The Scourge of the Female Chore Burden

All over the world, women are doing work they’re not getting paid for. In rich countries, it might be folding the laundry or staying home to take care of a sick child. In developing countries, unpaid labor tends to be more physically arduous, like hauling water and chopping wood. Wherever you are, it’s considered women’s work.

Melinda Gates picked up on this disparity in her travels throughout the world. Every year, she and her husband, Bill Gates, write a letter outlining their philanthropic priorities. This year, she devoted her portion of the letter to the burdens of unpaid work on women.

Unpaid Work per Day, in Hours

OECD / Melinda Gates

“Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility,” she writes in the letter, which is written for a teenage audience.

According to the OECD and other sources, women devote more time than men to chores in nearly every country. American women spend more than two hours daily on chores, compared to just 82 minutes for men. Even in Finland, a country that seems more progressive on gender issues, women sweep, scrub, and change diapers for 137 minutes daily, and men do for just 91.

Minutes per Day Spent on Unpaid Work and Leisure

“It ends up robbing women of their potential,” Gates said in an interview. “This is a societal issue that in 2016 shouldn’t exist anymore.”

According to Gates, “globally, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work. Men spend less than half that much time.” The unpaid labor gap is especially large in poor countries. “In India, to take one example, women spend about six hours, and men spend less than one hour,” she writes.

And when women are too busy cleaning and cooking, they have less time for paid work. Girls in many countries fall behind in school because they’re swamped with tedious chores. Gates writes that reducing women’s unpaid labor from five hours per day to three can increase a country’s female labor-force participation rate by 10 percent. If women participated in the economy at the same levels as men, she writes, global GDP could increase by 12 percent.

The other portion of the letter this yearBill’s halfconcerns the need for new and reliable forms of clean energy. Melinda Gates told me energy can also play a role in fixing the female time-poverty problem, particularly in the developing world. Given all the hours women in developing countries spend collecting water,  for example, “if women had access to clean water, it changes everything about their time.” She says new types of stoves and other inventions could also help.

At the national level, she recommends stronger family—not “maternity”—leave policies, as well as more resources devoted to women’s health.

Couples should start having conversations about how they can redistribute unpaid chores more fairly, Gates says. That means more American dads pushing vacuum cleaners, and more husbands like one Gates met in Tanzania, who volunteered to help his wife fetch water.

In some cases, men will be better suited to doing these chores because they’re physically stronger. Other times, they’ll have to sacrifice some free time.

“I talked to men in the developing world, and they would say, ‘When I pull water out of the well, it’s less labor for me than my wife,’” Gates said. “It does mean sometimes giving up leisure activities, but it means women have time to participate in economy.”

As many a sleep-deprived mom can attest, the “redistribution” piece of the puzzle will be hard to accomplish. In the U.S., the gender-chore gap has barely budged in over a decade.

For those who think it can’t be done, Gates offers an example from her personal life. Though Bill and the couples’ children would always help with after-dinner cleanup, she nevertheless was always the last person left in the kitchen, “doing those last few little things.”

Finally, she issued an edict: No one leaves the kitchen until mom does.

“Guess what?” she said. “It all got done a lot faster.”

When Parents and Surrogates Disagree on Abortion

When a woman agrees to become a gestational surrogate—meaning she’ll gestate an IVF-created embryo as it grows into a fetus—she and the commissioning parents will typically sign a legally binding contract. The terms vary widely from contract to contract and state to state, but the vast majority will include a clause allowing the parents to make decisions about abortion.

In surrogacy cases, the most common reason for abortion is multiple pregnancies. And of course, the likelihood of becoming pregnant with twins, triplets, and even four or five fetuses increases once IVF enters the picture—doctors will often implant multiple embryos at a time, to increase the chance that one will take. For various reasons—health, financial, or otherwise—parents whose surrogate ends up carrying multiple fetuses may request to “selectively reduce,” or abort one or more.

“That’s the main purpose of the surrogacy contract,” explains Jes Stumpf, the executive director at Vermont Surrogacy Network, an agency based in Burlington, Vermont. “To make sure that, should a decision about a termination arise, everyone is making the decision with full understanding. We only match carriers with intended parents who feel exactly the same way about not only abortion in general, but about hypotheticals such as reducing in the event of severe brain damage or physical deformities, or of course, if there’s multiple babies.”

