Nazi [ˈnɑːtsɪ]n pl Nazis1. (Historical Terms) a member of the fascist National Socialist German Workers’ Party, which was founded in 1919 and seized political control in Germany in 1933 under the Austrian-born German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)
2. Derogatory anyone who thinks or acts like a Nazi, esp showing racism, brutality, etc.
– The Free Dictionary
Today is officially Holocaust Remembrance Day. But growing up in a Jewish household, pretty much every day was Holocaust Remembrance Day. My parents were part of a generation charged with the tremendous responsibility of the slogan “never forget”. They made sure we didn’t. Anne Frank was my childhood hero. We never bought German cars or listened to Wagner. And when I fell in love for the first time, and the boy happened to be born and bred in Frankfurt.. well, let’s just say Romeo and Juliet had nothing on us.
In college, I took a class on German Nationalism and Character. I wanted to learn about what could turn the majority of a nation’s population into something so ugly, something that would happily slay 6 million of my people as well as far too many homosexuals, Gypsies, and people who just didn’t fit in. I’d heard loved ones make angry, anti-German comments, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Not all Germans had been Nazis. And even if they had been (as was the case with my young beloved’s grandparents) that didn’t mean we should blame the sins of the (grand)father on a younger, innocent generation.
The class was phenomenal. Taught by a visiting professor from West Germany, we learned about the historical events that led up to World War II. There were certainly aspects of the German national character that could have contributed to the ease with which Hitler took power, but it wasn’t something in their genetic code. Rather, it was a history of feeling less-than, misunderstood, unappreciated; it was the timing of a charismatic leader who banked on the fact that his countrymen would lap up promises of supremacy and pride like hungry cats given a bowl of cream.
I’m not excusing what occurred in Nazi Germany, by any means. It was, in my opinion, the most horrific display of the dark side of human nature that the world has ever seen. But I think it is important for people to understand that this could have happened in any country. The group dynamic is powerful. Scapegoating is tempting. The union of anger and insecurity can lead to the birth to pure evil.
Group dynamic. Scapegoating. Anger. Insecurity.
I don’t take the term “Nazi” lightly. I don’t like name calling, and I don’t like hyperbole. But I also think most of us don’t fully understand what the tenets of Nazism were. Calling someone a Nazi is not only accusing them of acting like someone who committed genocide. It is also inferring that they possess certain traits. As the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies explains:
Nazism or National Socialism (German: Nationalsozialismus) is an ideology that received its practical political form in the regime that governed Germany from 1933-1945. Nazism is a variety of another totalitarian ideology, fascism. The political goal of both ideologies is to establish a totalitarian state, that is to say a modern, bureaucratic state, where the government is completely dominant in relation to the individual. It is thus a purpose of the regime to monopolise all human activities, both private and public.
Nazism was specifically characterised by:
Building on a charismatic leader figure (Adolf Hitler) and on the support of the military,
Inventing common enemies (Jews, communists, liberals, pacifists, free masons, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, etc.),
Trying to re-model the working class by making the workers focus on ‘higher ideals’ than the traditional class struggle; such ‘higher ideals’ included extreme nationalism, racism, and especially war.
I have cringed every time I’ve see the term “breastfeeding nazi”, or even worse, “boob nazi”. I’ve seen responses about how insulting it is to those affected by the Holocaust to sling this term around willy nilly, and I agree with this, for the most part. I also think using the word “nazi” as an insult takes away the power of the term itself. The end of the German Nazi party was not the end of nazism. There is a strong neo-Nazi contingent in the USA and UK, among other countries. We shouldn’t call someone a Nazi unless we mean it.
However, I also think that certain facets of lactivism do veer into fascist territory (Nazism is a form of fascism, but other fascist regimes have thrived in Italy, Latin America, Indonesia, and Spain. In breastfeeding supremacy (thank you to the ever-brilliant Jessica Valenti for that far better and more PC term), the common enemy is the formula companies/breastfeeding-unfriendly physicians/formula feeders. The charismatic leaders are the “famous” and most intolerant breastfeeding advocates, people like Jack Newman, William Sears, Darcia Navarez, Gabrielle Palmer, and so forth. The military support comes from grassroots organizations and mommy blogs, who wield the power to call widespread boycotts of commercial products over WHO Code infractions. And the “higher ideals” are extreme, religious beliefs in the power of breastmilk and a conviction that breastfed babies will be stronger, healthier, smarter, and more beautiful human specimens.
This essay outlines the “14 common characteristics” of fascist regimes. Some of these characteristics include:
There are patriotic mottos in breastfeeding supremacy, too. Mottos like “Breast is best”. “Breast is normal”. “Babies are born to be breastfed”. “Breastmilk is a baby’s birthright.”
Obviously, compassion isn’t a human right (although it should be, if you ask me). But I have seen Newman, Frank Oski, and other respected breastfeeding advocates state that making women feel guilty is a good thing, because it might help them see the error of their ways, serving the “need” of higher breastfeeding rates.
