5th 2009
Breast is best…for patriarchal equilibrium?

Posted under: class, Gender, the body, women's history

Feed me!

Feed me!

Squadratomagico (in a recent e-mail exchange) reminded me recently of an article in The Atlantic magazine last spring that may shed some light on this patriarchal equilibrium thingy we’ve been puzzling on for the last six months or so.  (This post may have some interesting connections to some of the conversations going on over at Reassigned Time with Dr. Crazy this week, at least for the heterosexualists and breeder types.)  Hanna Rosin wrote (very bravely, I think) about what appears to be the very shaky evidence that breast milk is the Holy Grail of All Health and Wellness for babies, and about her very fraught experience with it herself.  After two babies, she had had enough!

One afternoon at the playground last summer, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness, and the mothers shortly wandered away to chase little Emma or Liam onto the slide. Just to be perverse, over the next few weeks I tried this experiment again several more times. The reaction was always the same: circles were redrawn such that I ended up in the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.

Scandalous!  What kind of mother are you, Hanna Rosin?  Friends of mine have told me their stories of being terrorized by people they refer to as “the nursing Nazis,” who are beyond evangelical in their insistence that “breast is best,” and that “anyone can do it!”  I have a lot of friends who breastfed successfully, but now that I think of it, I have a lot more friends who couldn’t, and didn’t.  One friend produced only a few squirts of milk, and spent most of her child’s infancy feeling like a total failure as a mother.  Another friend had a preemie who couldn’t nurse because of her medical condition, and then after six weeks in the hospital, the baby strongly preferred the bottle.  (They say that breast size is no hindrance, but I have to tell you:  it sure seems like my flat-chested friends have had a lot more troubles than my friends with larger breasts.  I’m just sayin’.)  So faced with the certain starvation of their children, they decided–faute de mieux–to go ahead and mix up a bottle of Drano formula to fill the wee one’s belly.

Hanna Rosin’s article makes me think that all of my friends who cried endless tears of frustration over their “failure” to breastfeed were after all the lucky ones.  Be sure to read her whole article to see just how exaggerated those claims about the magical purity and clear superiority of breast milk really are.  Can your child’s Kindergarten teacher really look around the room and say, “Oh she was breast fed, that one too, that one too–uh-oh, clearly a formula baby over there. . . ”  I know children who were breast fed exclusively for six months who are plagued by allergies and colds, and formula kids who are healthy as horses.  (Anecdata, to be sure, but the “scientific proof” of breast milk’s superiority ain’t all that, either:

[T]he medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better. . . . A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design. “The studies do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances,” concluded one of the first, and still one of the broadest, meta studies, in a 1984 issue of Pediatrics, “and they do not support making a mother feel that she is doing psychological harm to her child if she is unable or unwilling to breastfeed.” Twenty-five years later, the picture hasn’t changed all that much. So how is it that every mother I know has become a breast-feeding fascist?

Rosin writes of the frustrations of trying to be egalitarian heterosexuals in the face of the demands of breastfeeding:

We were raised to expect that co-parenting was an attainable goal. But who were we kidding? Even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden shifts, in incremental, mostly unacknowledged ways, onto the woman. Breast-feeding plays a central role in the shift. In my set, no husband tells his wife that it is her womanly duty to stay home and nurse the child. Instead, both parents together weigh the evidence and then make a rational, informed decision that she should do so. Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Recently, my husband and I noticed that we had reached the age at which friends from high school and college now hold positions of serious power. When we went down the list, we had to work hard to find any women. Where had all our female friends strayed? Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?

The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.

NO--Feed ME!

NO--Feed ME!

Might some of the ideological rigidity of this modern “Breastfeeding Imperative” be due to its canny facilitation of that ol’ devil, patriarchal equilibrium?  When we look back on the last few centuries of modern Western women’s history, so much of the advice that mothers have been given about how to raise their children properly has in fact served other needs rather than, strictly speaking, children’s or women’s needs.  (I would argue that haranguing women about their children’s needs usually is about just about everything except children’s actual needs, but wev.)  Is the B.I. just the “scientifically” enabled, updated version of The Cult of True Womanhood?  It surely creates an environment in which a woman’s body is located in domestic space for hours or days at a time with an infant, and is frequently only partially clothed–something that’s probably a new experience for most professional women, to say the least.  This is, to be sure, the experience only of elite women who can afford to take this kind of time away from paid employment–and interestingly enough, these are the very women who have the education and the cultural capital to challenge traditional sex roles at work.  (As Rosin asks, “Where had all our female friends strayed?  Why had they disappeared during the years they’d had small children?”)

The B.I. is brilliant:  it links women with children once again, and because of the time and work involved, it prevents women from engaging in paid employment.  It’s a patriarchal equilibrium twofer!  Awesome.  Let’s change that old expression, “barefoot and pregnant” to “nursing and topless,” shall we?  (And, let’s try to keep things civil here, folks.  Whether you have experience with nursing or bottles or none of the above, they’re all different legitimate experiences.  There is no one right way to feed a baby or to raise a child–as a feminist philosopher friend of mine used to say, “that kind of thinking only makes sense if all women and all children are exactly alike.”  And, of course, we’re not.)


73 Responses to “Breast is best…for patriarchal equilibrium?”

  1. Feminist Avatar on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:20 am #

    I wrote a related post to this a while ago, about why different childbirthing options were so contentious, particularly in femininst circles. And, ultimately, I think it comes down to the fact that woman’s bodies are not our own- and whenever we move to reclaim that right (which is surely about choice, rather than a particular correct behaviour), the tables are turned on us. Patriarchal equilibrium indeed.

    I should add however that in the UK we get 6 months maternity leave full pay and another 3 on half pay, and a further three months for free. During which time the law says our jobs must be held open, we must not be denied promotion opportunities (and this includes the right to be promoted during leave) and it cannot be seen as absence from work in terms of length of service etc. Of course, discrimination happens, but at least we theoretically have legal backing. This also allows mothers to breast feed if that is their choice with less repercussions to their careers. Current campaigns are now centred around allowing maternity leave to be taken by men, as is the case in certain Scandinavian countries.

  2. perpetua on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:24 am #

    Historiann, I have to say that I for one found Rosin’s article offensive and ill-informed, speaking both as a mother and as a feminist. Many, many people (experts and scientists) have responded to her “analysis” of scientific data on breastmilk with very effective critiques of her use of scientific data. The data overwhelmingly suggests that breastfeeding provides benefits to mother and child. Does that mean that your child will be stupid if you don’t breastfeed? Of course not. Or will be more likely to die of a disease? Not if you live in the Western world – but in other parts of the world, the answer is maybe. Even without the question of the “science” of breastmilk, however, I found the whole premise of the article troubling. I understand the feminist argument that there are difficulties and repercussions for women who try to breastfeed and work, that the professional system is not set up to allow this easily and women who do so may risk their professional careers and sanity. But Rosin’s response is to say that *breastfeeding* is the problem, not the patriarchy/ lack of benefits. European countries with high rates of extended breastfeeding ALSO have 12 months of partially or fully paid maternity leave. The insanity in the US system is advocating strongly that mothers breastfeed while placing working mothers in the position of – in some cases – having to go back to work at 6 weeks!