But as a recent case illustrates, those contracts aren’t necessarily airtight. In January, Melissa Cook, a 47-year-old California surrogate currently pregnant with triplets, sued the commissioning father, a single 50-year-old Georgia postal worker, who wanted her to abort one of the fetuses. (The egg used to create the three embryos implanted in Cook was sourced from an anonymous, 20-something donor.) Cook, who is pro-life, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming California’s surrogacy law violates due process, as well as equal-protection rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Cook says she wants to take all three fetuses to term, adopt the unwanted third, and collect her full surrogacy fee. She also wants the court to rule that her surrogacy contract is unenforceable, which would protect her from the consequences of breaching her contract and possibly allow her to keep the multi-thousand-dollar fee stipulated in her gestational carrier agreement.

“She’s trying to get the state of California, essentially, to not recognize the contract she signed,” explains Elura Nanos, a fertility attorney based in New York.

Cook’s case has its own complicated caveats, but in a broader sense, it’s far from unique: As long as people have been using third-party reproduction, they’ve been grappling with novel legal and social questions about the meaning of parenthood, and what it means to set the terms of pregnancy and childbirth in a contract.

One of the best-known examples may be the much sensationalized “Baby M” case of 1986, in which a traditional surrogate—a woman who supplies the egg and carries the intended parents’ child—demanded physical custody of the baby after giving birth, and even went so far as to kidnap the child. The contract was ultimately deemed invalid, and the baby was returned to the intended parents, with visitation rights for the surrogate. (Cook’s lawyer is the same one who represented the surrogate that carried Baby M.)

The legacy of the Baby M case is that surrogacy agencies now recommend that surrogates do not supply genetic material, and they typically only accept women who have already given birth. The underlying belief here is that such carrier candidates are less likely to get too attached to the fetus(es) they’re carrying.

But because surrogacy contracts allow someone else to mandate that a woman abort fetuses growing in her body, surrogacy is much more than a legal issue—it’s a charged bioethical and political question, too. Who are the parents of the fetuses, and who gets to make such decisions? What are the implications for women’s reproductive autonomy?

Many of the reproductive-health experts I spoke to say it’s likely—based on Cook’s age (47, older than the typical age for a surrogate) and the fact that the intended father is being sued—that the pair did not go through a scrupulous agency, or that at least they were operating under poorly worded contract. But no matter how many legal issues you iron out ahead of time, there’s no way to legislate people’s emotional responses, says Elizabeth Reis, a professor of gender and bioethics at Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. “Yes, sure, you can sign,” Reis says. “But there’s no way to know how you’ll feel when you’re pregnant and ordered to reduce.”

I can personally attest to the unexpected feelings that can come with third-party reproduction. In 2009, I went through an agency in California to donate my eggs to anonymous parents. At 25, I donated out of financial desperation, so I found myself surprised by how overjoyed I was when the birth mother became pregnant with triplets. I was also devastated a few months later, when I learned via our agency liaison that she had lost two of the fetuses in utero. And when I learned much later that egg-donation recipients who become pregnant with multiples are often advised to “selectively reduce”—which very well could have been a factor in my recipients’ case—I found the idea unsettling, despite the fact that I’m fervently pro-choice.

But donors, unlike surrogates, aren’t asked to contractually agree to the possibility of abortion—because we don’t agree to any terms past our own donation. In fact, egg and sperm donors don’t even have a right to know what happens to their cells. The difference between donors and surrogates adds yet another wrinkle to already complicated ideas of what makes a parent.

“There’s so much interaction between a mother’s body and a developing fetus,” says Reis. “Nowadays, we understand that with surrogacy, you’re not just putting something in a toaster and having it come out, with no give and take. Now that egg donation is all over the place, we don’t want to think that because someone gave an egg, they’re a mother. But should these women—donors and surrogates—have some kind of relationship with the child?”

The father of Melissa Cook’s fetuses has stated that he believes singling one child out for adoption would be cruel, and thus he prefers to reduce. He has also cited health concerns for the developing fetuses. Cook, meanwhile, insists that all three embryos are healthy and viable. But does this mean those concerns the father has expressed about limited finances and the health of the babies should be discounted?

