True Honesty, Gender Solidarity & Political Correctness Are Dead.
What Now for Mothers & Babies?
As we recover from our unprecedented election season and the stunning results and prepare for the work ahead, it’s important to gather lessons from this experience, especially for our breastfeeding work. After all, organizations and movements are microcosms of society. The conflicts of America are mirrored and magnified in breastfeeding. The cavernous gaps in how this country views where we are as a nation and where we need to go was laid bare last week, and for those of us working for the youngest citizens, infants, we do well to pay attention. We need to put aside the outrage and be eyes wide open to the new realities of our Trump world (like it or not)—starting with these five truths. (Spoiler Alert: You may not like them).
Wake Up Call #1: People lie. Some people lie to pollsters, people lie to co-workers and people even lie to themselves and then go behind closed doors, pulled curtains or boxed off cubicles and act out their real inclinations. This sobering reality has two important implications for our work:
First, mothers may be simply saying the thing they think the doctor, nurse, WIC practitioner, or lactation consultant want to hear—if we are not properly clued into the landscape of women’s lives, we could easily accept this as truth and move on. We’ve seen first-hand that being disconnected to the reality of people’s lives is dangerous –it creates false perceptions and false realities that become the basis for poor decisions and actions. We need more than what people are saying about breastfeeding as the foundation for our work—if you are not deeply rooted and connected to the real people where you work, then you
may need to must rethink your strategy now.
The second implication is for the growing momentum on reducing racial disparities and creating a more equitable breastfeeding movement and experience. The truth is, some of our colleagues may be lying. They may say they are all in for equity because it’s the right, as in politically correct, thing to say (more on this in point #2) but behind closed doors this is not a real priority. #NoJudgment. The problem is, those of us who do care about equity have been taking you at your word, trusting that your intentions match your words and expecting you to act accordingly. If you have been lying to yourself, your co-workers or your organization about your commitment to equity in the breastfeeding work, I implore you to find a way to be honest with yourself. No need for an outward confession –that is not my job—but if you are not sincere please respectfully get out of the way of those who are so we can find true allies. Just don’t attend that equity conference. Be too busy for that inclusion webinar. Google “good excuses for getting out of work.” But at least those who are sincere will be the only ones present at these convenings. Those of us who take the work of saving the lives of infants who die at disproportionately higher rates, and the mothers whose lives are forever marred after that death, don’t have time for fakers. If you think we can make breastfeeding great again by maintaining the status quo of power and privilege, then please put on the hat or the pin so we can simply move on past you. There is no judgment here, just a hope that you will free yourself from living a lie and be honest, at least, to yourself about where you stand on the issue. As we have learned, not allowing people the freedom to say, “I want things to stay exactly how they are,” is extremely dangerous. Democracies have crumbled under the lies we tell ourselves. And if you can’t say it, act it, and we can read that too. Which brings me to:
Wake Up Call #2: Political correctness must go in favor of real conversations–the difficult ones. Perhaps we have become so preoccupied with ‘safe spaces” that we create an eggshell culture where people are afraid to speak their true thoughts. In a laudable effort to create “safe spaces” with no triggers we have sometimes ended up with dangerously dishonest ones. We have open elections but hardly any open discourse. As adults, we need the skills to navigate tough conversations –xenophobic ideas, racist ideology and anti-women sentiments have arrived–and they’ve got a platform and a well-coiffed leader. Say hello and deal with it! Being dismissive or judgmental doesn’t work. Thinking that something as complex as breastfeeding can be scrubbed clean of controversy is not realistic. Know the difference between being offended and being insulted—and consider being willing to be offended for the sake of the bigger conversation. Without this environment, as we now know, people act out in private, because they have no place to process their real feelings without judgment or fear of offending. This is dangerous and we have to replace the political correctness in the breastfeeding work with a real-deal dialogue about race, power, class and xenophobia among the movement leadership and the women we serve. When I began the Critical Conversations series, I had no idea just how quickly the need to communicate would accelerate from important to stop-what-you-are-doing-right-now. Please join me on Friday, December 2 from 2:30 to 3:30 for a no-judgment zone, no holds barred, “it’s a Trump world” webinar on the breakthrough conversations that need to be had now. Think of it as radical honesty meets breastfeeding. For the record, I am willing to be offended (not insulted) for the sake of the work, so please ask away. I will ask some special guests to join me—bring your truths, lies, questions, hopes and dreams. We will also discuss this important lesson from the election:
