The news reports say that Stacey Anvarinia, sentenced yesterday, was arrested back in February of this year for breastfeeding her baby while drunk. But Anvarinia's blood alcohol level wasn't tested, breastfeeding with alcohol in one's system is not necessarily a negative for the baby and, oh yeah, it's also not a crime.
The news reports say that Stacey Anvarinia was arrested back in February of this year for breastfeeding her baby while drunk. According to San Francisco Gate’s Mommy Files:
Last February, police in Grand Forks, N.D., were called about a
domestic disturbance at the home of 26-year-old Stacey Anvarinia. When
they arrived, Anvarinia was drunk and slurring her words–and she was
breast-feeding. The officers arrested Anvarinia for neglect of her
six-week-old infant on the grounds that alcohol can pass from mother to
child via breast milk. [emphasis mine] They never determined her blood alcohol level,
but they declared her "extremely intoxicated." The baby was taken to
the hospital for an examination and Anvarinia was locked up on charges
of child neglect.
As a result, yesterday Stacey Anvarinia was sentenced to a 6 month term, at least some of which may be served in a substance-abuse treatment facility.
Let’s review. Despite the fact that Anvarinia’s blood alcohol content was never measured by officers and despite the fact that breastfeeding while drunk is not a crime, this young mother was arrested and booked on charges of child neglect, found guilty and sentenced.
For once I actually agree with Dr. Amy Tuteur, an OB/GYN who was quoted in The Mommy Files from her own blog, The Skeptical OB:
Since when is breastfeeding while drunk a crime? Is it even a danger to
the baby’s health? There is certainly a theoretical risk that a baby
can be harmed by breastfeeding from a chronically intoxicated mother.
Ethanol (alcohol) passes from the mother’s blood stream into her breast
milk. However, it is diluted, and the baby receives only a tiny
fraction of what the mother consumed. There is no scientific evidence
that breastfeeding during a single episode of intoxication is harmful
to the baby in any way.
The officers made a huge assumptive leap here. Not only did they assume Stacey Anvarinia was drunk without actual evidence, they were quite clear that she was arrested because of a perceived risk to a baby of ingesting breastmilk from a woman who’s been drinking. Again, scientific evidence is anything but conclusive on this issue – even if it were a crime.
This is not to say that breastfeeding while drunk, consistently, is appropriate, healthy or cannot be considered neglectful – legally or otherwise. It may very well be all of those things. But arresting a mother, in her own home, for breastfeeding her baby when she appears intoxicated is another sign pointing towards the criminalization of women’s bodies in this society. At what point do we draw the line if we are willing to arrest women for the appearance of being drunk while breastfeeding, even though neither science nor the law believe it to be endangerment worthy of criminalization? Again, Dr. Tuteur gets it right:
This incident is deeply troubling for another reason. It is an attempt
to criminalize mothering if it does not meet entirely arbitrary
standards. Will they be charging mothers who smoke with felony child
neglect, since second hand smoke poses a real, not theoretical, risk to
an infant’s health? Will they be monitoring the dietary intake of women
who breastfeed to make sure that the breast milk contains nutrients in
the recommended amounts and doesn’t contain any non-approved
prescription or over the counter medications?
If officers were concerned because, according to the Grand Forks Herald, they witnessed Anvarinia engage in various displays of what seemed like child endangerment (One of the arresting officers said that, "during the incident, he saw Anvarinia shake
the baby girl, hold her without supporting her head and, at one point,
hold her upside down by one leg"), then why wasn’t CPS called or a file started on Anvarinia? Instead, officers booked her on child neglect based on an idea on which neither science nor the law can back them up.
Breastfeeding with some alcohol in a woman’s system is not only not necessarily a health risk to the baby, it is not – in any way – a criminal act. The only positive to arise from this situation is the potential for Anvarinia to receive treatment for any alcohol abuse problems she may have. That’s a whole lot of vague, though, in return for a situation that reeks of a whole lot of violating of this woman’s rights.
Dozens of college students and reproductive justice activists met with lawmakers in Austin Thursday morning, asking them to support comprehensive sex ed, increase access to legal abortion care, and give doctors more leeway to make medically sound decisions about their patients.
Dozens of college students and reproductive justice activists—some making their first-ever trips to the state capitol building—met with lawmakers in Austin Thursday morning, asking them to support comprehensive sex education, increase access to legal abortion care, and give doctors more leeway to make medically sound decisions about their patients.
