Monday, 25 January 2010

Are A Womans Breasts Really Her Own?

And so it rages on with varying degrees of predictability.

I'm talking about the breastfeeding/formula feeding debate. I find it to be a variation on a theme with the working mother/stay at home mother debate. Either one can render me exasperated, yet somehow strangely depressed and fatalistic within minutes. They're interchangeable for me really, in the sense that I often see them as evidence that women everywhere have found some fine sticks to beat each other with, and by god they're going to use them.

I briefly mentioned recently, in a post on guilty pleasures (which incidentally seems to be rather a recurring theme in my writing), about my partiality to a good ruck stirring debate on Mumsnet. Ah... My ambivalence runs deep. On the one hand I love it - especially the 'Am I Being Unreasonable', and 'Relationship' threads. Naturally argumentative and nosy you see. But I'm not sure how healthy it is for any individual in genuine distress to lay themselves bare and ask for help on this particular forum. The vast majority of posters, even if misguided or ill informed (and you can take that as code for I don't agree with them) genuinely try to be supportive. But a small minority of thugs will tend inevitably to circle, with a mind to giving the usually vulnerable OP a fairly thorough virtual kicking. It sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading, and much like reality television I suppose, one ends up feeling a little bit voyeuristic and seedy (although to my eternal shame, I secretly love Britain's Got Talent too, especially the first auditions. Gaah).

But anyway I'm wandering off the point. A couple of weeks ago I watched THIS particular thread unfold, with my hand clamped over my eyes, fingers open just a crack. It's a long read, but you can skim through and get the general idea...

What upset me most about this thread was not so much the dogmatic views being expressed (nothing wrong with feeling strongly about an issue per se, I have been known to be rather opinionated myself) but the enthusiasm with which women were prepared to put the boot into each other. To make vitriolic, hurtful, sweeping statements regarding not only the competence of someones mothering, but their inherent worth as a member of society, based purely on how they had chosen to feed their baby. The thread eventually disintegrated into name calling and insults, and was asked to be taken down by other users. I have since heard regular contributors to the site say that this is the inevitable trajectory of such a debate, and they had seen it all before.

For the record, and to add a personal slant to my post, I breastfed all three of my children, and have worked voluntarily as a breastfeeding peer supporter. After one failed home birth attempt I then went on to give birth to my next two children successfully at home without any intervention or drugs, and I have stayed at home to care for them all. Those were my personal choices. They worked for me at the time. I do not believe them to be superior to other choices I may have made, had my circumstances been different. I certainly do not believe that women are mere vessels who must suddenly negate all their own needs and desires as soon as they become mothers. I do believe in informed choices. For me this means giving women the facts as we know them regarding the risks and benefits of breastfeeding/formula feeding, but that once armed with the facts, women should be allowed to go away and make their own holistic decisions about what will work for them and their lives, without interference or judgement from others.

It just seems to me that by getting bogged down in this sort of competitive infighting, we are missing the point spectacularly. There is a simple concept at work here I feel, and it's called Divide And Rule. Surely we all want the same things? Whether you choose to call yourself a feminist or not is immaterial. We all want equality. We all want freedom. We all want the validity of our decisions to be respected.

These are our rights. But none of them can be achieved while we are busy tearing each other apart.


  1. Yes, yes and yes.

    And again, YES.

    What gets me so riled up is that just because something works for YOU does not mean that it works for everyone - nor should it, necessarily. I honestly think that our responsibility as parents is do the very best WE can do as individuals. A happy, content parent raises a happy, content kid. The rest is just fodder for arguments between people who want to label themselves in some way. These parenting style philosophies are like religion... zealots believe that their way is the "right" way and that they need to "save" everyone who does not see the light. And yet I know plenty of spiritual people who don't adhere to that mentality. One can feel strongly about something and live up to one's ideals without forcing one's beliefs on others...or at least one can in an ideal world, I guess.

    Anyhow...thanks for putting some sanity out there in Cyberspace. Found you through Twitter and so glad I did... I'm loving your blog.

  2. Live and let live, I say. Good post. Mich x

  3. What a fantastic post. I wish I could say more on this topic but you've already said it so well and besides, I still get all choked up thinking about it and tend to be left kind of angry and emotional and fairly ineffective in terms of what I'm trying to say, so thank you!