May 19, 2006

Madonna? Whore? Complex!

Everybody and their pre-mother is blogging about today's Washington Post article with the trollriffic headline, Forever Pregnant. Short version: all women should take pre-natal vitamins and otherwise treat themselves as if they might be pregnant.

My insta-reaction was the same as yours: Holy Handmaid's Tale, Batman! I'm still leaning in that direction, but one thing gives me pause. In the past, I've been merciless in my condemnation of pro-abstinence groups that would ban the new HPV vaccine because it has to be given to girls before they start having sex. And I'm not entirely sure how my reaction to today's news differs from theirs to the vaccine.

The absties' argument is that giving pre-sexually active girls a vaccine for an STD (or, for that matter, information about birth control) treats them like sluts-in-waiting. It says to them: "Your role in society is to have sex, preferably lots of it, and society's obligation to you is get out of your way and minimize the potential for harm."

The feminist argument against the new CDC guidelines is that it treats women like wombs with legs. It says to them: "Your role in society is to make babies, preferably lots of them, and society's obligation to you is to get out of your way and minimize the potential for harm."

My response to the absties is that: not everyone agrees with what you think the normative behavior for girls should be; you're exaggerating the message that's being sent; and even if we do want girls to be abstinent, not all of them will, and we should not sacrifice their health because we're afraid of sending a "mixed message."

So when it comes to the CDC report, why should you and I be so protective of the feminist message — that women are more than just baby-makers — that we're willing to risk the health of the babies who are going to be born from unexpected pregnancies whether we like it or not. Yes, there's a quantitative difference between the outcomes (cancer vs. low birth-weight) but philosophically speaking, isn't the outraged reaction of both parties to the science-based health-care approach they disapprove of morally fundamentally the same? This isn't a rhetorical question. I'm willing to believe that my analogy is wrong if you want to talk me out of it.

And anyway, Ezra and Amanda point out that the Washington Post article is misleading and that the CDC guidelines are, if anything, socially progressive. Amanda thinks this means the Post twisted it to push its own anti-feminist agenda, but to me, everything about the Post article from the headline on is contemptuous of the report, which means that if there is spin, it's to portray the Bush-era CDC as sexist and anti-science, hence the blogfrenzy. WaPo was actually stirring up outrage to push a liberal agenda! Or, more likely, it was simply following a storyline already in progress.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Does this mean no drinking or smoking, ever, because you _might_ be pregnant? Good luck with that.

No cats?

No folic acid in your bread?

I think Ezra and Amanda are on target. Without question, the headline and the lede are the most inflammatory parts of the article. Most of the content of the article involves providing additional health resources for women so that they can better plan their pregnancies. The headline makes it sound like the government wants to set up Mommy farms out in the country somewhere.


Fourteen pepperoni pizzas!

Wait, is this the caption contest? Where am I?

Personally, I'm for both, but then I suspect no one could prove that it wasn't because I somehow stand to gain from it. Health is health, as far as I'm concerned. My usual question these days is: Who Pays? And will I get sued?

(Aside to Anon: As a possible "farmer," I suspect the phrase might more acurrately be "baby farms," but I'll admit the image provided by "Mommy Farms" is more compelling.)

(Aside to Daniel: Clever Title!)

I'd say that a more reasonable approach would be:
"All sexually active women - who do not use birth control each and every time they have intercourse - should take pre-natal vitamins and otherwise treat themselves as if they might be pregnant."

I see absolutely NO reason for anyone to treat themselves as pregnant if they're not even sexually active. Furthermore, I think if a woman is on the pill (and is diligent about taking it), and/or uses a condom every time they have sex, they shouldn't obsess over neonatal health since pregnancy is relatively unlikely.

However, if someone is sexually active and occasionally has sex without protection, I think it would be best to assume that she could be pregnant.

As for the HPV vaccine, doesn't every parent want their daughter to have sex eventually? You don't want to think about it that way, but unless you plan on your daughter becoming a celibate nun, you WANT her to experience both love and sex at some point in her life. Why not protect her?
Because theoretically, a girl could get HPV the first time she has sex, even if it's with her husband on their wedding night (and that's the "best case scenario" for some parents).
It's simply not possible to ever know for sure whether your partner has had sex before - and anyone who has had sex could potentially carry HPV, right?

Beyond the scope of the orginal post, it does seem a little preposterous to think that women who think they won't become pregnant or otherwise don't have it together to use birth control will be capable of following all these guidelines and generally behaving as if they expect to get pregnant, even though they think they won't.

Scott: The people who oppose the HPV vaccine expect the man their daughter marries to also be a virgin on his wedding night. Even discussing the possibility that he might not be is sending a "mixed message."

Daniel - both good points. I hadn't considered the fact that those girls most likely to become pregnant unintentionally are also the least likely to actually follow the prenatal guidelines. It is indeed preposterous.

As for the notion that the fundies (as I call them) assume their daughter's husband will also be a virgin - I'm sure that's the ideal, but it's naive to actually believe it. Of course, perhaps naive is an excellent word for those people to begin with. They kill me with their "mixed message" business. And by kill me, I mean, it's funny but also quite sad.

girls most likely to become pregnant unintentionally are also the least likely to actually follow the prenatal guidelines.

I should give credit to my wife -- who is in the women's health business -- for pointing this out to me.

Well, there is a certain corrolary logic to this argument. Every time I leave the house, I expect women to want to have sex with me. For their sake, they should be prepared.

It would be nice if a "permanent pregger" health regimen were promoted (with resources, not mere words) for all women (all PEOPLE?) simply because the recommendations are healthy, whether or not you ever breed. Having enough folic acid and other essential vitamins and minerals, avoiding/overcoming alcoholism, etc. are good for adults of any gender, reproductive status or reproductive intention. If you go to the doctor and get regular physicals, you'll hear this endlessly. The problem is all the people in the country now who can't afford the doctor. So instead we get advice aimed at the welfare of neonates, with little mention of women except as vessels for issue (vessels all too full of moral leaks).
The weirdest and saddest morph I've seen of this attitude occurred on the U.S.-Mexico border in the 1990s. There was a spate of babies born w/o brains (anencephalics), in South Texas. Progressive activists were of course up in arms but didn't want to blame moms. So they blamed the "maquiladoras" (border factories) for scuzzing up the area's air quality, which was supposedly deforming in-utero fetuses. But lots of testing found that the real problem was probably that border women are low in folic acid.

A population low in folic acid is generally one who's poor and chronically malnourished. No surprise, since lots of people of both sexes, children and adults, are indigent and hungry on the border.

But no one got excited about chronic malnourishment and penury. Texas health bureaucrats focused on lecturing women about how they need folic acid otherwise their kids will be monsters, while activists kept chasing the maquiladora windmill: neoliberalism as baby-brain robber. Well, yeah, but it steals them by not paying people enough to eat vegetables (the source of folic acid), and by taking away social entitlements that help them get things like food and medicine. Not to mention that neolib culture loves to dramatize personal purity versus perfidy e.g. innocent babies arrayed against negligent moms. So much more exciting than vitamin/mineral supplements for all. And -- so much cheaper!

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