of this post attempts.