The Trap of Breastfeeding
Among all of the saccharine and useless articles on breastfeeding, it is next to impossible to find a rare gem that makes a useful point. Reader Evelina Anville, however, managed to alight on just such an elusive piece on the subject. Here is the important point that Karla A. Erickson, the article’s author, is making:
Next time I won’t breastfeed because it sets up a gendered division of who does what early into parenting. It provides an infrastructure for an unequal distribution of the work (and rewards) of parenting.
The burdens of breastfeeding are real and considerable including the restraints to women’s spatial mobility and time. But the other part no one every talks about is that breastfeeding also consolidates pre-existing biological tendencies that privilege the breastfeeding parent.
Breastfeeding does, indeed, function in a way that pushes the father away from the child and creates a barrier between them that it becomes very hard to break afterwards. Many women are more than happy to let this happen for the following reasons:
Breastfeeding is a burden, but it’s also a power trip. Breastfeeding sets up the breastfeeder as the expert, the authority and the primary parent in the life of the breastfed baby.
Women who are used to feeling less important, less competent, less intelligent, and less valuable than their husbands appreciate having one area in which they have supreme authority and can feel that nothing worthwhile will happen without their contribution and expertise.
Imagine a woman who has subsumed her entire identity in a relationship with a man. She has no money or profession of her own and has even abandoned her own name to mark herself as the man’s appendage. If she suddenly finds herself in possession of a skill that makes her more important than said man, she will hold on to the skill for as long and as hard as she can. This is what brings into existence all of those breastfeeding pride movements and attempts to prolong breastfeeding until a child is way too old to be sucking on Mommy’s body parts.
Of course, women who don’t need to prove their worth as human beings in such Byzantine ways can look for ways of letting fathers become as central in the children’s lives as mothers are:
I teach a college course on Gender and Society. One year I invited three dads to come and talk about parenting. The college students adored the hour and a half session. It was such a rare treat to hear dads talking about being dads. One of the fathers said that after their first child they bottle-fed their children because it was the only way to work against the gender disparities in the parenting process.
This is a brilliant article by a brilliant person and I encourage everybody to read it in full.
Thank you, Evelina Anville, for sharing it!