Why breastfeeding is like abortion for feminism

Shhh.

Don’t talk about it. It’s not polite.

But make sure you know what you think about it. And be prepared to fight for it, even if you are really not talking about it because it’s not polite.

Try not to judge people for their views (that they’re not talking about because they’re too polite), but whisper about their views and about them… and judge them privately in your own sphere, even though it’s kind of impolite. It’s okay, because it’s a moral thing.

Forget religion and politics. For women, breastfeeding and abortion are the topics that align, define and alienate us. They have become moral panics. They are black and white… and conditional.

“She got raped. She’s not married. She’s too poor. She hasn’t got a good supply. She needs to go back to work. She’s happily married. She’s a stay at home mom. She should be “better educated.” The baby would have been healthy. She’s selfish. She’s sacrificing herself. There’s really no excuse. She doesn’t need an excuse.”

Photo credit: Flickr creative commons, Nationaal Archief

You’re a nazi if you breastfeed. You’re a babykiller if you have an abortion. If you formula feed you’re stupid. If you are pro-life you take away women’s control of their bodies.

No wonder the arguments are so passionate. It’s confusing.

Worse, you can’t be a feminist if you do anything that could be considered by either side as “anti-female.” Boobs out or boobs in. Womb used or unused. Feminists are so divided that no matter what, by some reckoning you’re out of the “club.”

The reason why feminism has fallen apart is because women have become judgmental of each other. We are fragmented. We are fighting.

I fear that because of the ferocity of second wave feminism as well as the 30-year-old Susan Faludi Backlash folklore, we don’t want to understand each other. We are fearful our views and will be harshly judged by the very same women we desperately want to be connected to.

We don’t like to talk about it because it’s impolite. And when we do, we tear each other apart instead of trying to really understand the other point of view. We know we won’t agree. But now we won’t listen either. There is no “live and let live” because it’s become a moral panic.

Second wave feminism believed the bottle and formula were key to being released from the home and getting into the boardroom. Over time, the practice of breastfeeding is being reclaimed as a powerful feministic province. Today, feminism and breastfeeding are aligned. But the stigma and bruises of the battle are still tender.

I’m hearing that you can’t be pro-life and be a feminist. To many, pro-life is equal to anti-woman. I think it’s a shame.

Photo credit: Flickr creative commons, State Library of Qld.

Feminism has achieved so much, but we have lost a lot along the way. The battles of feminism and those of abortion and breastfeeding are tainted with women trying to validate and define their own identities and worth. In the 21st Century, can we not find some level ground of respect? Wouldn’t treating other women with respect, who hold opposite viewpoints, demonstrate an accomplishment for feminism?

6 comments

  • I am glad you had the guts to post this, as I know it’s a sensitive topic.

    I am a big fan of your blog, but in looking at your post “Breast is best. The end.”, I’m a bit confused on your stance. I think this is a perfect example of the problem you speak of in THIS post… the fact that we can’t just support each other as women and understand that the choice that is best for me is not always going to be the choice that is best for you.

    I haven’t written much about feminism and the bottle/breast debate on my blog because unfortunately, the term “feminism” gets pretty touchy in the mommy community. I respect you for “going there”. And I honestly could not agree more with what you are saying. I think this particular debate is JUST like the abortion battle. One thing that confuses me is how feminists (of which I consider myself one), who also by default (as you mentioned) veer towards the pro-choice stance, are so adamant about protecting the rights and needs of the mother until the baby is out – and then we are expected to subjugate ourselves to our infants, but JUST in this one way. I see feminists/lactivists using a certain rhetoric all the time that echoes the rhetoric of the pro-life movement.

    I was an EXTREME pro-choicer until I had two miscarriages. This changed my perspective, and suddenly I could see the POV of the pro-lifers much more clearly. But I still remain pro-choice despite knowing now how much “life” I believe a second trimester fetus to have. I can still feel one way personally, and acknowledge the feelings of those on the other side, but rage on for the right for every woman to choose. Because that is what feminism is to me – standing up for every woman’s right to be what she wants to be and do what she wants to do despite that fact that nature has given us this responsibility/gift/burden/blessing of reproduction.