Wake Up Call #3: Be prepared for distrust of white women. In the spirit of honesty and letting go of political correctness, it must be said that it is not lost on any woman of color that 53% of white women voted for Trump. On the other hand, according to some exit poll data, 94% of black women and 68% of Latina women voted for Hillary. That means that more than half of white women voted for a man with misogynistic tendencies, racist policies and who has somehow insulted almost all non-white communities in one way or another over the past year. After this election, there’s a common thinking that some white women can be two-faced and untrustworthy—now with some statistical proof. This is unfortunate (and part of a media narrative, in my opinion) but needs to be acknowledged, particularly as many white women work in communities of color. Please do not be blind to your changing perception. And if you are thinking, all white women should not be judged by the actions of some, I implore you to never, ever utter such words to any person of color who has most likely lived under such unfair rules for all of their lives. Also, this is not the time to complain that you’re a victim of media stereotyping–reason same as above. Quite frankly, there’s some relationship rebuilding and narrative re-framing work to be done here. I will be talking about some strategies in my webinar. And speaking of women….
Wake Up Call #4: Gender solidarity cannot be counted on. Don’t assume buy in from women on women’s issues. Gender solidarity is clearly more complicated at times than racial or political party solidarity. Less than half of white women rallied around the first female president when the other option was a man who is a self-proclaimed ‘pussy-grabber’ who wants to undo Roe v. Wade. Comedienne Samantha Bee had some harsh words for white women, putting it this way: “A majority of white women, faced with the historic choice between the first female president, and a vial of weaponized testosterone said, ‘I’ll take Option B. I just don’t like her,’” she said, scathingly, in an episode of Full Frontal. Unfortunately, women are socialized to see each other as competition from an early age, we are taught to hate our own bodies and criticize each other—this has become socially acceptable female behavior. Later on, as mothers, when the realities of children and the benefit of time should give us more perspective, women find new ways to criticize each other, this time over the false choices such as staying at home versus returning to work, breastfeeding vs. breast milk substitutes, or even just being “good mother”. These are clearly deeply entrenched forces (causing some women to act against their own self-interest) that may not get resolved in our generation. (These powerful dynamics and their roots and implications are covered in Chapter 6 of my upcoming book, The Big Let Down. The title is so apropos right now and,btw, have you pre-ordered yet??) Instead, we may need to accept that our ability to unify women and end even the (mis)perception of any mommy war—may be limited or nil, unless we seriously step up our game. Who’s in? (not making any assumptions here). And lastly…
Wake Up Call #5: The fear is real. Many women are under severe stress right now—fear and anxiety about the future is gripping the nation. People are in tears, battling sleepless nights and/or teetering on depression. We also know that lactation is a self-limiting condition and that stress can literally suppress the lactation process. Acute stress can impact birth outcomes leading to low birth-weight and premature labor. For others, this could be a real tipping point for post-partum depression—either way, we should not take this fear epidemic lightly. It will be interesting to observe and notate how this intense period of fear and anxiety impacts birth outcomes, lactation duration, and PPD among women, particularly women of color (Where my researchers at?). It may be a good time to collaborate with psychologists and other mental health professionals in your work.
It’s a new world, people. We must accept these realities and use them to inform our work—personally, professionally and organizationally. This is no time to live in a breastfeeding bubble. It is the time for hard work, difficult conversations and, as my Granny would say, “to put your tough skin on.” Mothers and babies are counting on us. Let’s get to work!
(“See you” in the comments, on social media and on December 2nd) If you missed the first installment of Critical Conversations, you can get it here.