Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

The Importance of Context in Human Milk Research

with 6 comments

The following infographic was born as a result of immediate feedback from a Russian feminist community in LiveJournal “Feministki” to my previous post about the inherently anti-women nature of human milk research. Much to my surprise the reaction from a subgroup of women in the community was “Great! We want better formula and drugs to liberate us from the oppressive nature of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the tool of patriarchal oppression”. Unsurprisingly, all the arguments for breastmilk research and against breastfeeding closely mirror the attitudes in society towards women and inherently female activities like birth and breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding research in and by itself is neither good nor bad, we need to evaluate it in the context of current societal climate to attribute it any value in the support of breastfeeding women. My evaluation of the current trends in the United States, Russia, and the world in general as I see it, is increasingly anti-women. The attitudes towards women and breastfeeding women in particular can be traced in language of breastfeeding, ideas about breastfeeding, lived experiences of women, current legislation, current definitions of breastfeeding, visual media representations, as well as general public commentary to breastfeeding news or images.

Antiwomen context of breastmilk research

In the series of several next posts I will explore each point in some detail and wrap up with the ideas what breastfeeding women friendly society might look like.

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Written by Medical Nemesis

November 15, 2014 at 02:59

6 Responses

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  1. Natasha, thank you for exploring this subject if increasingly no women behind the superior breastmilk. This is a global picture, but more so in the Western culture. I was surprised with the comment from Feministki and they may have been reading the French philosopher Elizabeth Badinter (are you familiar with her work). But it all smells of male take on feminism with a

    Maria Yasnova

    November 15, 2014 at 03:16

    • …with a view to equalising women with men, while disempowering women in other aspects of their life. I believe that true feminism is when women are empowered not shamed or manipulated into something. Check out EB though- might be a subject for a post 😉 lllove

      Maria Yasnova

      November 15, 2014 at 03:19

      • Hi Masha, I have heard of Elizabeth Badinter and read reviews of her work but have not actually read her original book on mothering that made ripples through the breastfeeding community – The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. Now that it has been translated, I will as I enjoy reading counter-breastfeeding culture to gain the understanding of women with different views. From what I see, Badinter says pretty commonly held views among a segment of the feminist community: “in the name of “difference,” young women are falling victim to sociobiological fictions that reduce them to the status of female mammals, programmed to the “higher claims” of womb and breast.”

        This is a very common idea that a (hu)man elevated himself above the biology or nature thus becoming civilized, accomplished, successful. Women with their inevitable and obvious reproductive activities so strongly connect us to the animal world, we view women as animal-like, not quite as human as men. We attempt to conquer and tame all the activities that remind us of our animalistic origins, supposedly, as we struggle with our fears of death. But we deviate from the subject of feminism here.

        Going back to Badinter’s arguments. The best explanation of the evolution of these ideas was given by Kathertine Dettwyler in her essay “Is Breastfeeding Advocacy Anti-Feminist?”

        “Within mainstream US culture, the traditional (pre-feminist) cultural construction of the biological differences between the sexes, and therefore the proper roles for men and women in society, had two basic premises.

        First: “Women can’t do the things men do because all women are

        (a) Too weak (physical limitations, especially strength);
        (b) Too stupid (cognitive limitations, especially for science/math);
        and (c) Morally deficient (too emotional, not rational).”

        Second: “Only the things that men do are important: productive activities in the public sphere.”

        A corollary of the second premise is that the things that men specifically can’t do because of their biology – menstruating, conceiving, gestating, birthing, and lactating – are unimportant. These reproductive activities are part of the private, domestic sphere; they are ‘taken for granted’ as being what women do since they aren’t capable of achieving in the men’s world of true/real accomplishments.

        Many feminists have devoted much of their time arguing against the first proposition (and rightly so), claiming and going on to prove that (at least some) women are capable of, and interested in, traditionally male productive activities, and deserve to have the opportunities to pursue them if they want. At the same time, some feminists have accepted – lock, stock, and barrel – the second proposition, agreeing with the general male view that only the things men do are important, and that the things only women can do, because of female biology, are unimportant. Anything that detracts a woman from pursuing success as defined in a male way, is viewed as oppressive by these feminists, because women’s contributions as the reproducers of the population, both biologically (through birth) and culturally (through child-rearing) are devalued in traditional Western cultural belief systems.”

        Natalie Gerbeda-Wilson

        November 15, 2014 at 13:19

  2. […] is the second post in the series about the context of human milk research and today I will discuss how the work that women do during the process of breastfeeding is […]

  3. […] is the third post in the series about the context of human milk research. In the earlier post we discussed the issue of devaluation of women in the process of […]

  4. […] on with the discussion of the antiwomen context of breastmilk research we come to the controversial topic of formula and bottle feeding paraphernalia marketing.  While […]


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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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