Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Who's Judgemental Now?

I have been meaning to write a post about Hanna Rosin's and Judith Warner's recent articles blasting breastfeeding and pumping, respectively. It was going to be called "A Memo to Hanna Rosin and Judith Warner" and was going to start off with the true statement that I genuinely do not care how they feed their babies. Then I was going to point out that Hanna Rosin's review of the scientific literature on breastfeeding was casual at best, and that the scientific reviews of the literature on breastfeeding that I have seen come to a different conclusion, based not on any single large benefit but on the accumulation of many smaller benefits.

I was going to hope that no one read her article and decided that since breastfeeding isn't really that important they didn't need to give the nursing mothers at their company time and space to pump. I was going to end with a good rant about her statement that breastfeeding "pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way". I was a working, nursing mother for 20 months. I think I did quite a bit of meaningful work during that time. I got a raise and a bonus this year, so I assume my employer agrees. Furthermore, women have been doing "meaningful work" (i.e., raising children) and breastfeeding since the human race first showed up on earth. Her suggestion that breastfeeding precludes working in a meaningful way was therefore deeply offensive.

I was going to tell Judith Warner that she'd have to physically fight to take my breast pump away from me, because it was an instrument of liberation, not subjugation to me. It allowed me to go back to work without weaning my baby. Going back to work helped me rediscover both my sense of competence and my pre-baby identity. The pump allowed me to take nights away from my daughter and go and get a good night's sleep without having to first wean, thereby saving my sanity. I don't care if other people don't want to pump, but how dare Ms. Warner imply that anyone who does pump is somehow subjugating herself? How dare she judge how I have chosen to achieve balance in my life?

But so many people have posted so many good, intelligent things about this already, and I've exhausted my indignation in comments on other people's blogs.

I do not discount the people who have felt judged when formula feeding. This is a deeply personal decision that is by necessity made in public. It impacts the thing that new parents have suddenly realized matters more than anything else in their life- their child's well-being. It is easy for people to get defensive and judgmental in this situation. I would not have been bothered had Ms. Rosin or Ms. Warner written an article explaining the reasons for their personal decisions. They could even have decried the judgmental attitudes they have encountered. But both moved beyond that, to judging the people who make the opposite decisions. We are apparently anti-feminists, setting the cause of women's equality back in a misguided belief that we are doing what is best for our families. To which I can only say: "excuse me?"

I think I would be considered a successful professional woman by most standards. I work at the intersection of two fields (science and IT) that have long been dominated by men. I have seen the salary surveys, and I know I am not underpaid relative to the men in my field. I enjoy an extremely egalitarian home life with a husband who truly does half (maybe more) of the household chores, is a fully involved co-parent and clearly views me as his equal.

How exactly does the decision to breastfeed and pump negate all of this and make me a subjugated woman?

I think that Ms. Rosin and Ms. Warner are missing the point. Yes, there are still inequalities in our society. Yes, the burden of early parenthood falls unevenly in a couple. This is pure biology- women get pregnant. Women breastfeed. But a fair society would not be one that ignores the biological differences between men and women. A fair society would be one that accepted, even celebrated, those differences and found a way to accommodate them while still providing equal opportunities for members of either sex to pursue their dreams and aspirations. We aren't there yet, but setting up a false "war" between breastfeeders and formula-feeders isn't going to get us any closer to that goal.


  1. Amen my sister!

  2. Anonymous11:04 AM

    I second that!

  3. Hear! Hear!!!!

    So well said, here and in comments you've posted on other sites. You know I agree with everything you said 100%.

    And your last paragraph is perfect. It reminded me of what I have often said about life and how you treat others: You don't always have to treat others equally as long as you treat them fairly. (I think of that phrase especially for children who need different things, not the exact same thing, if that makes sense.)


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