Bullying pregnant women who drink alcohol? Let’s try empathy instead…

A couple of weeks ago, Kim Cloete won “Journalist of the Year” in the 2012 brandhouse Responsible Drinking Media Awards. (Brandhouse  is one of the leading alcohol beverage companies in South Africa). Cloete won for her documentary on FASD for Carte Blanche.

While this could be a post on this worrisome trend of the alcohol industry having a hand in increasing awareness about FASD, it’s really about a follow-up article in News24 by one of the judges, Chris Moerdyk.

Moerdyk comments that after watching the documentary: “My immediate reaction was to go out and hunt down pregnant women with glasses of booze in their hands. And then to bully them into submission.” He believes the solution to preventing FASD is to make drinking during pregnancy (and drinking irresponsibly in general) socially unacceptable.

Unfortunately, sentiments like these seem to be increasingly common as people learn more about FASD. And this leads to a lot of mother-blaming, guilt, and shame. But it’s also the result of a pretty limited understanding of the root causes of alcohol misuse during pregnancy. (For example, see an earlier post It’s not only about alcohol, March 15, 2011).

It’s interesting that Moerdyk starts his article by stating “I am pleased to say that unlike far too many South African men, I have never assaulted or raped a woman.” Yet he doesn’t take this awareness of the prevalence of violence in his community and connect it to alcohol misuse. Nor does he comment on the racial dynamics going on in the documentary. Rather than offering a pregnant woman support, he doesn’t mind judgement: “You might well upset them and put a strain on your friendship. But that’s better than them killing their own child or someone else’s.”

For more on FASD prevention in South Africa, see previous posts:


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