According to Melissa Brisman, the owner of the New York-based surrogacy agency Reproductive Possibilities, the babies legally belong to the father, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his wishes will win out. “Under California law, the commissioning father is the father, and there is no mother of the babies Cook is carrying,” she explains. “So if Cook doesn’t abort—and no court is going to force a woman into an abortion—he still gets to decide what happens. He could adopt the third baby out elsewhere, rather than allowing Melissa Cook to adopt him or her.”

Which spills into different territory—the question of whether or not the father should have to consent to be the parent of the unwanted child, even if he doesn’t raise it. “It’s still his DNA,” Reis points out. “Should he be forced to have [the baby] out there, any more than a woman should be forced to have her children?”

A major problem with assisted reproductive technology contracts is that they so often butt up against the right to privacy defined in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. “But while a surrogate has a constitutional right not to undergo the abortion—or to undergo one if she wants to—she has no such right to the payment stipulated in the contract,” explains Cyra Akila Choudhury, a law professor at Florida International University. And if the contract is effectively rendered void, it’s unclear if the surrogate would bear any responsibility for the children’s care after birth: “The question extends to whether she would be liable for any further damages, should these children be born with birth defects or anything like that. Most surrogacy contracts at this point don’t account for those hypotheticals.”

Nanos says that while surrogacy isn’t ethically a bad idea, it creates an absolute legal mess. “What if there had been six children and she said, ‘I’m pro-life and refuse to reduce them,’ and then as a result, they all died?” she asks. “Now what? Could the father have insisted she reduce to three? The law doesn’t anticipate these kinds of Sophies Choice-type questions that people have to make once they’re creating babies in petri dishes.”

Some lawyers believe the outcome of this case could lead to tighter regulation of surrogacy contracts. (History shows that more stringent regulation, however, often drives people to seek surrogacy where it’s cheaper and easier, typically outside of the country.)

Melissa Cook is now expected to give birth to the triplets within seven weeks. On February 2, Cook’s lawyer, Harold Cassidy, filed a complaint in federal district court, attacking the constitutionality of the state’s right to enforce the selective reduction statute. Because this is a newly developing area of law, much remains unclear about the precedent Cook’s case could set. What seems more definite is the probability that, as assisted reproductive technology advances, many similar cases are bound to arise.

XY Bias: How Male Biology Students See Their Female Peers

Over the last three years, Sarah Eddy and Daniel Grunspan have asked over 1,700 biology undergraduates at the University of Washington to name classmates whom they thought were “strong in their understanding of classroom material.” The results were worrying but predictable. The male students underestimated their female peers, over-nominating other men over better-performing women.

Put it this way: To the men in these classes, a woman would need to get an A to get the same prestige as a man getting a B.

“A lot of people make the assumption that issues of gender in biology are gone because so many women enroll,” says Eddy. “But we know there are strong unconscious biases equating science to males. They’re just there in the air.”

Her study is the latest to show the challenges faced by women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In the U.S., women earn around half the doctorates in these fields, but so many drop out at every step of the career ladder, that men always dominate the top echelons. As Helen Shen writes in Nature, women comprise “only 21 percent of full science professors and 5 percent of full engineering professors” and “on average, they earn just 82 percent of what male scientists make in the United States—even less in Europe.”

The causes of this attrition are manifold, but sexual discrimination is an indisputable part of it. Women in STEM repeatedly report experiencing sexual harassment, being mistaken for administrative staff, being forced to prove themselves to a degree that their male colleagues are not, being told to behave in more aggressive, outspoken masculine ways while simultaneously facing backlash for doing so.

And several careful experiments have shown that faculty members—both men and women—are more likely to spend their time mentoring men, to respond to emails from men, to call on men in classes, to rate (fictional) male applicants as more competent and hirable than identical female ones, and to hire a man for a job that requires math.

These biases, sometimes manifesting outrightly and sometimes insidiously, collectively create an environment where women feel like they don’t belong, like they aren’t valued, like the odds are set against them. Confidence falls, perseverance wanes, and careers die by a thousand cuts.