    Now I need to make 2 important caveats to my statements above. 1) I believe strongly that no woman should feel forced to breastfeed, or be told by anyone that she’s less of a mother because she chooses not to or is unable. And 2) there’s also nothing wrong with a working mother *not* wanting 12 months off, but rather preferring to go back to work much earlier. But as I’ve said before on this site, mothers need support – institutional support for the act of being mothers, that enables women who choose to breastfeed and love doing it, to spend more time with their infants if they feel this is important. We should be angry that it’s harder for women who chose to breastfeed to so do successfully! In my opinion, rather than going after the partiarchy, Rosin is actually going after other women. Rather than fighting for women’s rights at the workplace, she’s trying to dismantle them. And this fact is one I find *especially* galling given the context of her life – presumably white, very privileged, professional, *breastfeeding mother*. We need to be very cautious of the role that class plays in all of this, because it seems to me that only the most privileged professional women are the ones engaged in the culture wars of breastfeeding (ie who use breastfeeding as a litmus test of one’s “true” motherhood). The majority of American women do not breastfeed beyond the first little while (I can’t remember if it’s six weeks) – many don’t breastfeed at all. Thus, we aren’t living in a situation like in Europe where the overwhelming majority of women are breastfeeding and the formula feeders are being mocked and dismissed as “not real mothers”. I understand of course that the latter discourse DOES exist in this country, limited though it is, and I remain vocally opposed to using breastfeeding as a stick to beat women over the head with. But the fact that are potential benefits to the act means that all women deserve to be INFORMED of those potential benefits – then she can make up her own mind about what’s best for herself, her child, and her family. It seems like these “anti-breastfeeding” tracts would like doctors and nurses to stop providing information to women under the assumption that information is inherently “bad” for women. (The irony is that many many OBS and nurses don’t know much about breastfeeding and aren’t generally supportive of it – breastfeeding moms in this country often have to actively seek out help and support because there’s so little available to them. And as for the issue of being “topless” – women get asked to leave public places all the time if they try to nurse publicly. Americans are very embarrassed and even hostile to public nursing, especially in the in between states.)

    I think there are important points in Rosin’s article about the social & professional burdens placed on mothers. But putting the blame on breastfeeding is, in my opinion, reductive and counterproductive, because it doesn’t address REAL issues of women, motherhood, and working.

  3. Anastasia on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:39 am #

    This: “In my opinion, rather than going after the partiarchy, Rosin is actually going after other women.”

    Thank you for saying it, perpetua. That was exactly my reaction.

  4. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:40 am #

    Feminist Avatar–thanks for the link. You’re right that all of these breastfeeding and childbirth issues are linked. And, you’re certainly correct that when the law guarantees your job for a year after giving birth, that sure makes it a LOT easier to nurse!

    Perpetua: you’re right that Rosin’s article doesn’t address absolutely every public policy aspect for why women find it difficult to breastfeed. But–”offensive and ill-informed?” Really? Do you have links to the experts who have debunked Rosin’s analysis of the medical literature? (I’m asking genuinely–I haven’t seen these, but since Rosin isn’t a physician or a scientist, I’m open to hearing their critiques of her summary of the literature.)

    I really don’t think Rosin’s article argues that mothers don’t need support, nor do I think she’s “putting the blame on breastfeeding.” She’s arguing (as I read it) that breastfeeding is being used as a tool to enforce a status quo, and a status quo that isn’t addressing any of the important issues you raise.

  5. Feminist Avatar on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Oh Perpetua that reminds me, in Scotland it is illegal to ask a breast-feeding woman to leave a public place.

  6. Anastasia on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:47 am #

    I also wanted to comment on this:

    “Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick, and so on.”

    What is this, breastfeeding as slippery slope? These things do not logically follow, at least not with anything like necessity. I could give you anecdotal evidence to the contrary but I don’t think it matters. What bothers me is the underlying argument, which seems to be that breastfeeding is a gateway to patriarchy because the man will never do anything for the child again, shifting the entire childcare burden onto the woman. Damn you, breastfeeding!

    It’s not the most impressive reasoning I’ve read lately.

  7. squadratomagico on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:50 am #

    “In my opinion, rather than going after the partiarchy, Rosin is actually going after other women.”

    This strikes me as a false opposition. Aren’t “other women” also part of “the patriarchy?” Patriarchy is a cultural system, not simply “men.” Women can indeed be part of it and work to uphold its values, either consciously or not. The term patriarchy loses its power, for me, if we use it as a simple cipher for “them evil menfolk.” The reason the term is useful is precisely because it targets relations of power that are far more subtle and pervasive than that.

  8. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 8:55 am #

    Squadrato–yes, exactly. I don’t see Rosin’s article as blaming women. She shows how, through a variety of peer, medical, and social pressures, the “choice” to nurse is constructed as the only virtuous or responsible choice. And yes, women are part of that, as are men, although they don’t benefit equally from the status quo.

    I urge everyone to read all of Rosin’s article, not just the parts I excerpted. It’s much more subtle (and humorous!) than it’s being portrayed here.

  9. Susan on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:12 am #

    It seems to me that Rosin was not criticizing breast-feeding, or women who breast feed, but the *cult* of breastfeeding. So insofar as women are the primary enforcers (the women in the park) of the cult, then they are agents of patriarchy.

    This goes back to one of the reasons that patriarchy “works”: it becomes the norm, and women accept it.

    As a historical note, the pressures for and against breast feeding for elite women have gone back and forth. It was considered quite radical for elite women to breast feed in the late 18th C (instead of using wet-nurses), then normative in the early 19th. THe rise of formulas shifted the focus away from breast feeding, but in the early 50s, my mother tried to breast feed my sister, but was undermined by my grandmothers. My guess is the move back towards breast feeding came earlier than Rosin suggests, at least in the US.

  10. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:18 am #

    Susan–good points. One thing I think has changed a great deal too in recent times is the duration that “counts” for nursing. I was “breastfed,” 41 years ago–but when I asked my mother how long specifically, she said, “oh, about 6 weeks!” So my mother counted as a nursing mother in ways that Rosin doesn’t (with her third child, anyway), although they nursed for about the same length of time.

    As you suggest–in the modern era, there’s always some counter-advice to make women feel guilt and shame that they’re not serving their children well, and communities of women are agents of this guilt and shame as much as more obviously “patriarchal” institutions (medicine, the law, the priesthood, fathers/husbands, etc.)

  11. Erica on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:20 am #

    Breastfeeding is a somewhat classist issue — if you’re at a playground in an upscale neighborhood, mothers are more likely to be shocked at not breastfeeding, or breastfeeding only for a few days/weeks/months. However, I’ve also seen playground chats with moms who worked full-time outside the home who were equally shocked by “long-term” breastfeeding (and the definition of “long” also varies widely between the two groups — 9 months, 5 years, there’s a wide range).

