Academics Say The Darndest Things

I hung out today with an old friend and her new baby, whom she has chosen to nurse. A few blocks from my friend’s house, there is a billboard that shouts, “Babies were made to be breastfed.” I’d noticed it a few months ago, and it made my blood boil. It still does.

My friend moved to the US from the Middle East nine years ago. She is now married. Her husband is white. She says she had her first moment of judgement here, in the US, a few days ago.

RANDA: You’ve never felt moral judgement here?
FRIEND: No. You can sleep with anyone you want here. Do almost anything you want. As a woman. Come on, you know how everyone makes you their business back home.
RANDA: Yeah. I know.
FRIEND: I was sitting around the living room with [my mother-in-law, brother-in-law], and a few others. I said, “I’m only breastfeeding for three months.” Everybody was quiet. Dead silent. They were staring at me like I’d just said…
RANDA: That you wanted to fry up your baby’s head and eat it?
RANDA: Are you sure you weren’t projecting?
FRIEND: Wait! They each told me breastfeeding for a year was best for the baby. That babies who are breastfed turn out smarter– a good way to snag an academic!

She winks.

FRIEND: But I told [my brother-in-law], “I’ve read way too much Foucault not to know about the nature of punishment and discipline.”

I laugh.

RANDA: You actually said that?

I slap her five.

FRIEND: Breastfeeding is a way to discipline women. Keep them tied to their babies and like, keep their bodies under control.
RANDA: Yeah. I only did it for four months.
FRIEND: I hate the way this state sponsors breastfeeding so agressively, it’s totally state-sponsored discipline.
RANDA: Are you talking about the billboard?
FRIEND: The billboard? Habibti?
RANDA: Yeah?
FRIEND: There’s not just one.

8 thoughts on “Academics Say The Darndest Things

  1. Fuck that. Breastfeeding for “a year is best” is completely arbitrary. Some say that you should breastfeed until yor child has had enough, 4, 5, 6 yrs, however old they may be. Does that mean that all women should have children attached to their boob for 6 years? You know what else is best for the baby? Having a healthy environment, eating food that is not poisoned (there are studies that show that if a mother is eating bad food, that is, food that has been sprayed with pesicides, fatty, not fresh, and a whole load of other things – that the breat milk is not good for the child either), living in a nation that actually values them. That’s best for the baby. And we have none of that here. You know what, I think that staying at home with my kid for two years on *paid* maternity leave (the German standard) would be best for my baby. Let’s see some billboards for that.

  2. imagine how paid maternity, period. when i go to the east side, there are billboards that say, “mothering is the best job you can have.” i hope they mean it. the state won’t support mothers (i hardly call TANF and lone star cards real support), and yet they say you should work as a mommy. but we stilllive in a world where a poor woman of color who stays home fulltime with her kid is “a welfare mom,” and when a middle class white woman does it, she’s a mom with an honorable profession.

  3. You have two different places to comment, Rockslinga. I’m reposting here, sorry:
    I was a big breastfeeding proponent, because I’m into food, organic agriculture, sustainable development. Saving the planet by eating naturally etc.

    Then my firstborn turned up with issues that made breastfeeding a nightmare. I was so fucked up about it. Living in Berkeley, I felt I couldn’t leave the house and be seen bottle feeding him in public. I was freaked out to have to buy formula – I’m feeding my baby heroin, I thought.

    Well we got through the problems ok, and I did nurse both kids. But I got over this breastfeeding propaganda. Do it or not, suit yourself.

    Do you know that if you don’t wean ’em early they never want to stop? It’s really a drag to have a 45 pound 3 year old fighting you to get into your shirt.

    Why people think mothers’ choices are any of their business is beyond me. I love to give advice as much as anybody, but really. Leave the women alone already!

    And BTW, I was very aware that breastfeeding two kids in a row was supported by my economic status as a stay at home mother. Had I been forced to hold a job outside the home I could not have sustained the breastfeeding. IT’s all very well for La Leche league moms to talk about bonding and nutrition and health benefits, but if you’re going to have a kid attached to your hip 24/7 for a year (or three, as LLL recommends) you can’t hold a fulltime job.

    Some valiant women pump at the office, but that’s f****g hard work, and again, class privilege rules – a lawyer can close her office door or find an empty conference room; a secretary or data entry clerk or waitress has no place quiet to go besides a toilet stall (and where do you plug in the infernal machine?). And maybe I was just old and a wuss, but pumping made me achy and tired. I had to nap more. (I did the pump thing when struggling with the firstborn’s nursing issues) Could not have done *that* and functioned at work.

    Breastfeeding and capitalism don’t really mix…

  4. And Baby Z’s comment is totally right on. Paid maternity leave, national health care, national daycare – that would be real support of families. But we get propaganda and church suppers instead. (Faith based community services, you know)

  5. As a Foucaltian feminist academic who breastfed a baby for the first year of his life quite recently, I am particularly sensitive to this post and its presumptions–about breastfeeding, childrearing, feminism, academia, and Foucault! I’m on board with the sentiment I think I gather from the post–that putting demands on women to do anything with their bodies is repressive, patriarchal, capitalist. I find the “breastfeeding mafia” mighty disturbing myself. (I haven’t seen the billboards in question, but they sound pretty creepy.) What this post leaves out, however, is that the anti-breast feeding forces in the U.S. are extremely damaging, as well, not so much for what they do to children (I don’t believe that formula-fed babies are necessarily any worse off than breastfed ones), but for what they do to women and to our culture’s constructions of femininity, the female body, and mothering. Precisely because the anti-breastfeeding sentiment is so much LESS formally structured than the pro these days, its power works all the more insidiously and effectively. Although billboards and such pay a lot of lip service ot breastfeeding, our culture has made it so alien to public life, to the workplace, and to women’s senses of themselves that it IS nearly impossible for most women to do it for any amount time, whether they would choose to do so or not. THAT is the more compelling example of Foucaultian power/knowledge at work. The discourse of the breastfeeding mafia challenges the anti-breastfeeding perspective quite vocally, but still at the expense of the women struggling to work outside the home, care for babies and young children, and retain their health and their sanity. The problems our culture has with parenting and child care in general underlie these disputes about breastfeeding. With more humane family leave laws, including paid leave for an extended period, state-funded child care, etc. these questions about breastfeeding become much less significant. Meanwhile, it would do feminists well to support women’s choices as mothers, whether breastfeeding or not, since there is so little support elsewhere in capitalist patriarchy. When it comes to breastfeeding, the last people women should have to worry about appeasing are feminists.

  6. Amen to ehl. I feel more constricted by the “rules” that make it difficult or impossible for women to breastfeed (anywhere, let alone in public, at this point), than by La Leche’s vocal advocacy to reestablish breastfeeding as a natural, healthy act.

    When the mom in question here asserts her freedom to breastfeed for (only) three months, she is (presumably) asserting her choice to turn her attention back to the workplace (a place where motherhood and femininity hold little purchase) or other similar issues concerned with socio-economic power. And, surely, there are women out there who cannot afford to take even three months off to nurture a newborn…

  7. One last comment. “FRIEND” says: “Breastfeeding is a way to discipline women. Keep them tied to their babies and like, keep their bodies under control.”

    I think we need to realize that the act of breastfeeding and the social constructs around breastfeeding are different things. Breastfeeding is a way to feed babies. Whatever significance and impact breastfeeding carries with it for the individual mother is quite another thing.

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