It begins early. Eddy has been studying the University of Washington’s undergraduate biology course for a few years to try and understand how biases play out among the students themselves. She teamed up with Daniel Grunspan, an anthropologist who’s interested in how information travels within groups. They surveyed three large classes of 196, 759, and 760 students respectively, asking them to nominate particularly strong peers at various points through the academic year. They found that men consistently received more nominations than women, and this bias only got worse as the year went on. The question is: Why?

Performance? Men got better grades than women in the three classes but the difference was only statistically significant in one; even then, the scores differed by no more than 0.2 of a grade-point average. Participation? The class instructors deemed more men than women to be “outspoken,” and Eddy’s previous work certainly showed that women comprise 60 percent of the students, but just 40 percent of the voices heard in class.

But even after adjusting for both these factors, the team found that male students still disproportionately nominated other men, giving them a boost equivalent to a GPA increase of 0.77. By contrast, the female students showed no such biases, giving other women a paltry boost of just 0.04 GPA points. As the team wrote, “On this scale, the male nominators’ gender bias is 19 times the size of the female nominators’.”

The team also found that the ‘celebrities’—the three students in each class with the most nominations—were all men. Sure, they had good grades and spoke up frequently, but they all had female peers who were equally outspoken, with grades just as high. As Grunspan and Eddy wrote, “It appears that being male is a prerequisite for students to achieve celebrity status within these classrooms.”

“They have the right of it,” says Kate Clancy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Their paper is consistent with the ways in which implicit bias influences who we tend to see as a scientist—if we culturally associate maleness with scientific abilities, it makes sense that we’d overvalue men’s contributions in the science classroom.”

“It’s also pretty consistent with the natural experiment I’ve been in for the past 10 years as a female scientist married to a male scientist,” she adds. “The junior female faculty that I’ve started mentoring in recent years report the same thing: They have to beg and plead and buy coffee for colleagues a million times before anyone associates their expertise with their name.”

Eddy expects that even stronger biases lurk in other STEM fields. After all, there are even stronger negative stereotypes about female ability in physics, maths, and engineering. And in these subjects, women are typically outnumbered in classes. They must contend not only with the same biases that biology student face, but also with stereotype threat—a well-documented phenomenon where the anxiety of fulfilling a negative stereotype hampers the performances of people from minority groups.

But Eddy takes it as a hopeful sign that the women in the study didn’t show biases towards their female peers, especially since other researchers have found that gender biases exist among female faculty members. “It’s hopeful,” she says. “Maybe things are changing culturally, helping women to overcome those historical biases.”

She has also tested some psychological tricks that have helped students to cope with stereotype threat in past trials, including simple writing exercises designed to combat stereotype threat by affirming a student’s values. Other “band-aid solutions” might help too, including doing more work in small groups where women feel more comfortable participating, or having more female role models up front. The instructors in the classes that Eddy studied were almost all men, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the one with the lone female instructor also had the smallest gender biases.

How Views of Sex Have Changed Since 2005

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was Carrie Underwood’s time. It was the age of wisdom, but also of low-rise jeans. It was only just over a decade ago, but oh, how things have changed since 2005.

The dating site OkCupid had launched the previous year, and it’s been asking its users questions about their relationship preferences ever since. This week, the company released a survey comparing the responses they received in 2005 to those collected in 2015. Though not as rigorous as a truly random survey, the data hint at changing views of sex, love, and gender norms among online daters in the U.S.

Surprisingly, OkCupid found that people have become more sexually conservative in certain ways. For example, fewer people now say they would have sex on the first date:

Would You Consider Sleeping With Someone on the First Date?


While “no” responses increased among gay and straight people of both genders, the change was biggest among gay men and straight women. The number of gay men responding “yes” declined from 83 percent to 57 percent, while straight women dropped from 48 to 25 percent.

What’s more, fewer people now say they’d date someone just for the sex. In 2005, 49 percent of OkCupid users said they would, while last year just 41 percent did. The number of people who said love was more interesting to them than sex at the moment remained unchanged, at 75 percent.

And peoples’ views of gender roles in the bedroom seemed to get more traditional. More straight men now say they take control in bed, and fewer straight women do. Perhaps Fifty Shades of Grey has left its, err, mark?

In Your Ideal Sexual Encounter, Who Takes Control?