    However, there’s a subtle difference between the sort of disapproval you get. In the former, you’re considered lazy, or uncaring, or ignorant of the vast superiority of breastmilk. In the latter, you’re considered the preachy stranger who doesn’t understand the real pressures and problems a working mother faces, bragging about the fact that you had the resources to take time off work (six weeks medical leave may be adequate time to recover from the traumas of labor and delivery, but that is the ONLY part of having a baby that it addresses), and then had a job nice enough to let you breastfeed.

    I learned pretty early that I just never wanted to get into a conversation with somebody who eagerly asked, “SO, is YOUR baby breastfed?” It wouldn’t be going anywhere positive…

  12. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:26 am #

    Erica–well said. (Nice to hear from you again, too!)

    I have heard of the urban legend of the 5-year old who still nurses, but I’ve never seen it myself! (At that point, it really isn’t at all about the child, is it?)

    Whatever works in each family, I guess.

  13. The Rebel Lettriste on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:41 am #

    I have seen with my own eyes the SEVEN YEAR OLD who still nursed. But that was at a hippie commune sort of place, so whatevs.

    This issue has been much on my mind of late. Mainly because, when I thought I was having a singleton, I was pretty gungho about the b-feeding. Now that I know I am having twins, I am quite ambivalent about it, both on a physical and an intellectual level. It’s going to be rather difficult to attend in any way to my research agenda when I have to serve as a nursing machine, feeding “on demand” two squalling babies 24 hours/day. Not to mention, oh, my own needs to go the bathroom, eat, and sleep.

  14. undine on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:53 am #

    I thought the whole late 1960s revolution in attitudes about breastfeeding, like those about childbirth, was supposed to be about choices, not “you’re doing it wrong.”

    This is especially important: “As you suggest–in the modern era, there’s always some counter-advice to make women feel guilt and shame that they’re not serving their children well, and communities of women are agents of this guilt and shame as much as more obviously “patriarchal” institutions (medicine, the law, the priesthood, fathers/husbands, etc.)”

    The underlying ideas may–and I do mean “may,” not “are”–be coming from patriarchy, but the nasty enforcement, as those commenting are saying, is being visited by women on other women.

    We need to stop it.

  15. undine on 05 Sep 2009 at 10:08 am #

    Let me rephrase that a little. I know we can’t all hold hands and sign on a mountaintop, as that last statement implies, but we can do two things: (1) call attention to competitive mothering practices and critique them, as Historiann and others are doing; and (2) stop the “I’m doing this right; you’re doing this wrong” tone that mars Rosin’s article (which I read in its entirety).

    That’s what’s so disturbing to me: there doesn’t seem to be much room for the old Sesame Street mantra of “my way is right for me, as yours is for you.”

  16. undine on 05 Sep 2009 at 10:08 am #

    “Sing” on a mountaintop–sorry.

  17. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 10:09 am #

    Rebel Lettriste: Good luck, girl! You’re gonna need it. The first year will be difficult, but you’ll be repaid by the twins’ ability to play with and amuse each other. From what I’ve observed, singletons stay very demanding unless and until they have siblings, but twins are their own built-in playmates.

    Undine: thanks. I have a lot of friends who were unable to nurse, and who really believed it was their own fault. There seems to be a fine line between organizations that “encourage” and “foster” nursing, and those that imply that if you or your baby can’t/won’t nurse, there’s something wrong with you and that your bond is “unnatural.”

  18. Nikki on 05 Sep 2009 at 10:20 am #

    A friend once observed that the growing obsession with breast feeding coincided with the increase of women in the workplace. As we have all observed, it is very challenging to exclusively breast feed and work full time. And expensive too. Breast pumps are not cheap!

  19. Kate on 05 Sep 2009 at 11:02 am #

    I’m just not sure where to begin here. My scholarship is in the field of women’s health but I’d rather not say more because of my thin veil of pseudonymity. Suffice it to say that while the evidence is of a VERY SMALL positive effect on children for breastfeeding, it is a VERY CONSISTENT effect (and I would agree that this doesn’t necessarily have a lot of biological meaning). Further, the positive physiological effects on the mother for breastfeeding are both CONSISTENT and LARGE across studies (this does in fact have a lot of biological meaning).

    I had trouble breastfeeding the first three weeks, I got some great help from LLL and from a lactation consultant, and over time I figured it out, partly because I had the luxury to (though all I had was FMLA) and partly because I was committed to it for my daughter’s and my own health. Eighteen months in and I’m still breastfeeding happily. If someone feels meh about breastfeeding, that should be factored into the decision. This is about making an individual cost/benefit analysis: are the physiological effects on the child and mother, including the bonding that occurs with the transmission of oxytocin, greater than the costs of the time it takes, the greater childrearing responsibility the mother has when the child is exclusively breastfed, etc. Basically we’re back to the Sesame Street saying quoted above by undine.

    I also wish we could move away from the word “cult.” There is no cult of breastfeeding, just like there is no cult of anti-breastfeeding. There are just a lot of opinionated people out there, all influenced by patriarchy and internalized oppression, and some are able to get out from under their shit and make a rational decision for themselves and some are not. I have yet to meet a fellow mom who tried to foist her breastfeeding opinions on me, nor have I ever felt alienated by others for my own decisions. I think Rosin is setting up a bit of a straw person argument (and yes I also read the whole thing).

    Finally, Historiann, I do wish you would refrain from reducing those of us who have had children to the name of “breeders.” I am a scholar, a parent, a wife, a labor activist, an athlete, a baker. Perhaps we could all stand to ratchet down our language when talking about these issues… at least, if we’re ever going to get to the more productive place of supporting each other through our choices and recognizing when our ire against patriarchy makes us feel less connected.

  20. squadratomagico » Blog Archive » patriarchy on 05 Sep 2009 at 11:32 am #

    [...] arises that “[This analysis] is attacking women, not the patriarchy.” Here’s a recent case in point, but it is by no means a unique [...]

  21. Janice on 05 Sep 2009 at 11:59 am #

    Susan, I agree with your reaction to Rosin. I feel that there’s a definite cult of breastfeeding that shames and marginalizes women who don’t breastfeed, reflexively, only grudgingly accepting that “failure” if there is some physiological reason. Otherwise, the cult deems you a “bad mommy.” (That rolls off of my back like water off of a duck’s but only because I’ve developed a very thick skin as the mother of an autistic child.)

    Like you, Historiann, I was taken by Rosin’s underlining of how the “Breastfeeding Imperative” undermines women at the same time it glorifies the breastfeeding mother. That last quotation: This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.

    Yes! Recognize that a mother who breastfeeds is putting in all of that time with her child and something has to give if she’s going to sleep, eat and do anything else in her life. Recognize that parenting is work and work that we should value as a society and on an individual basis. And recognize that a mother who doesn’t breastfeed please isn’t a failure. She’s just a mother who’s making a different choice for whatever reason and, like most parents, could use a break instead of a harangue.

  22. Susan on 05 Sep 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    I think Erica’s point about class is very important (as it is with all childrearing advice) — in some ways it’s designed so that most women fail. (And I’d suggest that this is a transhistorical phenomenon, though the content of the advice changes.
    It also occurs to me that the vivid scene in the park reminded me of junior high; and I think that underlines how anxious women are about their choices: that is why they shunned Rosin. And that’s the sense in which there is a cult — it’s about fitting in, finding a pattern where you know what to do when you really don’t.

