Women’s bodies as public property

I interrupt this regularly scheduled summer recap…

There’s been a recent controversy over this book:

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 8.23.47 AMhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Expecting-Better-Conventional-Pregnancy-Wisdom/dp/1409142310/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377589509&sr=8-1&keywords=expecting+better  (this is the british cover and link, where people are not reacting quite so crazily.)

Because in 12 pages out of 309, she talks about why a few of drinks of alcohol a week, no more than one a day, is not harmful, based on the evidence.

The whole book was about examining pregnancy rules, myths and worries in an evidence based fashion – an economist, she used statistical analysis and quantitative research skills to look at all the existing medical research on a variety of subjects. The point was, she was providing the facts so pregnant women could make their own choices.

Though from the amazon us comments thread, you would thinks she spent the whole 300 pages trying to convince women they should drink 10 beers a day while pregnant:



The whole controversy was at first crazy interesting and then hugely annoying to me. I picked up the book in my local bookstore as a whim, and had no idea it was in its first week of publication, let alone that it was the source of so much angst. Someone was suggesting women women make decisions about their own bodies! Woe betides us.

And then, just to make sure I was in a fighting mood, I read this:

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 8.34.25 AMhttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Intrusion-Ken-MacLeod/dp/1841499404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377588719&sr=8-1&keywords=intrusion

Which is an (AWESOME) distopian novel about a Britain not so far in the future, where pregnant women have to wear a monitor ring that reports if they have a sip of alcohol, where they can’t even work in offices where people smoked 70 years before, because of the minute, minute traces of carcinogens. As one of the characters handily puts it, ‘why take the risk, even if it’s miniscule’?

It was quite the coincidence that I read these both one after another, in the same weekend. Boy did they leave me feeling sensitive about the way that society feels it can make decisions for women, especially pregnant women, in their own best interests – rather than letting them have the facts and decide for themselves.

Over here in the UK, having a glass of wine occasionally while pregnant is not seen as a problem (though there are still debates). In america, it’s like a single granule of alcohol touching a pregnant woman’s lips is some sort of national crisis. And in one bit of Expecting Better, Oster recounts a doctor saying ‘well if we tell people they can have one glass, they’ll probably have more.’

And by people, that doctor means women. And by keeping the facts away from women for their ‘best interests’, it’s treating women like tiny children. And as Oster points out throughout the book, the vast majority of medicine around pregnancy does just that.

I’m not sure exactly what my point is here, except that basically, if I am so lucky as to get pregnant, I will be making my own decisions, even if I have to look up all the individual medical studies to make them.


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