After having Isabel, I became fascinated with breastfeeding. The whole thing is a pretty amazing process, and some of the components of breast milk are beyond compare. However, I soon discovered articles from “feminists” arguing that birth, breastfeeding, and the associated period of fairly intense parenting that a newborn requires are oppressing; career crushing, even.
I consider feminism to be, at its core, the right of a woman to choose. For some, that is the right to choose to work 16 hours a day to break through the “glass ceiling.” For others, it’s the right to choose to procreate and fulfil a biological and physiological imperative, if she desires – or not, if she doesn’t. To choose to breastfeed (if you can call it that breastfeeding a choice”¦ it rarely is, but that’s another topic for another day), to fulfil a normal, natural, reproductive right: it’s not anti-feminist because the mother wants to – dares to – do something motherly and feminine.
The aforementioned articles shun breastfeeding as an unwanted obligation keeping women at home, tied to the sink, etc. Something for the hippies with hairy armpits. Something that condemns women, forces that glass ceiling lower and lower. Bottle feeding, it’s argued, frees these women up to return to the work force, go to their parties, be “independent”(as much as you can from a newborn baby?). The wondrous invention of formula allowing women to do what they choose. It all makes sense when you look at it that way, but”¦
When you consider that the entire formula and baby food industry is built up on the perception that mother’s milk is deficient, that there’s not enough of it, that the mother isn’t good enough to deliver it “¦ going right back to the origins of formula when male doctors pushed it on mothers as a “superior” option. How is this anything other than a feminist issue?
When a woman is desperate to “get her body back,” to return to “sexy,” to “be her husband’s again”; a bodily image derived by the media, by stick-thin models, and over-paid magazine editors; the idea that we are the property of the male (in heterosexual relationships, obviously) and have to be “good enough” for him again. How is this anything other than a feminist issue?
When a woman sits inside her local library, mall, hairdresser, restaurant, on public transport, and is asked to move on because she dares feed, comfort, settle her breastfed baby”¦ when her rights are violated simply because she happens to be female and happens to have been born with breasts that produce milk. How is this anything other than a feminist issue?
Many women realise when they become a mother is that they must live with perpetual guilt. Guilt driven by the media, industry, baby “gurus,” parents, and non-parents alike. Guilt over how they discipline their child, dress their child, over whether or not they work to support the child(ren), where and how the child is educated. And of course, above all, guilt over the method of feeding. How is this anything other than a feminist issue?
I may not be versed in the many complexities of the feminist movement. I have never read a book by Germaine Greer, and I occasionally shave my legs. However, I believe in women’s rights, and I believe that feminism is as much about supporting breastfeeding as it is about supporting women’s rights to not breastfeed. So when you tell me – when I read – that you don’t or won’t breastfeed because you’re a feminist, I tell you fine. Whatever you choose. But I breastfeed, and I supporting breastfeeding, because I’M a feminist.
Jem is a 20-something mother, web developer, blogger, and PHP ninja from the UK. This is a cross-post originally posted July 7, 2011 on Jemjabella.co.uk.