Percent answering “I take control” (OkCupid)

The move toward sexual conservatism might simply be a result of OkCupid’s growing user base. Ten years ago, online dating was more avant-garde, and thus more likely to be popular among libertines and free spirits, as opposed to anyone and everyone looking for love.

It could also be a sign of the more straight-laced sexual mores of today’s young adults. As noted in a 2015 report in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the average lifetime number of sexual partners grew steadily between the G.I. generation, who were born between 1901 and 1924, and the GenXers, but it has dipped among the Millennials. “Americans born in the 1950s had sex with 11.68 people on average during a lifetime, while Millennials will average 8.26,” the Daily Beast noted in an article on the report last year. And a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 37 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 35 think “sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship” is morally wrong, as my colleague Emma Green reported.

Strangely, though, OkCupid also found its users are in some ways becoming more sexually liberal. For example, people are now more tolerant of promiscuous partners:

Is There Such Thing as Having Too Many Sex Partners?


And they’re increasingly fine having what’s commonly known as a f*** buddy:

Would You Ever Consider Having a Friendship Based Primarily on Sex, With No Intentions for Love, Romance, or Long-term Commitment?


There was also a drop in slut-shaming: Users today are more accepting of women who talk openly about their sexual exploits. Straight women were the harshest critics of this practice, with 22 percent still saying they don’t think it’s okay.

Is It Okay for a Woman to Talk Openly About Her Sexual Exploits?


Just like in 2005, the plurality of people (47 percent in 2015) say they wait three dates before having sex with someone new. And people increasingly feel they would at least need to sleep with them before the wedding night:

Would You Need To Sleep With Someone Before You Considered Marrying Them?


Of course, OkCupid is far from an accurate representation of all sexually active adults. Its 12 million users have a median age of 29, and they’re overwhelmingly college-educated and white.

Still, to the extent that those 12 million are being honest, the news seems both good and bad. Daters are becoming more careful, but also less judgmental. They’re more open-minded, but also more traditional. The report is, in other words, a mixed bag—not unlike dating itself.

Protect Your Womb From the Devil Drink

Julie: Olga, did you know that 3.3 million women in the U.S. are “at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol?” Well, their hypothetical babies at least. This number represents the women aged 15 to 44 who are “drinking, having sex, and not using birth control,” according to a report The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Tuesday. In an effort to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, the agency says doctors should “recommend birth control to women who are having sex (if appropriate), not planning to get pregnant, and drinking alcohol.”

This recommendation is just one part of a surely well-intentioned set of guidelines trying to combat what is a totally preventable birth defect. In the same report the CDC suggests being sure to screen women for alcohol use and referring them to treatment services if they’re unable to stop drinking. These are good things to do for any patient.

Whether a woman should drink (small) amounts of alcohol during pregnancy is a fraught and much-discussed topic, but this report is stretching the responsibility of preventing fetal alcohol syndrome onto women who are not yet pregnant.

Olga: To be fair, it’s still not clear to us whether the CDC literally meant what the lead of this USA Today story says: “Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception.” (We asked them for comment, and they redirected us to the original statement).

Julie: Using birth control if you’re drinking and fertile was just something the agency told doctors to “recommend.” The only category of women to whom they straight up said, “Don’t drink,” was women who are “trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant.” But the phrase “could get pregnant” could apply to an awful lot of women.

As of this writing, the CDC homepage blares “Alcohol and Pregnancy: Why Take the Risk?” but what the report is really asking is “Alcohol and the Ability to Get Pregnant: Why Take the Risk?”

Won’t somebody think of the hypothetical children?

Olga: The fact that the headlines coming out of the announcement fall along the lines of, “Young women should avoid alcohol unless using birth control” speaks to the lack of finesse in this statement. Consider, for example, this quote:

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters yesterday. “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,” she added. “Why take the chance?”

Why do it? Why is it that whenever public-health officials talk about alcohol, they act like they’re Puritan robots from outer space who could never understand earthlings’ love of distilled spirits. “Why take the risk?” is a naive question. Both men and women drink alcohol because it is extremely fun.

