Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Now they're beating us over the heads with our own breasts!

I am so outraged over the news about the government-sponsored campaign to promote breast-feeding that I can barely think straight. Don't get me wrong--I am very much in favor of breastfeeding. I applaud its benefits, and I was fortunate to be able to breastfeed my daughter. But to have our government use scare tactics and fear-mongering to bully women into breastfeeding is completely unacceptable. The frankly bizarre television ads sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services compare the risks of formula feeding to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant. Another proposal being made (by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa) is that packages of formula should carry warning labels like cigarettes have. What a horrible comparison. This morning The Today Show showed the ads, and highlighted the debate, and you should be able to access the video clip from their site. The New York Times also had a well-written feature on the topic-- Breast-Feed or Else is currently the day's most emailed article.

Using fear to motivate women, and inducing shame in mothers who can't, or choose not to breastfeed is mean-spirited and disrespectful. It's also incredibly hypocritical--the phrase that came to my mind was "don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining." Our government has treated women with a state of neglect that has left us with one of the least family-friendly societies in the developed world. Many mothers of newborns have to work, and they don't get guaranteed maternity leave (paid or otherwise). We have inadequate pre- and postnatal medical care, and flexible employment is not always offered. The health policies coming from our government are woeful and woman-hostile. The political stranglehold that has trumped science to block approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception is one good example. The lack of medically accurate sex education in many schools is another.

I started re-reading Susan Faludi's book Backlash last week after reading Newsweek's 20-years-later analysis of it's own bungling of the Marriage Crunch faux-trend of the 1980's. I was planning to write an opinion piece in response to the current Newsweek story, but Susan Faludi said it so well in her 1991 book: "Under the backlash, statistics became prescriptions for expected female behavior, cultural marching orders to women describing how they should act.... As the backlash consensus solidified, statistics on women stopped functioning as social barometers. The data instead became society's checkpoints, positioned at key intervals in the life course of women, dispatching advisories on the perils of straying from the appointed path." (Backlash, p. 8)

This latest campaign is a great example of that. I think of social science as now providing a politicized "border patrol" function that defines a very narrow path of acceptable behavior. Attempting to shame women into breastfeeding is a low blow. This government campaign isn't trying to inspire, enlighten, or educate us, much less offer true support that would help women breastfeed. Instead Big Brother is trying to shame us into following best-practices. Why am I not surprised? It's raining pretty hard out there.


Anonymous Feminist Mom said...

The idea of putting warning labels on formula is horrid. I agree with your post and am glad to see you raise awareness of this issue. Women must be supported in the way they take care of their children, not feel as though they are being bad mothers if they do not breastfeed.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your post as well and what makes me more angry about this is my own memories of feeling like only wealthy women could afford to breast feed - feeding every 2-3 hours and when I was working, pumping just didn't produce the same results while doing so in an office cubicle. Offer us more subsidized time to be with our children and maybe more of us would consider doing it for longer!

1:14 AM  

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