    Oh, and I’ve seen the five-year old nursing, at a wedding no less. He just walked up to his mother while she was dancing, she stopped, went to the side, he took a few sips, and then went on. I was totally blown away.

  23. Rosel on 05 Sep 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    One thing that I don’t see addressed here is the lack of real education and support, rather than lip-service needed to support getting started with breastfeeding. I’m assuming a woman who has 12 weeks off from work. She needs actually physiological information about how breastfeeding works, how weaning works, and about the fact that AFTER a good breastfeeding start, most babies can actually make the shift to part-time nursing, part time formula if she doesn’t really enjoy pumping or her job makes it too hard. But she can’t tell the nurses at the hospital that she is going to do “both” because they won’t bother to bring her the baby and by the time she leaves the hospital 1-3 days later it’s, if not too-late, at least really difficult. And she can’t be all worrying about pumping in the first few days (guaranteed she got 2 breast pumps for shower gifts) because then she is making more milk than needed and tiring herself out unnecessarily. And she doesn’t know, and no one really explains why you don’t want to “top-off” every nursing with a little formula just in case the baby is still hungry. With the emphasis on pumping and guilt and without the basic body information, it’s not going to be easy. If she gets a good start, 12 weeks is usually way past long enough for the mom to enjoy the good parts. Then she can decide whether to pack it in, whether to pump, or whether to wean part time (including commuting she is away from baby 50 hours a week and not away from baby the other 118 hours a week… wouldn’t it be nice to not have to waste her hard-earned money and scarce time on buying and preparing more formula than necessary).

    I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has seen several friends recently get a non-start with breastfeeding even though they didn’t have any cultural prejudices against it and even though they had the desire and the time, simply because they weren’t taught or didn’t learn about how it works physically… and no one, including me, wanted to say something that would be perceived as offensive, which apparently “almost every woman can breastfeed if she wants, and here’s why” is.

  24. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    For the record: I am not a lactation consultant, advocate, or enemy. I’m a women’s historian, hence the thrust of my post connecting Rosin’s comments to broader trends in women’s history over the last 300 years or so.

    Also: when I used the term “heterosexualists and breeder types,” I was trying to suggest a lighthearted and joking mood. (I was also acknowledging that breastfeeding is not something that concerns all women, and not even all heterosexual women.) Why is it that no one can have a sense of humor when we talk about breastfeeding? That seems to reinforce my point of view, which is that making it such a big deal works against women’s interests.

  25. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    One more thing: please let’s keep this a discussion of women’s history and Rosin’s argument that the “Breastfeeing Imperative” may play in the patriarchal equilibrium we’ve been talking about here off and on for the past 6 months.

  26. ej on 05 Sep 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    When my daughter was born, the vast, vast majority of hospital staff assumed I would be breastfeeding. In fact, it was brought up so often, if I hadn’t intended to, I think I would have just lied and said I was going to, because of the pressure I felt. Perhaps much of it was in my head, but only because of my fear of seeming like a “bad mother”. My daughter was in the NICU for 6 weeks, and at least once a day I was visited by a lactation consultant eager to help her and I connect. It never did happen-I pumped for 8 weeks until I could no longer keep up with her, and then she switched to formula. Because of these circumstances, I can say that not nursing wasn’t a choice, but even if I had felt otherwise, I honestly doubt I would have had the nerve to tell those women to their face that I chose formula. I’m not criticizing those women personally. They were all wonderful and made a very difficult situation bearable. But to me, that’s how the patriarchal equilibrium works. It pressures women to make decisions through guilt stemming from their biology.

  27. Historiann on 05 Sep 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    ej–there’s a new book in my field that we should both read and talk about sometime: Kathleen Brown’s Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America, that does some history of the “longue duree” of the association between women and intimate body care that may shed some light on the connections discussed here between breasts, biology, and women’s work. She observes that women in many world cultures across time and space have been responsible for the intimate care of bodies (“body care”)–babies’ and children’s bodies, sick bodies, aged bodies–and of the care of items associated with intimate bodily contact (laundry). This association in part led to women assuming more of the burden for ensuring their families’ and households’ cleanliness. “Clean” was of course a moving target–one whose demands for perfection have changed dramatically over the past 400 years, as technology and ideology worked to demand more and more “body care” and cleanliness from women. She suggests that these connections may be linked to early modern European concerns about containing and controlling the disturbingly leaky, smelly, undisciplined female body.

    It’s interesting to me that so much new feminist scholarship is exploring connections between the body and women’s history–not in an essentialist way, but in ways that are complex and acknowledge the primary role of ideology in discourses about women. We don’t seem to be as afraid of “essentialism” as we were 20 years ago or so.

  28. Barb on 05 Sep 2009 at 5:12 pm #

    For me, it boils down to this: the system, whether it be the patriarchy or something else, is hurting *all* women when things have gotten so confrontational that a friend of mine *cried* when telling me that she was going to stop breastfeeding because she was starting to resent her daughter (serious problems with latching on made feeding the baby painful even at 3 months old). NO ONE should feel like the choice is please society and hate her child, or face public disapproval and enjoy her baby!

  29. Feminist Avatar on 05 Sep 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    I just read a really interesting on male domestic servants in India in contemporary society, which said that laundry is generally a woman’s job, but some male servants could be prevailed on to wash men’s clothes. But, they absolutely wouldn’t wash women’s clothes- and it is accepted by their female employers that that is the case. The disgust with which the female body can be held is quite fascinating when contrasted with women as figures of beauty and lust. And, yet, somehow you suspect that these are really two sides of the same coin; women as other, women as not human.

  30. Paul on 05 Sep 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    This sounds like the kind of issue where peoples’ views depend very much on their personal experiences. Women who have difficulty breastfeeding and and who are treated negatively by other women are understandably upset about that. On the other hand, if studies by health experts do consistently show that there are some benefits to breast feeding, then it is quite understandable that many women would want to breast feed. The real problem seems to be when people expect it as a universal standard regardless of whether it is working well or not, and regardless of the circumstances of the mother.

    I wonder if this is tied into what seems to me like an even wider trend among middle and upper-middle class families in the USA – an extreme protectiveness of children and fear that one mistake on the part of the parents could permanently damage a child’s physical and/or mental health. There was a post here a little ways back about this extra protectiveness, and I wonder if it is a different facet of the same attitude. In some ways, I think that this attitude might put a heavier burden on both parents, but the heavier burden will almost always fall on the mother, because in spite of generations of feminism, societal expectations in general are still that women will assume the lion’s share of responsibility for raising children, especially infants and young children.

    On an only slightly-related note, I remember hearing somewhere that children nursing until 5 or 6 years of age was not unusual in some cultures, especially hunter-gatherer cultures. I’m not sure about the reasons for this.

  31. Comrade PhysioProf on 05 Sep 2009 at 9:48 pm #

    That baby in the picture is totally fake crying.

  32. Shaz on 06 Sep 2009 at 12:01 am #

    Sorry, historiann, I’m on the other side of this one. If medical literature suggests a few percent of women can’t physically breastfeed, then why do SO many women say they quit because they couldn’t produce enough milk, baby wouldn’t nurse, etc?

