The ultimate connection between breastfeeding and feminism is that in a truly equitable society, women would have the capacity to pursue both their productive and reproductive work without penalty. In that vein, breastfeeding becomes the perfect lens to see the misogyny of our culture as it impacts mothers: women are harassed and shamed and illegally evicted from public spaces for breastfeeding; women are threatened with losing custody of their children for breastfeeding for “too long”; women are ridiculed and bullied for trying to pump milk at work; women are described as freak shows for breastfeeding twins or tandem feeding; women are called names for breastfeeding; women are told they are sexually abusing their children for breastfeeding; women are told they’re not allowed to keep breast milk in communal fridges because it’s viewed as a bodily secretion and not as food; women are bullied into stopping breastfeeding because breasts are the sexual objects of men; women are told that it is obscene to breastfeed in front of other people’s children or other people’s husbands; women are told their bodies are too fat and too saggy and too veiny to be exposed while breastfeeding; women are told to stay at home with their babies until they are no longer breastfeeding; women are instructed to throw blankets over themselves and their babies if they wish to breastfeed outside the home. The list goes on. This is not the result of some peculiar sensitivity toward babies and small children eating; this does not happen with bottle feeding. This is unique to breastfeeding, and it is about policing women’s bodies and lives. You know, exactly the kinds of things feminists used to get riled up about. The fact that women are harassed and shamed for doing something that women’s bodies do as a routine part of bearing children is a severe societal flaw that should trouble all feminists.
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Excerpted from The Big Letdown: How Medicine, Big Business, and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) by Kimberly Seals Allers