While I am at it (link sharing, that is), I should probably put up a link to a controversial article that I read last week - "The case against breastfeeding." I have been wanting to write a post about my reaction to this article all week, but I really can't justify the time out of my PhD right now. Briefly, I should explain that while I can understand Hanna Rosin's argument that it is unfair on women to feel as though they have no choice but to breastfeed their baby, whether they want to or not, I completely disagree with the entire premise of her argument.
Rosin argues that breastfeeding is the cause of women's inequality in the workplace and in their relationships post-baby - because it takes so much time and it creates an assumption that the mother will do all of the work of nurturing the children. This argument then seems to become the foundation for implying that making the "choice" to bottlefeed is the only way that women can free themselves from the subjugation of breastfeeding their babies in order to go back to work sooner and claim their equality.
There are so many problems with this analysis and, as I have said, I really don't have the time right now to deal with them properly, but allow me to just list a few lazily:
- Essentially Rosin is impliedly placing all of the blame for workplace and marital inequality on a woman's choice to breastfeed her baby. This completely ignores all of the structural and societal influences on these problems, such as:
- the lack of support structures available to breastfeeding mothers to establish and maintain a good breastfeeding relationship;
- the absence of adequate (paid) maternity leave;
- the inflexibility of workplaces, and the lack of onsite daycare centres or childfriendly workplaces;
- societal expectations of fathers and breastfeeding mothers; etc (oh I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea).
- I found it incredible that she thought that breastfeeding after returning to work was unrealistically difficult because it was to hard for a women to "demand a 'clean, quiet place' to pump, and a place to store the milk." I completely agree that they shouldn't have to make that demand of their employers - such a place should already be available to them or, better yet, they should be able to pop downstairs to the onsite daycare centre and feed their child themselves! (And, yes, in some industries taking the time out is completely unrealistic. However, isn't that a problem with the way that the industries are allowed to operate, rather than a problem with breastfeeding itself?)
- Additionally, I thought that it was a fairly thin argument to state that once you choose to breastfeed then you automatically take on everything else forever. Choosing to breastfeed does not prevent anyone from engaging in an ongoing negotiation with their spouses about the allocation of all of the many other tasks around the home (including a range of nurturing activities). For example, my partner recognises that breastfeeding our daughter takes up a lot of my time and energy and so, while I breastfeed her in the evenings, he does the dishes, cleans the kitchen, hangs out laundry etc. He also takes a very active role in nurturing our daughter and has done so from day one. His confidence in doing so was considerably aided by his ability to take 6 weeks paternity leave after her birth and to employ flexible work arrangements in order to care for her during the week - again back to the structural issues that effect equality far more than a woman's choice to breastfeed!
- Rosin simply assumes that bottlefeeding removes all of the problems that she has blamed on breastfeeding. However, babies still need to be fed day and night even if it is from a bottle, and while things remain as they are (in terms of gender equality), it will still mostly be women who are the people feeding their babies - even if it is with a bottle instead of their breast. Yes, they won't have to express in order to go out or to go to work, but that is only one of the many things that she blames on breastfeeding. Her comment that breastfeeding is "only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing" is valid, but still ignores the time that is also needed to bottlefeed (in addition to the cost of actually purchasing the formula itself).
- Rosin's dismissal of the health benefits of breastfeeding seems to be based on pretty flimsy evidence. Her argument is that the case for breastfeeding isn't as strong as she had thought it was and so, therefore, there is no medical evidence to support breastfeeding. I found this extremely unconvincing.
- Rosin's dismissal of the medical benefits of breastfeeding also completely fails to take into account any of the psychological benefits for both mother and baby of a successful breastfeeding relationship. I completely accept her point that if breastfeeding is disagreeable for the mother then it is unlikely to provide such benefits. However, once again by reducing the issue completely down to the "choice" of a women to breastfeed or not, Rosin completely ignores the role of familial and societal support. If breastfeeding is disagreeable for so many women, I would argue that this is significant evidence of a massive failure on the part of our society to adequately support women while they are breastfeeding their babies - to support them in establishing their technique and attachment, to support them while they are spending so many hours breastfeeding their babies, to support them financially (and emotionally) to stay at home with their babies if they wish to do so, etc. While this support is not being provided then both women and children are missing out on the benefits of a successful breastfeeding relationship, regardless of their individual choices - which are far from free.
- Finally, (although I do have plenty more to say, I really must stop now) Rosin seems to assume that getting back to work (quickly) is something that all women want to do. I have no problem with the fact that many women do, indeed, wish to return to work (but think that the issue then is the failure of workplaces to be child-friendly, rather than the failure of women to bottlefeed), but I have a problem with the assumption that this is a priority for all women. What about those who would like to be supported to stay home with their children and to maintain a longterm, healthy breastfeeding relationship (which is different from expressing milk for someone else to feed to your child). Rosin's argument that they are free not to breastfeed is not particularly helpful for them - and, once again, places all of the burden on women rather than on society.
How about we do just the opposite? How about we demand that our relationships, our families, our workplaces and our whole society provide much better support to mothers (and fathers) - especially in the first year of their babies life when they require so much love and care regardless of the origin of the milk that they are drinking?