Comparing formula to cigarettes. Boycotting Babble.com for running formula ads. Hurling insults at blogs like this one or sites like Bottle Babies simply for the fact that we exist to support ALL parents, male or female, regardless of how they feed their babies. Sending hate mail to doctors who dare to suggest that breastfeeding might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Raging about the social “booby traps” that ruin breastfeeding rates. Fighting Facebook over their refusal to allow breastfeeding photos (which I agree is insanely stupid, and I think Facebook is being a major douchebag, but is this really where we want to be putting our energy and activism?). There is clearly a perceived common threat or foe, and one that can obviously spark a unifying frenzy. Or a Twitstorm, which is the unifying frenzy of the new millennium.
Replace the word “military” with “breastfeeding initiatives” and “domestic agenda” with “the real issues plaguing the emotional and physical health of women and children” and you’ll see where I’m going with this. When breastfeeding becomes one of the major tenets of the anti-childhood obesity campaign, rather than addressing the need for cheap, healthy food or fighting for better recess and PE programs in our inner city schools, something is off.
Okay, so obviously the grassroots breastfeeding organizations are female-dominated (although I would argue that those who have made the biggest impact in mainstream breastfeeding research and discourse have been men – paging Dr. Sears…). But traditional gender roles are an inherent part of a pro-breastfeeding discourse. Women are encouraged to stay home as long as possible in order to preserve the exclusive breastfeeding relationship. Mothers are credited (or blamed, depending on how they feed their children) for the intelligence, emotional development, health and weight of their offspring. Men are not part of the equation; genetics be damned. The State has become the guardian of this one aspect of child rearing, as governments
coerce encourage women to nurse for the good of the nation.
Hence, the reason why every article has to start off with “breastfeeding has been proven without a doubt to be the healthiest and best way to feed an infant” even if the article is talking about a downside to breastfeeding. Articles or quotes which may be construed as “pro-formula” are immediately attacked; the media outlet is accused of being in the pockets of the formula industry, or the writer/person quoted has “industry ties”. It doesn’t matter if there is no concrete proof.
I’m also concerned with how the conversation is turning away from mom-blaming and into baby-shaming. I saw a tweet the other day about how baby powder was created to cover up the stench of formula-fed babies. And then there was the Facebook thread where a woman blithely commented that all the obese babies she’d seen were formula fed, and she “much preferred petite breastfed babies”. The Alpha Parent recently posted this mock-up ad she created, in reference to a conversation about the power of presenting “facts” versus avoiding guilt:
Text reads: “Babies are born to be breastfed”; “Formula fed babies are 600 times more likely to have a life of obesity”
This is uncomfortable territory, in my opinion. It reminds me of the Nazi propaganda posters about how to spot a Jew, with exaggerated comic-strip versions of every Jewish stereotype around. When we talk about the superiority of breastfed babies over formula-fed babies, we are creating an atmosphere of supremacy, of “pure” versus “unpure”.
Speaking of darkly evocative breastfeeding promtion, this charming essay was written for Feed The Babies Fund, a non-profit, charitable organization in South Africa (a country which has been earning praise for its new focus on breastfeeding):
It is beyond doubt that the good health status of any nation’s citizens makes an important contribution towards economic progress. ..One of the best ways to ensuring a healthy life for somebody in his/her life span is having a firm health foundation at infancy; a role mainly played by breastfeeding mothers…mothers have the responsibility of investing in the health of their children and the nation by choosing to breastfeed as this choice will impact positively on the stock of health for the kids as they grow. A healthy workforce means a sound human capital base for any nation which ensures a high level of productivity at the workplace. In other words, the type of feeding chosen by mothers for their infants can to some extent determine the level of income that a family and ultimately a nation will earn. If high infant mortality rates are a function of a lack of proper breastfeeding as reported in various media, then one can conclude that families who choose not to breastfeed choose to reduce the stock of health, the time that their children are to survive, ultimately the income that they earn, the income that the nation will earn as well as the socio-economic welfare and progress of the nation.
Parents therefore need to take cognisance of the fact that behind every healthy-child and ultimately every healthy nation is a woman who reasonably and responsibly decides to participate in critical health-enhancing behaviours such as breastfeeding children against all odds… Clearly, one of the reasons why many countries in Africa are burdened by diseases is partially because of inadequate breastfeeding of infants… There is… no justifiable excuse for any mother not to breastfeed considering the vast advantages of breastfeeding discussed in this article.
All Germans were not Nazis, and obviously, all lactivists are not engaging in fascist or supremacist behavior. It sucks that some bad eggs are ruining what should be a really healthy, wholesome omelette. But we also cannot sit idly by and watch a subtle form of fascism grow. So while I am ardently against indiscriminate hurling of the “boob nazi” label, I wish breastfeeding advocates would please consider why this term has gained popularity. Reading the excerpt above, I think it’s pretty damn clear.