    Yes, it is a choice, but let’s have women take responsibility for making that choice: if you choose not to breast feed because you don’t enjoy it; because you put your well-being first (nothing wrong with that!); you are embarrassed to do it in public; because it is too hard with your job/life/etc., then claim your choice honestly. Then we can start to have real discussions about the causes and consequences. Let’s not turn it, as I see too often, into a failure of women’s bodies. Women, historically, have a real problem owning their own choices, and I see this as part of it.

    I’d also, as long as I’m on a tear, relate this to the overmedicalization of childbirth and the real discouragement of breastfeeding due to a scientistic quantification of child rearing (I can’t count the number of times a pediatrician insisted on knowing how many ounces my breastfeeding babies were getting, and without knowing, worried that [my perpetually top of the growth curve] weren’t being well nourished.)

    Finally, I completely object to the statement you quote that “It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way.” For (as others have said, privileged) women in academia, that’s ridiculous. Case in point: I pumped (thank goodness for hands free pumping!) for 9 months at full time work while editing my entire book and teaching. For women with private offices and pretty autonomous schedules this is very doable.

    The bigger historic question for me is why many women feel others (doctors, formula makers, childrearing experts, plastic surgeons, etc) know better or do better than their own bodies.

  33. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 7:09 am #

    Interesting comments. I think Paul is exactly right: “The real problem seems to be when people expect it as a universal standard regardless of whether it is working well or not, and regardless of the circumstances of the mother.”

    Shaz: we just disagree. When Rosin said, “it is a serious time commitment,” I presume that she was speaking from her experience, as you are speaking from yours. Women are different! Babies are different! Both of you had different experiences. And I know a lot of women who either didn’t produce enough milk or who had a painful and difficult experience with breastfeeding. All of these things can happen and are true!

    Your last comment is kind of confusing: “The bigger historic question for me is why many women feel others (doctors, formula makers, childrearing experts, plastic surgeons, etc) know better or do better than their own bodies.” Physicians and childrearing experts are among the people pushing breastfeeding, as far as I can tell, but what about lactation consultants? Why not include them among the “experts” who think they know what’s right for women? And–why the worship of the human body, as though everything about it is perfect? Medical technology has permitted so many more of us to survive and give birth who in previous centuries would have died in infancy or childhood or otherwise before reproduction themselves, and then medical technology and interventions have permitted their own children to live when they otherwise might have died. Personally, it seems like a small matter to use manufactured food for infants instead of breast milk, when you consider the ways in which most of us are already the living products of other technologies and interventions!

    I like your point about just owning the choice not to breastfeed–maybe more people (like Barb’s friend!) feel the need to cast their decision as “I can’t” instead of “I won’t” because of the pressure they felt to attempt to nurse, and because of the judgment they get from others (all those experts, doctors, childrearing experts, lactation consultants, and other mothers!)

  34. Rosel on 06 Sep 2009 at 9:44 am #

    I don’t agree with Shaz about the disconnect in why women quit. I know plenty of women who quit when they wanted to and had no trouble saying so. But what good, non-judgmental breastfeeding education is about is helping the women who “can’t”, but want to. Or need to. I’m not talking about the exceedingly difficult circumstances where a baby cannot directly nurse (premie or very sick baby) from the mother. In that case a pumping mother doing a very difficult job with equipment that isn’t as effective as a baby’s suck, and it takes far more time and energy than ordinary breastfeeding.

    My first question as a new mom to the hospital provided lactation consultant was “how soon can I give her a bottle” The woman practically jumped down my throat instead of trying to figure out where i was coming from. And that would probably have ended it (breastfeeding for all my future children) except that I was in an agressive mood and challenged her. “I have qualifying exams in 6 weeks. I plan to breastfeed, but not if it means I can’t take my exams” For some reason, the woman listened to me. And then talked to me. Maybe I even changed her life…

    PS I didn’t need to use formula until 5 months. Maybe I’m always in an agressive mood. My husband brought the baby to the exams and I got the breaks I demanded. This was a long time ago and none of us knew of any breastfeeding rights.

  35. Knitting Clio on 06 Sep 2009 at 10:02 am #

    Great post, Historiann. I have seen the five-year old nursing in action — my cousin, who also home schools her children, breast fed them until they lost interest. One of her sons wasn’t weaned until he was at least five, maybe six. Wev.

    Also, wanted to raise a historic point — La Leche League, which revived breast feeding in the late 1950s, adhered pretty closely to the domestic ideal of that era.

  36. The Rebel Lettriste on 06 Sep 2009 at 11:07 am #

    I do think that this is very much a question of patriarchal equilibrium, and I also think it is — as mentioned earlier — a very classed question. Poor women who must work cannot b-feed their babies. Because they have to go back immediately to their jobs.

    My sense was that the mothers in Rosin’s playground circle are SAHM’s, and SAHM’s of a particularly privileged sort. They’re the ones whose husbands are rich enough to support the whole family. Whatever jobs these women had before motherhood no longer “count.”

    Among white collar women, I think that there is a split between those who continue with their careers (largely because they have to) and those who can “quit.” For those who can “quit,” b-feeding becomes a massive imperative, because it’s an impressive method of contributing. It’s a job. And it’s become fetishized.

    For those who work, b-feeding becomes this guilty labor that must be done even if it’s torturous. You must work AND you must mother, and both must be done EXCELLENTLY; and god help you, you better breastfeed to make up for being away from you baby all day, you bad mother, you.

    (I should ask my sister-in-law, a medical doctor, about this. She b-fed all 3 of her kids. While she was in residency. She went back to work 2 weeks after her c-section with the first one.)

  37. Liz2 on 06 Sep 2009 at 11:16 am #

    Thanks for addressing this issue Historiann. I was pregnant and had my child in a “college town” – a small town with a lot of underemployed, highly educated women who took mommying to a new level of competitiveness. These were all well educated women who saw themselves as being very much outside of the patriarchy and yet they were VERY agressive about monitoring other women’s mothering and behavior – especially breastfeeding. I was regularly criticized for using formula in addition to breastfeeding (and yes I knew people who breastfeed their children into kindergarten). I remember breaking down and crying when my child was more attached to my spouse than me because *that wasn’t how it was supposed to be*. And I think that many women who get that response do have an anti-breastfeeding response rather than a to each their own response.

  38. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 11:29 am #

    ZOMG Liz2 and Rosel–YOU USED FORMULA???////!!!!111 I’m totally calling the cops to have your children taken away from you. ;)

    Here’s my question: IF you think that breastfeeding plays a role in patriarchal equilibrium (and I realize that not all commenters here think this): WHY do you think it is, and why are privileged women in particular invested in the Breastfeeding Imperative? Is it an inevitable counter-measure (as someone upthread suggested) against the influx of more professional women and mothers in the workplace? Is it because women who had the privilege to leave the paid workforce need to find a reason to explain their departure (as Liz2 suggets?) Do women–and even many feminist women–fear the loss of a special role in parenting? (Because giving your baby your very own breast milk is in fact a unique contribution to child care.) By my lights, it seems like it’s mostly women who are enforcing the B.I. (It may have originated in more traditionally “patriarchal” circles–pediatrics in the 1960s and 1970s, etc.—but it seems to me that there are more women enforcers around these days.)

