You’re Proving the Point

There’s this video that’s been making the rounds on the parenting pages for the past few days. If you haven’t seen it yet, feel free to do so now.

 

Yes, it was made by a formula company. Boo. Hiss.

Now that we have that out of the way, can we get to the real discussion?

Spoiler alert: no, we can’t. Because it was made by a formula company, and therefore anything the video stands for is nothing more than a cleverly crafted marketing message meant to scare women off breastfeeding by convincing them that their milk is made of Ovaltine and if they breastfeed even once, they will instantly be turned into a newt.

What, you didn’t see that? That’s because you’re naive. You don’t understand. Obviously haven’t read (fill in the blank with any blog or breastfeeding politics books here), because if you had, you’d understand that this is ALWAYS what formula companies do, because FORMULA=PATRIARCHY. Duh. Choice as feminism? That’s about as last century as Debbie Gibson.

But wait – if the problem was simply that this is a marketing tool (which it is, no doubt; formula companies – scratch that, all companies – are not in the business of throwing massive advertising dollars into PSAs about mommy wars if they didn’t think it would do them some good in the long run), I wouldn’t be writing this late-night post, my fingers shaking so hard from frustration that I’ve had to retype this sentence three times. I mean, being skeptical about advertising, I get. I personally hate Luv’s diapers, I think they suck donkey balls and leak like my junior year apartment’s jinky kitchen sink, but I love their “second time mom” commercials. Hell, I’ve cried at McDonald’s ads and I’m a card-carrying lifelong vegetarian. But if your morals are strong enough to temper your taste in entertainment, you’ve got my respect. It’s healthy and smart to analyze the endless array of shit that passes over our news feeds and DVRs.

The problem is that now, people have turned what could have been a great statement on being media savvy and critical of marketing messages into the same old, tired argument about why the mommy wars don’t exist, and why breastfeeding is a public health issue and therefore can’t be considered a choice in the same context as cloth diapering, or choosing to work rather than stay home, or even abortion.

But, see, you’re proving the point.

You’re proving that the perceived judgment among women isn’t all in our heads; that it isn’t something the formula companies and media have created, but rather capitalized on. Those are two very different animals. Of course formula companies are going to talk about judgment and choice and empowerment and all those other triggering terms in the infant feeding debate. Because it resonates. It’s simple advertising theory 101: inventing the need versus serving the need. This is a case of serving the need.

Formula companies see the need, because women who formula feed are made to feel ashamed of their choice. If you don’t believe this is true, and you happen to be a parent, for one second, close your eyes, clear your mind, and think: If your entire Facebook feed was full of memes about how gross (fill in the blank with something you feed your child, or a method or parenting you employ) was, or some study came out that suggested kids that (fill in the blank with something you do as a parent and feel strongly about, whether it be breastfeeding or time outs or co-sleeping or taking them to church) who did this have higher rates of obesity/attachment issues/lower IQ, how would you feel? How would honestly feel, in your gut? Forget about the reality or perception of the current research, forget about societal norms, forget about all of it – just think about how you would feel.

You feel it? In your stomach? That queasiness? The feeling that while everything you see in front of you says one thing – that your healthy, gorgeous child has no attachment issues, is smart as a whip, and is this amazing creature you have nothing but awe for – the rest of the world is entirely convinced that your lived reality is false, based on purely associative data that has nothing to do with your family or your child? That is how formula feeding parents are made to feel every day. Not by “breastfeeding moms”, which many of us have been/are/would like to be/are best friends with. This isn’t about breastfeeding moms vs. formula feeding moms. THAT, my friends, is a made-up mommy war. But formula feeding parents are being made to feel this way: by the media, by their physicians, by ads on the freeway, and by you. Yes you. The ones on the parenting pages, pretending to be so accepting of alternative choices; who rage on about how being able to choose how/if you vaccinate is a parent’s choice, science be damned, and then in the same breath tell parents that formula feeding is a public health issue, because the poor, sick formula fed babies will be messing up your gene pool 20 years down the line.

You’re right about one thing though. This isn’t a mommy war, not at all. It isn’t the mom at the park versus the other mom at the park. (Moms at the park are usually pretty nice, actually, in my experience. If anything, they judge you more for how your kid is behaving in the sandbox than what you’re feeding him.) This “war” is run by those with power – the ones running websites, hospitals, initiatives; the ones authoring books and selling their wares under the impenetrable armor of a PhD or MD (because no one with a PhD or MD could ever be wrong, or biased. Unless they work for Big Pharma, of course). Not because of the information they are sharing, but how they are choosing to share it. Not because of the research they do, but because they only deal in absolutes, refusing to see nuance or entertain other findings or beliefs.

