This week has been nothing if not a breast milk-covered battleground in the oh-so-hyped “Mommy Wars.” Every few months, an article or twenty come along to announce to women that no matter how they choose to parent, they’re doing it wrong. Sometimes it’s about co-sleeping or babywearing or daycare, but the breastfeeding debacle has held its place firmly in the Mothering Thunderdome for years. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and really damned if you try to defend your choice.
Earlier this week, Jezebel published its newest “Fuck You” feature, titled “Fuck You, Breastfeeding.” The article, for those not inclined to read it, contained several hundred words of vitriol such as “activist cunts” and the like. Isn’t it funny how in Tracie Egan Morrisey’s quest to defend her right to bottle-feed her child and denounce anyone who criticzes her choices, she does the exact same thing to the millions of women who choose to breastfeed? For a site that’s known for its choose-my-choiceyness, that article and plenty more sure are quick to judge women who take a different route than some of the writers. And yes, some breastfeeding activists can get really mean, really judgmental, and can be complete nightmares. Not every woman can or wants to breastfeed, which should really be on billboards or something.
A few days later, we were treated to a gem of an article by Susan Elkin, an education journalist who I had never heard of before. If only it had stayed that way. Elkin wrote a nice, long article tearing actress Megan Fox and other like-minded souls to bits for employing a night nurse to feed her child. Furthermore, any woman who doesn’t breastfeed doesn’t deserve to have children. Because feminism, y’all. But it’s OK because she starts off the article by laying down that classic line about how if we’re easily offended, we should just look away, most likely because she has a problem with others telling her that such views are offensive pieces of garbage. Then Elkin lets us know that “direct access to its mother’s breast milk is, in my book, every child’s human right” and that blocking such access is pretty much the worst thing ever. It’s common knowledge now that breastfeeding is wonderful for babies and has multiple benefits for both mother and child. It’s such common knowledge that most women who choose not to breastfeed know it and don’t need some angry lady on the Internet or in the hospital or at the grocery store concern-trolling them about it.
Full disclosure: I was not breastfed. My mother believed (and still does believe) that “boobs are for men” and decries it as being unnatural. I wish I was making this up for storytelling’s sake. And yet, here I am, with a genius IQ and twenty-three years of life behind me. I do have a pretty horrible immune system, but so do others I know who were breastfed. It’s anecdata, but it isn’t completely irrelevant. Breastfeeding has a zillion benefits and I plan on doing it myself someday, if I’m able, but bottle-feeding won’t kill the baby or turn it into a sneezy, wheezing germ bucket who never does their schoolwork.
For some women, breast is not best. For some women, like Tracie Egan Morrissey, breastfeeding is hell. Some women can’t breastfeed because of medications or health conditions, and others can’t because of economic concerns. Some women just don’t want to, and that’s okay too. We’ve reached a point where women can’t win. If we choose to breastfeed, we get called out for being lactivist monsters for even mentioning that breastfeeding is awesome. We get told that we’re sending feminism back five decades because we can’t possibly nurse and have lives. Women who bottle-feed are judged for not doing what is best for the baby in someone else’s eyes, even when the mother may be bottle-feeding because she’s taking a medication that she needs to survive. When we bottle-feed, we’re told we’re harming our babies, that we aren’t fit to be parents, and that we’re selfish.
This has got to stop. Breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding is not a black and white issue. Why? Because women are not a monolith, something we’ve been trying to convince the patriarchy of for years. Whether women are breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, or bottle-feeding pumped breastmilk (which both writers have issues with), it is their decision to do what works for them. One would think by now that we would have grasped the idea that if we don’t know someone’s situation, we can’t judge them for it. And so long as we keep fighting the infantalizingly named “Mommy Wars,” we’ll have to deal with it, because we live in a culture that views women as inferior and mothers and pregnant women as public property. Doesn’t it always come down to this?