  39. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 11:32 am #

    and p.s. to Knitting Clio–thanks so much for the intel on La Leche. That was always my impression of them–hippie-dippie in some ways, but not in terms of sex roles and gender politics. Please feel free to chime in with more info, since as you know I’m WAY out of my field of expertise in 20th C U.S. History!

  40. Liz2 on 06 Sep 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    Somewhat off the subject, but not in a way too. All those women who I know who define themselves as ardent feminists but who enforce the B.I. all were/are rabid Obama fans. Talk about maintaining the patriarchy.

  41. Trish on 06 Sep 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    I am an RN in a Labor and Delivery unit. I have 5 kids that I breast fed while working 12 hour nights( at the time in an ICU). It was difficult and I did not pump (I hated it), we supplemented with formula, although the kids didn’t ever take much formula. Well, now hospitals are working to become “baby friendly” meaning no formula at all, and we are soon to be graded by the JCAHO on our rates of breast feeding and judged accordingly.
    Here in California the WIC program will eliminate subsidies for formula in the first few months in order to encourage breast feeding. I worry about some moms over diluting the formula to save money. Breast feeding is good for many women, but it should be a choice and women should not feel demonized if they choose not to breast feed.

  42. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Sep 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    My mom fed me solely formula, and I turned out TOTES AWESUM! AMIRITE?

  43. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 5:59 pm #

    Trish: what you report is horrifying. You’re exactly right that women will be tempted to water down formula or substitute something else! This is where ideology (as well as hatin’ on the poor, natch) goes totally off the rails.

    And Comrade: the jury’s still out on you. I have a feeling that your confession will create ever more women determined to breastfeed OR BUST. (To coin a phrase.)

  44. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Sep 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    NO WAI!

  45. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    Way. Totes way. In fact, I think you’ve probably discouraged a lot of women from having children at all, man, or at least from having a second child.

  46. Shaz on 06 Sep 2009 at 6:41 pm #

    Historiann and I are going to disagree, but let me raise a couple of points:

    1. Rudeness is rudeness — don’t throw out the message because of impolite people. I am pretty radical on breastfeeding, and have NEVER criticized a woman’s choices. I have advocated for individuals and with my institution to improve the breastfeeding-friendliness of my campus. Rather than fighting, why not improve the possibilities for all women?

    2. I gotta say, Historiann, I laughed at your comment “it’s a serious time commitment”. Well, duh! Sorry, but if one doesn’t want a serious time commiment, don’t have children. I’d bet I do less childcare than 90% of women and have no interest in promotiing any kind of ‘special’ maternal bond (whole thing is hogwash in my book). But come on, kids are an enormous time sink no matter what, so I’m not sure that’s a viable argument against breastfeeding. If only mum can nurse, then the other partner can pick up all the other slack. Personally, I didn’t even change a diaper till my youngest was a month old. Patriarchy, not breastfeeding or dividing women against each other, is the issue here.

  47. Historiann on 06 Sep 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    Shaz, *I* never said “it’s a serious time commitment.” Those are Hanna Rosin’s words, not mine, based on her experiences. And her experience is that breastfeeding is dividing women against each other–as I think this thread illustrates quite nicely! Why do any of us have opinions about how other people feed their children? What does it matter?

    I think you’re right that breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily have to enforce patriarchy. It’s not inherently anything–not inherently feminist, not inherently antifeminist, not inherently whatever, like other human experiences and technologies, all of which can be used to various ends. But it seems to be working that way according to Hanna Rosin, and I think she has a point. Most of the women who are spending all of their time nursing a newborn are the people changing the diapers, etc. That’s Rosin’s point: Breastfeeding has become the new fulcrum on which hangs a lot of other decisions for a lot of families, decisions that look an awful lot like business as usual. If that’s not your family’s experience, then that’s great–but I don’t think your family’s experience probably represents a majority or even a significant minority of American families.

  48. Mamie on 07 Sep 2009 at 12:54 am #

    Hmm. Some of my nieces and nephews were breastfed, but some were not, for the simple fact that neither of their two parents came equipped with breasts.

    @Shaz. I, as a woman, did far less child care than you did, because mine was limited to holidays with those nieces and nephews. Perhaps you meant to say, “I do less childcare than 90% of MOTHERS.” I am no less a woman because I choose not to be a mother.

    This whole discussion strikes me as disturbingly heteronormative.

  49. Feminist Avatar on 07 Sep 2009 at 6:50 am #

    ‘Why do any of us have opinions about how other people feed their children?’

    Because if people behave like you it externally validates your behaviour, and women, whose decisions are regularly not trusted or given weight, are forced into requiring more external validation than men. I think that ultimately it’s because women are still struggling to be allowed to exercise agency as independent individuals within a system that sees them as less than human.

    I think you can tie this in to much broader discussions/ critiques of women in public life- like the too fat/ too thin/ never just right critique of the female celebrity body. The reason she can’t ever be ‘just right’ is that she can’t ever represent all woman- and while we would never ask that of any man, women in public are regularly expected to represent all womankind, and as such are held to a standard for femininity that is impossible to achieve. Their victories become women’s victories, and their all more common failures are seen to speak to the entire female experience. It is a failure to recognise their humanity.

  50. Historiann on 07 Sep 2009 at 7:04 am #

    Mamie: great points. What’s a queer family to do? Or one in which a mother has suffered cancer and has no breasts? Or one in which there is a mother with breasts but the child is adopted? Not all families come equipped with a fuctioning set of mammaries.

    As feminists, we’re most of us very comfortable with doctrinaire down-the-line support for people’s different sexual and reproductive choices. Why not let people also enjoy freedom of choice in deciding how best to feed their children?

    I think Feminist Avatar gives us the reason exactly. Interesting connection to the critique of women’s bodies more generally–lots of food for thought there.

  51. DV on 07 Sep 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    An issue hinted at but not really commented on here is the connection to childbirth. I can’t help but read this post and comments and think of another Historiann post about childbirth from months ago where a commenter (if I remember correctly) indicated that natural child birth was a campaign taken up by post-war organizations with roots in the eugenics movement. I can’t help but wonder if the pressures to breastfeed babies (aside from the scientific evidence – or perhaps in spite of) has emerged since World War II along similar lines and with support from the same organizations. I don’t mean to imply that advocates of breast-feeding are eugenicists. I’m more interested in interrogating the origins and motives of the movement’s earliest promoters which may shed light on how we talk about – and promote – breastfeeding today.

  52. Z on 08 Sep 2009 at 2:23 am #

    What about all those wet nurses people had in the past? Some were just because Mom had other things to do, from what I can gather, but there are constant references to mothers without milk or who couldn’t nurse for various reasons.

  53. Historiann on 08 Sep 2009 at 8:36 am #

    DV–yes, great memory! I think this is the post you’re referring to, from the summer of 2008: Our OB/GYNs, Ourselves. I think the history of La Leche will be interesting–there were a number of grad students doing research on this at the Berkshire Conference last year. (You can access the program here.) There is a historian at the University of Iowa, Paula Michaels, who is writing about natural childbirth movement in both the Soviet Union and in the U.S. She is uncovering the “secret” French and Soviet roots of natural childbirth, and examining the ways in which these ideas were scrubbed of their “communist” associations and marketed to U.S. women in the cold war.