This isn’t a war, even, because that implies some sort of mutual disagreement. It’s one side bullying another, refusing to hear the other side’s point of view, denying the other side’s right to exist. For that side, the only peaceful resolution involves accepting a totalitarian regime, no middle ground. And since there’s no way to argue against someone when they shut down your right to be heard, it’s a losing battle.

So let’s just say we give up. We’re waving the white flag. YOU WIN.

Go on – keep shouting from the rooftops that breastfeeding will save all of us from certain death and that formula will turn our children into baby seals. Go on – tell us we have no right to feel judged, and that we can’t be mad at you, we need to be mad at the formula companies because they provided food that kept our babies thriving fooled us into thinking our IGT was real, our depression was truly only helped by ceasing lactation, and that our history of sexual trauma would be exacerbated by nursing.  We hear you. We’ve heard you. Keep it going, because maybe you haven’t made that mom over there sufficiently remorseful.

But don’t sit there and tell me that the feelings Similac capitalized on are not real. That they don’t matter. That our experiences don’t matter. Don’t post sanctimonious rhetoric about feminism and scoff at anyone who dares to question your point of view, because last I checked, that seems a helluva lot more patriarchal than a can of baby formula. And you have a vagina, so that makes it worse. Formula cans don’t have vaginas. (Again, last I checked. Who knows. It’s been awhile since I had a formula-feeding infant.)

Or you know what? Go ahead and tell me all of that. I’m all for free speech. Who the hell am I to tell you what you can’t and cannot say?

Just don’t expect the rest of us to listen. We’ll be over here watching some kitten get rescued by a fireman and yelling about how it must just be a ploy for us to give money to the fire department. Because… patriarchy. Or something.

 

 

 

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.


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12 thoughts on “You’re Proving the Point

  1. Love it. You are so right. I already commented on a “reason I won’t share this” Facebook post, pointing out that for some of us getting a baby out alive by any means is followed by the intense desire to keep that precious one alive by any means. But I guess these haters have never been to the funeral of a baby stillborn at 39 weeks & comforted their sister after she too nearly died. I guess they all found the totally unnatural process of having their much-wanted & sadly deceased baby surgically removed in order to preserve their own life easier to handle than me; & that’s why they have no f’ing sense of proportion or reason. We’re all just doing the best we can, & in some ways for me the heartache and heartbreak it took to get a baby has proven to be a great vaccination against judgment. Because I know there is no one in the world who loves their baby more than I love mine.

  2. YES. This.

    I knew before I got pregnant that most of the supposed health benefits of breastfeeding were more a question of confounding than anything else. But, when I wound up needing to bottle-feed my son, I had to quit my mom’s group because I just couldn’t deal with seeing all the happy breastfeeders, or being constantly questioned over whether my reasons for quitting were good enough.

    The social pressure to breastfeed is incredibly powerful, and yet the pro-breastfeeding group still claims to be some sort of persecuted minority in need of all sorts of special protections…

    • I feel exactly this same way, it’s sad really. We all have this sense of conspiracy when it comes to things we feel strongly about and it’s unnerving when state the obvious (breastfeeders aren’t the only ones being victimized now) and they turn on you before you even finish the sentence.

    • Mirroring my sentiments exactly too. What i find baffling is how even public health authorities can blatantly overstate the science on the purported benefits of breastfeeding. And how most seemingly intelligent women are suddenly unable to grasp the plain and simple difference between correlation and causation.

  3. OH my God, Oh my God! I am in absolute love with this post because of events that happened TONIGHT on a post a “friend” left and while I was voicing my opinion I was basically being made to seem that my point was invalid and well I was insulted in the most intelligent form! ALL because of this damn commercial! Apparently, I’m brainwashed into buying similac (even though I do not buy similac). I have this self percieved “Self Agency” WHICH I DO NOT and I think I proved my point because they are no longer talking to me haha. Any, I shared the hell out of this!

  4. This is brilliantly argued and captures the nuances of the war against formula feeders–how individual choice and common sense are being hideously undermined.

  5. THANK YOU.
    According to the BF lobby my children deserved to die. Instead, they were given formula and lived. So what? Did my children deserve to die because some stranger wants a gold star because they’re a nursing champ?
    Just because some people can and do breastfeed doesn’t mean EVERYONE enjoys that luxury.
    Do they also judge people who use wheelchairs because they have no problem walking?
    Formula judgment is simply privilege bias and bullying.

  6. I think this is unfair. You are extrapolating perfectly legitimate criticism and turning it into attacks on formula feeding. I too formula fed, and I agree with the criticism of this commercial. I think if moms are truly confident in their choices, there is no reason to get so offended by these issues, or to look for holes in scientific research to support our choices. Formula is second best. It just is, and again I say this as someone who formula fed. There are going to be so many opportunities when we do things that are “second best” for our kids. Better own up to it now and be comfortable with “good enough”.

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