The lobby day marked the beginning of a new, multi-year “Trust. Respect. Access.” campaign to advocate for reproductive rights in Texas. Thursday’s events focused in particular on trusting young Texans with evidence-based information about human sexuality and empowering teens who are already parents to be able to make decisions about taking contraception without the consent of their mothers or fathers. Following a morning spent knocking on lawmakers’ doors, the groups amassed on the chilly south steps of the capitol building for a rally.
“A 16-year-old in El Paso knows what is better for her than a white man in Austin does,” said University of Texas at El Paso student Adriano Pérez to the gathered crowd. Pérez emphasized “the power of youth organizing” and the health-care needs not only of Texas women, but of transgender and gender nonconforming Texans.
“The conversation surrounding reproductive rights and access to abortion is often one that is seen as only affecting women,” said Pérez. “But transgender individuals such as myself, and gender nonconforming people, are also affected by the restrictions being placed on reproductive rights and access in Texas.”
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Supporters of Trust. Respect. Access. called the campaign a “long haul” movement meant to address a variety of intrusions into reproductive health-care access and bodily autonomy in Texas over the last several years.
In 2011, Texas lawmakers imposed mandatory ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting periods on Texans seeking abortion care; cut family planning funds by two-thirds; and re-tiered the family planning funding reimbursement system to funnel money away from specialized reproductive health-care providers, causing dozens of health care facilities in Texas to close. In 2013, they passed HB 2, the omnibus anti-abortion law that, if not blocked in federal court, will close all but eight of Texas’ legal abortion facilities—down from more than 40 before the law passed.
Already in 2015, lawmakers have proposed a handful of new laws that will impose even greater restrictions on the few remaining legal abortion providers in Texas, and are planning to siphon money away from Planned Parenthood health-care centers that provide exams as part of a breast and cervical cancer screening program.
This “long-haul” push is reflected in the tactics of some of the campaign supporters present on Thursday. Fifty-eight-year-old Lisa LeBlanc, who joined college students from West Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, and North Texas along with other activists, told Rewire that when her lobby group met with staffers of two anti-choice Republican legislators today, they did not ask for a direct endorsement of a comprehensive sex education bill. Instead, LeBlanc’s organization asked the lawmakers to help the bill get a hearing in a legislative committee.
“We know we’re not gonna change their minds today,” said LeBlanc, but said that asking for future discussions could change minds down the road. “It was really positive.”
A video posted by Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) on
At the rally, Dallasite Candice Russell, a writer and activist, shared her two abortion stories: the first, as a low-income 21-year-old living on cheap junk food, and the second, as a 30-year-old career woman who wasn’t ready to be a mother, but who had to fly to California to get the legal abortion care she couldn’t access in Texas after the passage of HB 2.
Russell told the gathered crowd of shivering students, activists, and news reporters that she didn’t know if she ever wants to become a mom, but if or when she does, it will be her own decision: “I can assure you if I do, it will not be because it is legislated.”
Twice this week, conservatives have tried to draw false equivalences between slut-shaming and discouraging behavior that causes actual harm. Here's why slut-shaming is wrong, but asking for corporate transparency or public transit etiquette is not.
Of all the various bad faith arguments and bouts of intellectual dishonesty rife on the right, playing “gotcha” with false equivalence is amongst the most popular. After all, defending sexism or racism outright makes you sound like a terrible person; instead, you see gambits suggesting that if a liberal was ever sexist to Sarah Palin, that means feminists need to shut up forever about misogyny for all time. Or that because a small group of men calling themselves the “New Black Panthers” are hanging out at voting booths, that somehow means that we should all ignore the much more serious problem of racist voter ID laws. These are all forms of false equivalence, which the Rational Wiki defines as treating two sides of an argument as “equal value regardless of their respective merits.” It’s like saying a grizzly bear is the same thing as a hamster because both have claws and fur.
Unsurprising, then, that conservatives made two attempts this week to play this game with the concept of “slut-shaming,” a now-mainstream feminist term that describes the act of trying to judge someone—usually a woman—for having consensual sex on her own terms.