The debate over the risk of drinking while actually pregnant, meanwhile, is as old as time. In recent decades, medical science has taken a much more conservative stance on this issue. Alcohol is considered by most doctors to be a leading cause of preventable birth defects and developmental disorders in the U.S. As one pediatrician put it to me last year, “the very worst thing that a mom could do during pregnancy is drink alcohol.” And women are drinking more in general, so it’s logical that this issue would be on the CDC’s radar.

Julie: The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a hard line on this, saying in October 2015 that “no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe” at any point in a woman’s pregnancy. Fine. The science of drinking during pregnancy is contradictory and confusing and a “better safe than sorry” approach to official policy is reasonable until the research is clearer. On a policy level.

On an individual level, pregnancy is an exercise in abstinence. Women are told to give up not just alcohol, but caffeine, too. And seafood and lunch meat and soft cheeses. And sometimes, things that are much harder to go without. Jane Marie wrote a heartbreaking essay in Cosmopolitan about going off her depression and anxiety medication while pregnant.

Why? Mainly because we can’t do controlled drug studies on pregnant women and babies, duh. Therefore, we don’t know what happens to a developing fetus when, say, the mother needs to take 300 milligrams of Wellbutrin every morning, 25 milligrams of Trazodone at night, and 5 milligrams of Valium as needed for fear of flying and wide open spaces and heights. Your guess is as good as mine, literally, and guessing and mothering don’t mix well.

But when a doctor says “it’s safer for you to go off your antidepressants,” that is a guess. “It is not safe for you to have one glass of wine for nine months” is a guess. Plenty of women have weighed the risks for themselves, made an (informed) guess in the other direction, and turned out just fine.

Olga: Emily Oster, an economics professor and the quintessential rational voice in the pregnancy blogosphere, has analyzed studies showing that there is “no credible evidence that low levels of drinking (a glass of wine or so a day) have any impact on your baby’s cognitive development.” One big Australian study of thousands of pregnant women found fewer instances of behavior problems among the children of women who were “light” drinkers during pregnancy than among those who abstained. A different study found the same results for IQ points: The children of occasional drinkers fared slightly better.

Of course there’s a risk to drinking alcohol if you might get pregnant. There’s a risk with nearly everything you do in life. Hormonal birth control, for that matter, has its own risks, like cervical cancer and, for some brands, blood clots. But it’s creepily natalist to suggest you should privilege a risk-free, hypothetical, future motherhood—especially if you don’t desire said motherhood—over one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Julie: I think what gets me is the tone. This report reads as though this is just another good preventative health practice for young women—eat your vegetables, get your pap smear every three years, and don’t drink if you’re fertile. Suddenly it’s not enough that society expects pregnant women to be superhuman models of willpower and sacrifice. This report is holding all women to a higher standard. The language insinuates that your womb is a Schrodinger’s box and you shouldn’t pour alcohol into it unless you’ve peeked in there to be 100 percent sure the coast is clear.

Olga: Yeah, the CDC’s job is to promote public health, but an announcement that focuses solely on women smacks of the antiquated view that women shouldn’t drink, period. Men drink far more than women do. They are twice as likely to binge drink. They’re more than twice as likely to become alcoholics. They’re more likely to drink before being in a fatal car accident or before killing themselves. Of course we want to prevent developmental delays among newborns. But if you’re worried about health on a whole-population level, men’s drinking is at least as concerning as women’s, if not more so.

Julie: You’re totally right. An infographic that comes along with the CDC report is headed “Drinking too much can have many risks for women.” Drinking too much can have many risks for everybody! (One thing the graphic lists is “injuries/violence” as one such risk “for any woman,” which is really toeing the line of the “women shouldn’t drink so they don’t get raped” argument.) This focus on women here is only because of their potential as babymakers. Just the potential, it seems, is too risky for the CDC.

Olga: Bottom line for me: It makes sense to, if not stop drinking entirely when pregnant or trying to get pregnant, at least cut way, way down. And of course people should be educated about the risks of heavy alcohol consumption, not just during pregnancy, but all the time. Female alcoholics who get pregnant and can’t quit need a special kind of help. (There are great international examples of home-visiting and other programs designed expressly for this purpose.)

But suggesting all women shouldn’t drink if there’s a chance they might conceive is way too broad. It implies women have no knowledge of or control over their own fertility. And that we don’t appreciate a good G&T on occasion.