What on earth is going on at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention? The Atlanta-based government agency has been awfully busy with that whole Chipotle E. coli investigation of late — so perhaps that can help explain how it managed to release a new infographic poster without someone in-house realizing its eyebrow-raising implications, and stepping in to stop it.
The poster is part of a new federal health campaign that aims to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome. This isn't new territory for the CDC — many women's bathrooms in American restaurants display government-issued signs warning of the dangers of consuming alcohol during pregnancy — but the new infographic goes way beyond addressing the specific implications of drinking while pregnant, instead talking about the effects of alcohol consumption on all women, pregnant or not. Including — questionably — that some of the risks of drinking "for any woman" include "injuries/violence," "sexually transmitted diseases," and "unintended pregnancy."
It's possible that intoxicated women may be at a greater risk of those things — but it's disturbingly irresponsible for the CDC to frame them in this way, a way that very strongly suggests that the burden of avoiding violence, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs falls to women, and that the route to avoiding them is to drink less. The idea that daring to have a cocktail may make a woman the target of violence (and, on the flipside, that a woman who is aware of this risk and chooses to have a cocktail anyway is arguably inviting that outcome) is an example of victim-blaming so flagrant and extreme that it's almost hard to believe it's real.
(It seems unlikely that the CDC will distribute a comparable infographic to warn men that drinking too many Jägerbombs can lead to herpes, or swinging a punch, or getting a woman pregnant. But if they do, we'll be very excited to cover it in this publication.)
Unsurprisingly, the backlash to the infographic has been swift and severe:
CDC: Women should not drink unless they are on birth control and wearing a burka.— Katha Pollitt (@KathaPollitt) February 3, 2016
In more hyper-paternalistic sexist news from the CDC: women of childbearing age are pre-pregnant https://t.co/FVtkVQJKba— Laura (@princessomuch) February 3, 2016
CDC tells women of childbearing age they are nothing but walking, talking uteri https://t.co/KBZReWSVHV— Wendy Felton (@wendymfelton) February 3, 2016
Dear women: don't forget, your bodies are mere baby factories so please act accordingly https://t.co/67Q3eN3aw3— Ed (@eparillon) February 3, 2016
Anyone well-versed in the CDC's history of addressing women's bodies might not find this new campaign so surprising: In 2006, the agency released controversial guidelines that directed all women, regardless of their desire to have a baby, to treat themselves as "pre-pregnant" by taking precautions like not smoking, drinking in moderation, and maintaining a "healthy weight." Remember, ladies: You're nothing but baby-making machines, and if you have a cocktail and end up with an STD, a black eye, or a pregnancy — the CDC thinks it's your fault.