It’s hard to defend slut-shaming as a practice. You not only have to try to explain why you’re holding women’s sexual behavior to a different standard than men’s; you also have to argue that someone else’s private choices are your business. So it’s not surprising to see conservatives instead trying to argue that liberals are somehow committing the equivalent of slut-shaming in other arenas, in an effort to confuse people about what the term means and why it’s wrong to slut-shame. And all in the service, no less, of trying to equate people who actually cause real harm in the world—greedy CEOs and inconsiderate men, as you’ll see—with innocent women who are being shamed for harmless, private sexual choices.
Well, I’m not going to just let people trot out these false equivalences without calling them out for it.
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Exhibit #1: Corporate accountability is the same thing as trying to control someone’s private sex life.
This one is courtesy of Kennedy Montgomery and Andrea Tantaros of Fox News. The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed implementing a law that would require publicly held companies to disclose the ratio of CEO pay to median employee pay. The ladies at Fox News, deeply protective of the “right” of CEOs to get as rich as possible without being accountable to their workers or investors, threw a fit, equating this request for corporate transparency to shaming women for private, consensual sex.
“They are essentially trying to slut-shame companies into paying their highest workers less,” Montgomery complained.
“And slut-shaming companies is not the job of the U.S. government,” Tantaros agreed.
Classic false equivalence. In reality, there’s a huge difference between the personal choices of a private individual and the decisions of a publicly held company. At its heart, the argument against shaming women for having sex is that it’s none of your business. Their actions don’t hurt you. They don’t even affect you. It is victimless behavior.
The same cannot be said when it comes to corporate secrecy, which hurts shareholders and workers. Since those are the people who actually contribute to the company, and who make or break its chances at success, they deserve information about whether the company is making good choices with the time and money they give it. And overpaying the CEO relative to the employees causes problems, both for the companies themselves and for the economy at large. It doesn’t just escalate income inequality; some economists consider it to be a waste of resources—and therefore bad for business as a whole—to invest so much into one person instead of into the larger workforce.
None of that is true about the sex lives of strangers, which are not about you, as much as you might wish otherwise.
Exhibit #2: Asking men to treat others with courtesy is the same thing as criticizing someone’s sexual choices.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is starting a campaign asking passengers to be mindful of their manners and share the space on subways and buses. One of the cited rude behaviors, in which someone spreads their legs out as far as possible in order to keep people from sitting next to them, has been nicknamed “manspreading” because the culprits are mostly men. Judging by the social media and blog posts documenting the phenomenon, most of the men who do it are healthy and young, making their unwillingness to share with others, who might be disabled or elderly (or hell, just standing in high heels), even more repulsive. It’s also a problem that has been noticed in the past, as the New York Times pointed out, and subject to “please remember your courtesies”-type campaigns then too.
So, if it’s okay to subway shame men, is it okay to slut-shame women? Slut-shaming is “defined by many as a process in which women are attacked for their transgression of accepted codes of sexual conduct.” So now men are attacked. Why is one form of sexism okay and the other not? And don’t give me the crap about the patriarchy. If you shame men in this way, you are a nasty sexist who deserves contempt.
Ah, false equivalence. You can see the intellectual dishonesty bursting at the seams: as if all “codes” of conduct—in this case, arbitrary sexuality standards reinforced by the patriarchy and basic transit etiquette—are all the same and equally valid. But for those who are sincerely confused about the difference, I refer you back to the idea of victimless behavior and minding your own business. If I choose to have consensual sex on my own time in private, this has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t change your life in any way. But if you choose to sprawl out over a seat on the subway so an elderly lady carrying shopping bags can’t sit down, that choice does affect others. It hurts other people. And therefore, it has become our business.
There is also the basic concept of fairness to consider. Space is limited on a subway, so we have to all be mindful to divide it up as fairly as we can. But sex is not a limited resource. If some woman has a lot of it, she’s not taking it away from the sex bank and keeping you from having it yourself.
Of course, two instances of these logical fallacies falls just short of a trend. The fact that they both happened within a week of each other, though, suggests that the concept of “slut-shaming” has really started to bug some people on the right, and they are itching to find ways to undermine the concept or confuse the issue. But we expect 5-year-olds to distinguish between these ideas of privacy, fairness, and harm, so it’s ridiculous to see grown adults try to pretend they can’t. This level of intellectual dishonesty suggests a bit of desperation. They want to keep trying to control female sexuality, but the excuses are running out. Instead, the grasping at straws has begun.