Breastfeeding and feminism
I just read this article called The Case Against Breastfeeding in the newsmagazine The Atlantic because a pulled quote made me think of our class immediately:
My friend sat on my couch hooked up to tubes and suctions and a giant deconstructed bra, looking like some fetish ad. Looking nothing like Eve in her natural, feminine state.
After reading just this, I didn’t know what the article was going to be about at all. Both of these situations seemed suspect to me: first, if I were a mom, no, I wouldn’t want to be tethered to breastfeeding technology like this, and certainly not fetishized by it. But I don’t think any feminists aspire to be like Eve, the sinful woman made out of man, and we in this class have constantly tried to break down the very concept of a “natural, feminine state.”
In fact, the author of the aritcle argues that the ideal of a mother and child united in nature through breastfeeding is just that, an ideal that can never be realized. It’s been perpetuated since the 1970s in popular literature for parents through the claim that breastfeeding has many advantages for the health of the child: its IQ, weight, immune system, etc. But the author says that the popular literature exaggerates or has little to do with the medical literature about breastfeeding, and actually the data are murky about how much breastfeeding really affects children’s health.
The most immediate effect of the breastfeeding mania, according to the article, is that the woman yet again ends up in the home with the bulk of the parenting duties–not because her husband says she has to, but because the medical establishment tells her the baby needs her to. “Then other, logical decisions follow: she alone fed the child, so she natually knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child, and the better nurse when the child is sick…” It seems to me that breastfeeding could be one factor to explain why women and men still don’t generally share parenting duties equally.
Going back to the quote, I think it creates a great image of a woman’s body being built into a super-cyborg-mother by the political technology of breastfeeding–ironically, all in the interest of naturalness. The point of the article is to ask women to exchange one technology for another: in order to be less constricted by the technologies of breastfeeding (needed to make the natural process practical in the modern world), women should resort back to the technology of formula, reputedly less natural but really no more or less harmful for babies. In other words, let’s get away from the socially-endorsed, technologically-enhanced ‘natural’ process in favor of the ‘artificial’ formula that gives women more freedom. The cyborg-like woman attached to the breast pump in to quote is less cyborg-like (following Haraway’s idea of the cyborg) than the woman who uses formula in order to create a more egalitarian nursing situation between parents.