    And Z: yes, wet nurses were frequently the only way children could get fed if their mothers were unable or unwilling to nurse them. I think the associations between aristocratic women who refused to breastfeed and the judgment today especially of middle-class or elite women who can’t/don’t breastfeed may be linked. (“Indolent and selfish women who refuse to provide nature’s perfect food for their own children,…” etc.)

  54. Mark K. on 08 Sep 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    Another thing I’ll throw out there, without making any claim of its bearing on patriarchal equilibrium or not: I haven’t personally experienced militantly pro-breastfeeding mothers who were not also militantly pro-organic, anti-processed baby foods. I can remember my wife feeling guilt among her other breastfeeding peers because she was not hand-grinding fruits and vegetables when our son started on solid foods. See also, to a lesser extent, cloth vs. disposable diapers, which were discussed not only in terms of the environment but also allegedly lower instances of rash, yeast infections in girls, etc. It was a whole package of “being more natural.”

  55. Historiann on 08 Sep 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    Mark K.: ugh! I think the incidence of rash and infection is higher in the cloth diaper babies, unless they’re changed instantly. But anyway: who wants to be “more natural?” Did those mothers crap in the woods, because that’s a LOT more “natural” than using indoor plumbing (or even a composting toilet.)

    I truly don’t get the fetish of “the natural.” Isn’t nature what we’ve been laboring to escape for most of human civilization? (I’m really OK with that.)

  56. Knitting Clio on 08 Sep 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    Glad to provide more on La Leche League:

    They were founded in 1956 by a group of mothers in Illinois– so long before second wave feminist health activism. This was really part and parcel of the feminine mystique — as was the initial revival of natural childbirth in the 1950s. See Lyn Weiner, “Reconstructing Motherhood: The La Leche League in Postwar America,” Journal of American History, March 1994.

  57. wini on 08 Sep 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    Although there is a lot I want to say, I will confine it to commenting on cloth diapers.

    My husband and I work full time and we choose to cloth diaper at home. Cloth diapers are changed as soon as the parent knows they are wet or dirty. It is a paradigm shift for some people, although many parents also change their disposable diapers this way. The real cloth zealots claim that cloth-diapered babies never get rashes, they are wrong (and usually find out about it the hard way). However, I can say that other than yeast rashes–which require special attention and are the one reason why I switch to disposables, personally–cloth diapers used correctly are much, much better for my child’s tush.

    Other reasons we love cloth diapers include: cloth wipes (cheap washcloths) works so much better; cloth diapers consistently hold in infant poo which no brand of disposables seems to do; cloth diapers are somewhat cheaper and a wee bit better for the environment if you hang them to dry; cloth diapers don’t stink with perfume; and it seems like they must be more comfortable. (One of the best things about cloth is you flush the poop so your house never smells like the oh-so-gross combination of human waste and disposable perfume. However, lots of us also flush the poop from our disposable diapers for the same reason.)

    I think of disposables like paper plates: often very handy, but not nearly as good as the real thing.

  58. Indyanna on 08 Sep 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    Hemp diapers went on a sort of a tear for a few years out here in Whiskey Rebellion territory, and everywhere else where the good stuff was grown and federal revenue officers were run off. They even survived a vicious Federalist rumor that President Washington was raising and making them in Virginia for the kid he ended up not having. Happy Hempys (R) was a quite popular brand here on the ridge, along with their niche-marketed daytime product, Happy Heinys (TM). You could look it up.

  59. Labor Day II « Professor Zero on 08 Sep 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    [...] giving serious advice, only instructions on how to get by. Were they doing this so as to conserve patriarchal equilibrium, [...]

  60. Kate on 08 Sep 2009 at 9:52 pm #

    I’m sorry Historiann, you don’t get to use terms like “breeder” and claim levity. I don’t understand why people without kids feel as though they can use derogatory terms for people who have them… and then, what, by not being ok with it I’m humorless? Haven’t we heard this pitched against feminists before? Would it be okay if I somehow “joked” about women without kids being less than female? Of course not.

    I think the reason my hackles end up getting raised in these conversations (here and at Dr. Crazy’s, where because I love her so much I couldn’t even bring myself to comment) is that there is always an edge to these posts when written by folks without kids, as though you are resentful of the choices those of us with kids have made. I’d love to be wrong, I’m just saying that’s how I read it. I would love to read a post about mothering from someone who isn’t a mom that doesn’t feel like an attack. Maybe it’s because I always knew I wanted kids, but I never felt derision towards women with children (maybe the kids at times, but never the moms or dads), and it wasn’t long ago I was in that category.

    I would like to know where this comes from on your end. I mean, it’s not like this world is particularly well set up for parents, it makes parenting and children generally invisible or relegated to spaces away from other adults. My annual departmental welcome party is expressly “no kids, no pets” (why the no pets, I don’t know — did someone bring a ferret one year?). There are no changing tables in my or my husband’s buildings on campus (in fact I have yet to find one on campus). Everyone criticizes the actions of parents as though they could do better. How is this position so privileged, so vaunted, as to deserve your scorn?

  61. Historiann on 09 Sep 2009 at 9:00 am #

    I don’t understand why people without kids feel as though they can use derogatory terms for people who have them.

    Kate, you don’t know anything about my personal life, so don’t make assumptions. I may or may not have children, and I leave that intentionally vague for reasons of net safety, and because as a not-truly-pseudonymous blogger, I like to keep some things about my life private.

    Why do you assume that only a child-free woman might express the opinions I have expressed, and have asked the questions I have asked here? Are you (dare I say it) essentializing motherhood, and assuming that all mothers must feel exactly the way you do? I like to think of all people–men and women, mothers and non-mothers–as indivdiduals whose muliplicity of life experiences shape their perpectives.

    If you want to be welcome here, you’re going to have to drop the hostility and accusations. I thought Rosin’s artice was worthy of consideration in light of conversations we’ve been having here. You can just stop reading if you don’t like what you see!

  62. Kate on 09 Sep 2009 at 10:51 am #

    Wow. I react to what I perceive as hostility and am threatened with not being welcome here. And the argument is that I don’t know your life. Okay. Consider me gone.

    I would really like to imagine a place where we could have it out and that would be okay, where we could get to the bottom of these (mis?)perceptions and hostilities. I’m not really sure how else women are going to stop fighting with each other and get connected unless we can express all sides of the issue. Feel free to take the fight to my place if I have overly hijacked the thread. I’ll try to get something up in the next 24 hours.

  63. Historiann on 09 Sep 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    I have no interest in fighting, either here or anywhere else.

    I just don’t get why disagreements about mothering and motherhood always have to end in a standoff. People are different, so families and mothers are different, too. That’s all I’m saying–but the Breastfeeding (and Cloth Diapering, and Organic Foodmaking) Imperative won’t recognize those differences.

