The other day, my best friend said something to me (which in context had nothing at all to do with breastfeeding or formula, but still): “A lot of plants look pretty and smell nice, but are still poisonous.”
I realize it’s a juvenile pseudo-feminist fantasy, but I always had this conspiracy theory that there were a bunch of men standing around in a room coming up with ways to turn women against each other, because if we were busy being each others’ worst enemies, we could never take our rightful place in this patriarchal world.
Except for a few (admittedly outspoken) random male lactivists, the people leading the breastfeeding advocacy charge are female. It doesn’t surprise me that the breast vs bottle battle has devolved into a screechy “who’s a better mom?” catfight. We women do this. It’s why I never joined a sorority. Gaggles of girls make me nervous. I much prefer the direct, matter-of-fact, typically masculine style of fighting to the uniquely feminine way of acting sickly sweet to your face and then stabbing you in the back with a pointy, perfectly manicured fingernail. (No joke – those things can draw blood.)
Luckily for me, a lot of the more militant anti-formula-feeding types, or AFFTs (please note that I’m calling them this, rather than “breastfeeding advocates”, because I’ve learned in my two years writing this blog that there are many amazing, noble, supportive, live-and-let-live lactivists out there, and I am on a personal mission to make sure they are not lumped in with the AFFT’s) I’ve encountered have been direct in their approach. They don’t mince words. I know how they feel about me, and what I do. In a weird way, I respect them for it.
But then there are the others. You know the kind. The ones that will tell you how they support all women, both breast- and bottled-feeding, but then suggest that you must only be bottle feeding because you weren’t properly educated or supported. Or post interviews which insult and demean women who are not breastfeeding. Or who will pretend to be moderate in their views, but then pepper their websites with misleading articles on the dangers of formula. The kind who claim to want to help all women breastfeed, but who are unwilling to listen to stories that don’t fall under the umbrella of what they deem acceptable “booby traps”.
You’re probably wondering what this whole cryptic post is referring to, so here it is. I’ve read a lot of things that have made my blood boil, and I realize that this interview may seem, on the surface, like a really stupid thing to get riled up about.
But this is what my friend was talking about: The pretty plant which will give you pus-filled hives.
Beyond the obvious offensiveness of this article, I also have to mention that the comment I left about it – basically saying that I thought Ali came off as judgmental and holier-than-thou, and that attitude seemed to obscure the typically positive message of the organization she was representing – was taken down within an hour. (Now, let me just admit up front that I let my passion get the best of me, sometimes; I’ve been known to leave pretty angry comments on a few blogs here and there, and I’m the queen of passive-aggressive tweets. But for the most part, I hold back. And I held back as much as I possibly could with the comment I made on this post… it was at worst, a bit snarky. Nothing worth censoring.)
This scares me. It scares me that an organization making impressive money, getting impressive celebrities to represent them, and gaining mainstream media as well as political attention, is so quick to censor their site. This may help them keep up their glossy image, but… you know what it reminds me of? My college roomate who used to shower with a full face of makeup on. (I kid you not. She would arch her neck back so that the water wouldn’t hit her face. Really.) People who hide behind gloss are impossible to truly know, and when you don’t know who you are dealing with, well, you don’t know who you are dealing with.
(On a whiny personal note, it also saddens me, because this particular organization had been one I respected in the past. I didn’t agree with everything they said or did, but I believed they were kindhearted, and acting out of altrustic motives. I thought we were friends, at least in the make-believe world of the blogosphere. Now I feel like that scene in Carrie with the pig’s blood. )
Here’s all I’m asking: be clear on where you stand. You can’t advertise that you support all mothers, both bottlefeeding and breastfeeding, and then tack on a bunch of caveats. It’s totally okay to say that you are out to support breastfeeding moms, first and foremost. Hey, I’m totally for breastfeeding, but my job is to look out for the bottlefeeders. That may infringe upon my lesser role as breastfeeding supporter, at times. We all have our priorities. But this interview promotes the message that only certain women are worthy of support; only certain women are good mothers.
Imagine how a woman – any one of the brave women who have talked about their perceived breastfeeding “failure” on this very site – were to go to this organization’s website seeking support and advice for a second go at breastfeeding. It’s quite likely, as the group often Tweets supportive messages about how all mothers deserve support; she could easily get the impression that they are anti-bullying, and offer a kinder, gentler, more flexible form of lactivism. She arrives at the website, and is greeted by an interview with one of the organization’s “Champions for Moms”, and is excited to read something that inspires her, comforts her, assures her that she did not “fail” the first time around, and that there is plenty of hope for her the second time. (Maybe like this much better interview with Jenna Elfman from the same site).
And then she reads the piece by Laila Ali, and it all comes back. All those feelings of failure, all the pain, all the grief. She starts thinking that maybe this Ali person is right. She wasn’t strong enough. She worries that other breastfeeding moms feel the same way that Ali does; after all, nearly every Tweet she sees with the #breastfeeding hashtag makes her feel like poop on a stick, as negative as they are about formula feeding…
Now, who can she turn to for inspiration? For guidance? For hope?
If that’s not a booby trap, I really don’t know what is.