Feminism and Not Breastfeeding

There’s an article making the rounds on feminism and the choice to not breastfeed. The particular spin of this particular article is that it’s not fair to the male parent because breastfeeding is something that only the female parent can do.

Breastfeeding has nothing to do with feminism.

Is it a mother’s choice to breastfeed or not breastfeed without being told what she should do with her body? Yes. But is breastfeeding anti-feminist? No. Is breastfeeding anti-dad? Again.. No.

My opinion on the mother’s right to choose is this: If she wants to bottle feed because she believes that her child’s astrology sign predicts dire consequences if he sups at her breast… Fine. Whatever. 

If she wants to bottle feed because she’s a feminist and it’s unfair to her husband.. Fine. Whatever.

If she wants to bottle feed because she’s a feminist and thinks that breastfeeding is anti-feminist and that you can’t be a feminist and breastfeed… Fine. Whatever.

Her body. Her definition of feminism.

I do sort of put those things in the same category though. Not because I disagree with her right to choose but because I think it’s a bastardization of feminism and it’s not fair to the male parent because it assumes that breasts make for superior bonding and that the only way a man can have an equal relationship with his child is by removing a big positive in the female’s relationship with the child. Hocus pocus. It’s also not fair to the female parent for a huge long list of reasons. UNLESS she doesn’t want to breastfeed. Then it’s a personal choice. And feminism does say that women can choose what to do or not do with their bodies. I’m cool with that.

I’m not cool with the notion that feminism is incompatible with breastfeeding.

Feminism isn’t about “become the same” it’s about “don’t use a vagina or a penis as an excuse to tell me I can’t do something that does not involve reproductive organs in any way shape or form. And don’t treat me as though my equal abilities are worth less because I have a certain set of body parts.”

If it was “become the same” then women shouldn’t have children because it gives them the unfair advantage of the child’s stem cells helping their bodies do some pretty nifty stuff after birth. If t was “become the same” then men shouldn’t be allowed to pee standing up. And sex should be disallowed because there is no way for a female to obtain direct sexual pleasure by penetrating the male without the need to use a prosthetic device. 

We CANNOT become the same. I don’t think that become the same should even be a bloody goal. I’ll never be able to generate sperm to impregnate another woman. At least not without some pretty darned unnatural sciencey stuff or random late-life mutation. 

I also think that the choice not to breastfeed is NOT fair because breastfeeding helps lower the female breast cancer rate substantially. 

If the writer in the article that I read wants to not breastfeed for that reason.. That’s fine. But I don’t see “not breastfeeding” as a feminist choice or a choice that makes things more equal for the male somehow.

Breastfeeding isn’t superior to all of the things that dad does. It’s just a way of feeding. My partner bonds amazingly with his babies. Not because he’s somehow able to breastfeed them. Not because I don’t breastfeed them. But because he’s their father and he puts in all the effort at doing all of the things that a parent does, and there are some things he naturally does better than me. Burping? Dad’s the pro. Bouncing with baby? Dad’s got baby bouncing ninja skills that I couldn’t hope to rival. I’m better at changing diapers on a standing toddler. I’m better at breastfeeding. I’m better at convincing our older children how to share. Daddy’s better at playing with Legos and super heroes and all that stuff. I’m better at cooking with the kids without ending up dipped in flour. Breastfeeding’s just a bullet point that happens to be linked to my breasts just like childbirth is linked to another part of me.

I think that every person has the right to devour life to the maximum of their physical and mental abilities. If my partner is stronger than me and can carry our children more easily on his back.. He shouldn’t forego that because I’m not able. 

Neither partner should avoid whatever natural abilities they have to bring themselves to a point of equality. 

Feminism isn’t about discarding what women CAN do or what men CAN do. It’s about not saying that a penis means someone can automagically do something non-penis related so very much better. Like build a house. I’ve never seen someone build a house with their penis. So unfair hiring practices for house building? Sexism. Unfair hiring practices for sperm donation that only hire men? Not sexism.

As for all the arguments that breastfeeding is somehow sexist because it reduces a woman’s ability to earn an income.. Would we look down at a woman as being a “bad feminist” if she joined up with Doctors Without Borders to risk her life giving free medical care to struggling populations? Would we view a woman as a “bad feminist” if she chose to do pro bono work for domestic violence victims? Those choices also reduce her ability to earn an income. Something that breastfeeding actually doesn’t do, because a woman can pump while she works.

The only thing that is sexist about breastfeeding is the idea that breastfeeding can somehow be “anti feminist”. Unless I’m saying that you HAVE to breastfeed or you’re saying that I have to NOT breastfeed… There’s no sexism there.

I breastfeed for a variety of reasons. I believe it’s a healthy choice for me and for my child. I’m ABLE to. (Big one here. The amount of effort a mother puts into breastfeeding doesn’t always equal a met goal.) It’s free. I don’t like making bottles. I’m home anyway. It’s the right choice for me right up and down all the little checkboxes. So I do it. Another woman has the right to tick off different checkboxes and come to different conclusions.

I do NOT think that the choice to not breastfeed is automatically some sort of feminist choice, though. It’s a personal choice, not a feminist one.

  2 comments for “Feminism and Not Breastfeeding

  1. Another Sarah
    September 5, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Right on, Sarah! Thanks for making me laugh with the image of someone trying to build a house using his penis. :)

  2. Hilde
    December 9, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Just wanted to chime in that in Norway the pro-breastfeeding folks were part of the feminist movement since it is a part of women’s rights to be both able to do whatever that does not require male bodyparts (a.k.a work outside of home if you want to; or not, if you don’t want to) AND give birth/take care of children/breastfeed.

    So I’m in more the pro-breastfeeding = feminism league. (Without claiming that bottle feeding is antifeminist, because it isn’t. What’s antifeminist is structures, systems, values, laws, whatever, that restricts or hinders breastfeeding for those who wish to do so.)

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