Breastfeeding controversies ignore the real problem


There have been an overwhelming number of breasts in the news lately.  Of course, there are Kate Middleton’s breasts and the fight over privacy.  But there have been other breasts making headlines as well, including those belonging to Jamie Lynne Grumet, made famous by the Time magazine cover showing her breastfeeding her three-year-old son while he stood on a stool.  Her breasts can now be seen in a new photo shoot for Pathways to Family Wellness, and this time she is shown breastfeeding her biological son, now four, as well as her adopted son, who is five. The breasts of professor Adrienne Pine have also made the news.  Pine took her daughter to class with her because the child was ill and unable to attend daycare.  When the baby became fussy, Pine breastfed her during class, which led to a heated debate regarding the appropriateness of her actions. Everyone seems to have an opinion on when, where, and how long women should breastfeed, yet key issues at the heart of these arguments are being ignored.

Jamie Lynne Grumet is a proponent of Dr. Bill Sears’ attachment parenting,which advocates the following parenting principles: feed with love and respect, respond with sensitivity, use nurturing touch, ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally, provide consistent and loving care, practice positive discipline, and strive for balance in your personal and family life ( Critics of this parenting style state that the method requires 24/7 parenting–usually mothering–which is not necessarily good for mothers or children. Breastfeeding your children until they enter school, or sometimes longer, and sleeping with your children for years could lead to some negative consequences.  Yet the real issue behind all of this seems to be the media generated mommy wars, in which stay-at-home mothers wage war with working mothers, and vice versa. Stoking the fires of the mommy wars keeps women from supporting one another, and who wins when that happens? (Hint–it isn’t women).

The criticism of Adrienne Pine seems to focus on the etiquette of breastfeeding within American society.  Women are encouraged to breastfeed, and are often made to feel extremely guilty if they don’t, yet at the same time there seems to be a “not in my back yard” mentality regarding the practice.  Yes, women should breastfeed.  But no, they shouldn’t do it in plain sight. Yet once again, the real issue seems to get lost in all of the media generated hype. Pine was put in this situation because she did not have childcare options. According to Amy Allen, the Parents Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities and a professor of philosophy and women and gender studies at Dartmouth College,”This is the conflict between economic policies and social institutions that set up systematic obstacles to women working outside of the home — in the United States, the lack of affordable, high quality day care, paid parental leave, flex time and so on — and the ideologies that support those policies and institutions, on the one hand, and equality for women, on the other hand. This is the conflict that we should be talking about” (NY Times).

Instead of being so obsessed with breasts, we should be more concerned about the underlying societal issues that continue to discriminate against women no matter what they do. Instead of arguing about parenting styles and breastfeeding locations, we should be focusing on the fact that women are criticizing each other instead of supporting each other in their choices. How can we expect positive change to happen as long as we continue to focus on breasts while ignoring the real issues?

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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