    Anyway- once again, although I know your personal views are quite different than mine, I applaud your ability to analyze a situation and report on it so eloquently. I am so glad you are part of this ongoing online debate!

  • Thanks for your support, and I think you’ve written some great things here. Your contributions are so valuable – I know it’s tough to comment on a post which in itself could be inflammatory. Thank you for bravely doing it!
    To clear up your confusion, I think that the post “Breast is best. The end.” demonstrates my stance. I am pro-breastfeeding. I believe it is the best way to feed an infant and that any other way is always going to be trying hard to meet that “best fed” standard. That’s my personal view. However, while I have my own opinion, I welcome all views to be openly offered, without being attacked. I have received honest and open communication from all sides of the debate – and that’s vital for me to perform good research into the mombloger community. In fact, our little chat here is just one good example – and I’m really grateful for it.
    I believe in order to do the great research I aim to perform, I need to seek the voices of those who many might victimise or disagree with, dive into them and articulate them the best way I can. Only then will real understanding begin.
    The point of this post was to demonstrate exactly what you say so well: That it should be possible for us to hold our own views very strongly – yet accept that others will disagree. Not only that, but those who hold other points of view will commonly have come to those conclusions using validations we disagree with too.
    My dismay comes from the fact that as women we are prone to fighting instead of celebrating the true gain of feminism – our right to have a voice and disagree. Unfortunately, some seem unhappy until everyone sees the world the same way they do. I don’t think that’s feminism’s goal.
    We’re familiar with the breastfeeding debate, but we don’t really deal with the abortion debate on the same level. They are both key areas of conflict for feminism.
    Perhaps that’s why we disentangle ourselves from the label of Feminist. It has become symbolic of combat and argument instead of free speech and opinion. Can, for example, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton both be feminists, celebrated by all women?

  • Gotcha – thanks for clarifying! 😉

    I am 100% with you on this:

    “Perhaps that’s why we disentangle ourselves from the label of Feminist. It has become symbolic of combat and argument instead of free speech and opinion.”

    Brilliant.

    Thanks again for posting this piece.

  • You’re right. People (women especially) really get their backs up about breastfeeding. It’s an incredibly hot topic and divisive subject/practice between those who do and those who don’t/didn’t/won’t and to some degree those who can’t.

    I am and will continue to do so until my daughter is 18-24 months old. When the subject of breastfeeding my baby came up, even before she was born, my mother-in-law who raised her sons during the 70s and 80s, she asked me incredulously, “Why?” Meaning why do that to yourself? Why bother? And several women I know who are my own age (late 20s – early 30s) didn’t even try to breast feed… straight to formula. I’ve kind of been ostracized for my choice TO breastfeed, and I thought Northern Colorado was more progressive than that. When in public, people do stare as if I’m being immodest or doing something inappropriate despite the blanket for coverage. I imagine as my daughter gets older and begins to look like a toddler (she’s 7 weeks now), I’ll be less likely to breastfeed in public. Even for those who “approve” or don’t mind, what seems cute and nurturing to an infant may seem inappropriate to a toddler. What’s that judgment all about?

    It’s my understanding that Feminism in its original manifestation was about equality for women compared to men. Feminists measured themselves against men, and we still do. But Feminism assumes we’re already looking at ourselves as women as equals. That we’re treating ourselves with respect, pride and acceptance. That we are “sisters.” I think that’s what’s missing from modern Feminism still — that it’s not about us as a circle of women, its still about us compared to men and how we fit into social institutions.

    On a related note, many of the strong, powerful women of my generation (and yours, too — I imagine we’re close in age) DON’T call themselves Feminists. In fact, they don’t want to be associated with Feminism at all. It’s become a word men and women use as a weapon, and I find that very unfortunate.

    What can we do to reawaken and (dare I say it) reform (or, gulp) re-market Feminism?

  • Thank you so much for your thoughtful contribution. It’s unfortunate that, as you point out, the debate moved somewhere from let’s raise our children in the best way possible, to breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, and then, because it’s so personal, to me vs you.
    You are also correct in your question of what has Feminism become? What does it stand for? If you call yourself a feminist, what baggage do you carry? Is feminism still relevant, and if we agree it is, how can we re-frame it? Do we call it something new? Does it need a PR campaign? All great points.

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