  64. Maggie on 09 Sep 2009 at 2:50 pm #

    What a false argument! Here in Sydney Australia, although our once fine public health system is a crisis, women are just not getting the supprt to breastfeed. I struggled terribly with breastfeeding my first nealy 30 years ago and was able to get intensive support including a week at a mothercraft home. When I worked with disadvantaged women having babies some 15 years later support was diminishing. Now, women leave hospital sometimes the next day – their milk hasn’t come in and they go home to all the stresses and strains of life.
    I beleive women need a considerable amount of time to adjust to a new baby with signifcant daily support. Breatfeeding often takes time and patience to establish. Very few women are physically incapable,but I can’t help thinking that, societally, we do not give the space, time and support for women to really give it a good go.
    Braet v bottle is afallacious argument, designed to divide women. Lets’focus on providng support to women to decide for themselves properly.

  65. Historiann on 09 Sep 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    Lets’focus on providng support to women to decide for themselves properly.

    Agreed. Let’s also leave them alone once they’ve made their decision. It seems to me that few babies are fed solely by one method or the other–of the people who attempt to nurse, they also incorporate formula into their child’s diet at some point.

    This post really is more about the historical moment that has led us to the Breastfeeding Imperative in some circles, and why women are usually the enforcers of the B.I. Sadly, I don’t think that U.S. society is going to “give the space, time, and support for women to really give it a good go.” That would cost time and money beyond just individual women’s time and money, which are undervalued in any case.

  66. Jody on 11 Sep 2009 at 8:13 am #

    I have questions about Rosin’s article, and I have questions about the correlation between the ideology and frequency of breastfeeding and the strength of the women’s movement across time. (Perhaps its the status of women that I mean when I write “women’s movement”, instead.)

    My two questions regarding Rosin’s article are: is she correct about the science; and is she correct about the role of breastfeeding in enforcing a certain standard of womanhood for a certain group of women? Based on a quick-and-dirty reading of her citations and the major ones she left out, I conclude that Rosin is wrong about the science. There is a small but persistent set of scientific benefits to breastfeeding. I suspect, however, that Rosin is correct about the role of breastfeeding — especially when I consider the B.I. as part of an entire set of parenting values proposed by and pushed on some groups of U.S. women in the past 20 years.

    I am still considerably irritated by Rosin’s rhetorical need not only to make her point about the costs of breastfeeding paid in women’s time and in the reinforcement of anti-feminist family patterns, but also to fudge the science. Feminists who believe that the BI (if not breastfeedomg itself) hurts women should be able to say, “yes, there are medical and psychological benefits to breastfeeding, but they are small, and they are not enough.”

    My responses to Rosin then raise a secondary set of questions: is it still possible to understand the decision to breastfeed as counter-patriarchal, given the pervasiveness of the BI imperative for some groups of women? How do feminists weight mother’s and scholar’s [sometimes competing] analyses of “why women breastfeed in different cultures/communities”? How do feminist couples who want to BF on the basis of the science, not to mention their personal preferences, understand their actions in the context of the wider patriarchal environment? Are lesbian couples more or less privileged within some feminist communities when one partner chooses a “traditional/patriarchal” role within the family, which may include extended BFing, organic food, cloth diapers, and the lifestyle espoused generally by “Mothering” magazine?

    In my immediate community, the most “granola” parents are often those who describe themselves most vehemently as anti-patriarchal. These are often people who focus on patriarchy’s interconnection with capitalism, and who propose that their family decisions are specifically anti-capitalist. In that sense, and in these communities, the BI is part of a larger conversation about how best to change society, and can be analyzed as part of the debate over time about what it would mean to overhaul social systems.

    And this brings me to my last set of questions, which is: what is the correlation between greater rates of breastfeeding or a greater emphasis on breastfeeding, and women’s status over time? If women’s status doesn’t appear to correlate with their breastfeeding choices, do we nevertheless see a rise in debates over infant/toddler feeding at moments when women appeared to be gaining political, economic, or social power? There’s clear evidence in the 20th century that women are encouraged (by “experts” and by each other) to “think of the children” at key moments when the women’s movement has gained ground. Can we link the BI, or the “granola” parenthood movement generally, to a backlash against women or against feminism in the nineties and noughts? What do we make of the fact that anecdotally, at least, the “breastfeeding zealots” are more likely to be college-educated, self-identify as liberal in their politics, and be of higher socioeconomic status? [Breastfeeding rates among self-defined conservative women are often not as high as those among self-defined liberals, and the playground evangelists for breastfeeding are not typically the Michelle Duggar moms.]

    I have lots of questions, but few answers. I think the questions are worthwhile, and that people can answer them whether they’ve parented or breastfed or not.

    Two last points: Rosin was still breastfeeding her third child while she was promoting her Atlantic Monthly article; when asked why, she said “because I like it, and that should be enough.”

    And while I understood your use of “breeder” to be a bit of light-hearted fun, I think it’s reasonable to consider the context in which terms are usually used. “Breeder” is almost always used critically, albeit with wit and humor in some venues. “Breeder” can even carry with it an aura of denigration, depending on how you feel about rhetorically connecting women to their status as animals. I wouldn’t have used the term in this post, given its wider usage and the likelihood that it might hinder frank discussion. But given Dr. Crazy’s linked post, and her fury at censorship, I want to be very clear that I see a difference between critiquing the effect of a person’s word choices and an attempt to stop people from using certain words.

  67. mollymiller on 11 Sep 2009 at 6:24 pm #

    I seriously think you’ve been pretty rude to a few people here. Just sayin. If you’re going to call someone out, then be prepared to be called out yourself. Listen to your readers — don’t attack them.

  68. golden rulz rule « Pocha on 11 Sep 2009 at 7:45 pm #

    [...] 2009 September 11 by pocha OK.  So here’s my response to the hot mess here and here.  After this, I’m shelving this one under history. “Why the defensiveness, if this [...]

  69. Historiann on 12 Sep 2009 at 7:53 am #

    I never attacked anyone. I’ll let other readers judge for themselves by reading this thread.

  70. Richard Whittman on 13 Sep 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    The tenor of the comments, to me, seem in part to be a product of the dismissive language introduced by the Rosin article and picked up by Historiann. Referring to people with children as ‘breeders’ is only funny to people without children. And since this discussion is about children, that sets the table for a food fight.

  71. Food, identity, and personal virtue : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 24 Sep 2009 at 11:05 am #

    [...] savagery and civility, male and female, virtue and sin verguenza, outside and inside the body.  (No wonder my post on Hanna Rosin’s article on breastfeeding sparked such heated debate–the breast is perhaps ground zero of the policing and transgression of all of these things [...]

  72. The man question : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 15 Jun 2010 at 11:33 am #

    [...] actually prefer daughters to sons.  ((Yawn.))  It’s too bad–I thought she had a pretty great radical feminist critique of the cult of breastfeeding last year.  I wonder what happened to the writer who was asking what had happened to all of her [...]

  73. Why I had to skip the Berks : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 11 Jun 2011 at 8:41 am #

    [...] assume I’m not a mother because I express opinions about motherhood they disagree with see here, here, and Dr. Crazy has written about this too.  Because all mothers everywhere [...]

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