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Breastfeeding and Feminism: "Case Against Breastfeeding" Closed!

Peggy O'Mara addresses Hanna Rosin's article and media blitz in the current issue of Mothering Magazine.  As Lily Fountain said in 140 characters or fewer on Twitter, "Case closed; Mothering nailed it shut: Breast is best."

[All below emphasis mine]


O'Mara specifically looks at what she calls two classic feminist issues: corporate domination of health by profit and lack of social support for the work of caregiving.

This aggressive advertising of formula is one of the chief obstacles to breastfeeding success, and the domination of health by profit is a classic feminist issue. Women will not have equal access to breastfeeding as long as well-funded commercial interests oppose it. Many of the countries with higher breastfeeding rates than the US comply with the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes by legally limiting formula advertising.

It's no coincidence that the countries with high breastfeeding rates also have strong social supports for women. Rosin is correct to rail against the bitter irony of being told to breastfeed in a country in which one's right to do so is not always legally protected. But breastfeeding is not the problem. It is the lack of social support for the work of caregiving in the US—another classic feminist issue—that creates the oppression Rosin describes in her article.


O'Mara describes the poor state of maternity leave in the U.S., then asks:

Is it any wonder, then, that Hanna Rosin feels oppressed? She well articulates two of the top obstacles to breastfeeding: lack of support from family and lack of support from society. Bottle-feeding does not, however, automatically solve the "unequal dynamic" of couples that Rosin bemoans. In fact, when Betty Friedan first wrote about this unequal dynamic, in 1963 in The Feminine Mystique, 75 percent of women were bottle-feeding. One of the things that feminism teaches us is that we must value our own contribution if we expect it to be valued by others. However, when society attributes economic worth to formula but not to breastmilk, our confidence can be undermined.


Can a society simultaneously value breastfeeding highly yet rank mothering low in importance?

Hanna Rosin's article exposes the dichotomy between the high value we place on breastfeeding and the low value we place on mothering, but it is cowardly to blame breastfeeding. Slandering breastfeeding because our society makes it inconvenient is like vacillating on equal pay for women because it's difficult to achieve.


Bottlefeeding-as-egalitarianism is so "old-school."

This is no time to waver: Powerful economic and political forces are continually undermining breastfeeding progress. Surely, we need state and federal protections for breastfeeding—that's a given. To achieve our national health goals, we—like our sisters around the world—also need guaranteed health care, paid family leaves, and caregiving credits. Bottle-feeding is an old-school feminist solution to inequality. The equal-rights arena of today is breastfeeding.


Read O'Mara's entire reply and let me know if you're impressed as I am.


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Reader Comments (2)

I am thoroughly impressed. Peggy is a bit kinder than I was to Hanna Rosin's article: http://realityrounds.com/2009/04/05/breastfeeding-backlas. I love that Peggy comes armed with scientific research on the benefits of breastfeeding. I do feel that mom's should not be so judgmental and hard on each other. As Peggy noted, American society needs to get it together and promote mothering, which includes breastfeeding. I still believe (and know firsthand) that breastfeeding is more liberating than formula. If only I could convince everyone.

April 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReality Rounds

RR, I totally agree. It's not just moms shooting down other moms, however. Every culture has its expectations for mothers and our dominant white American culture has pretty funky attitudes.

I've actually said the same thing you just did out loud. I found breastfeeding liberating and easier. I'm really glad I was able to do it and that I have had so much support to do so. But if others enjoy bottlefeeding more, that's fine with me.

April 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterJill
This blog is all done!
Thanks for wanting to comment. This is an archive of a blog that once was. Take care! Jill