The Backlash

It seems that people genuinely don’t know, so here is a brief history of the anti-feminist backlash.

After the feminist advances of the 1970s, a protracted backlash set in. I highly recommend Susan Faludi’s classic Backlash that traces the origins of the phenomenon. It’s a brilliant, brilliant book.

One of the aspects of the backlash is the so-called attachment parenting. The tenets of attachment parenting (also known as natural parenting) were created by ultra-conservative religious organizations that were always very open about their belief that women should have no interests outside of child-bearing and child-rearing. Anything that simplifies the pregnancy, the birth, and childcare and makes them less painful (epidurals are one example) were declared to be evil.

The movement’s proponents aggressively insist that you are a horrible mother and are doing great harm to your children if you don’t choose unmedicated birth (ideally done at home), if you don’t breastfeed on demand until at least the age of 3, don’t wear the child on your body at all times (meaning no solitude for mom even for 10 mins a day), etc.

It’s really clear that a woman who follows all of these precepts is not doing anything else. Her body belongs to the baby not only during pregnancy but for quite a while after birth. People who never breastfed might not realize that breast-feeding means you don’t eat what you want, you don’t drink what you want, and your freedom of movement and activity is severely limited. (You are not supposed to use a pump, by the way. Remember, no stepping away from the child!)

Obviously, feminists have been disturbed by this assault on women’s bodily autonomy in service of “ideal” motherhood. The feminist approach has always consisted in the idea that women should be left alone to figure out what to do with their bodies. Want to give birth? Great. Don’t want to use your body for the purpose of procreation? Equally great. Want to breastfeed? Fantastic. Don’t want to breastfeed? Equally fantastic.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that breast-feeding has any benefits at all in developed countries. No evidence. Zilch. There is ample evidence, however, that the bullying of women at a very vulnerable time after giving birth is causing harm. The agents of the backlash have been extremely aggressive. Their tricks obviously don’t work on jaded feminist scholars who give birth at 40, like myself. But most women are less jaded and less old when they give birth. The shaming and the berating works on them.

I highly recommend the blogger I linked in the penultimate post who has been studying the backlash for years.

30 thoughts on “The Backlash”

  1. I wouldn’t interpret what happened at the World Health meeting in terms of that structure. That would be given too much intellectual credit to the Administration. Point: Conservatives aren’t consistent. Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the US, and outlaws midwifery, making home birth almost impossible. And in fact much of the direct conflict over breast feeding has to do with bringing babies to work and breast feeding in public, actions that don’t inhibit what else a woman can do.

    The backlash certainly exists. It does in virtually every major issue. However, US conservatives aren’t consistently intelligent or consistently consistent. Nor is the other side.

    The NYT interpretation is that this was all about money, and that would be very consistent behavior for the current Administration.

    While the medical literature is at best mixed regarding the merits of breast feeding versus formula, Nestle was fined for offering substandard product in India in 2014, and prior to that in Africa, and has been similarly accused this year in South Africa. Nestle markets under the Gerber brand as well as under its own name. There are some quality issues with formula, not that the FDA would ever notice.


  2. In my very limited experience (my sister-in-law is an attachment parent), it seems that attachment parenting is more popular within New Age leftist circles. This, in of itself, does not refute your argument. Clearly, not all anti-feminists are conservative.


    1. That’s a brilliant article. Thank you for the link. I loved it.

      The comments are sadly familiar. In my experience, no subject – not Trump, not Putin, not abortion, not gay marriage, not sex, not religion, etc – evokes as much rage as the mildest questioning of attachment parenting. Especially of its more physiological manifestations.


        1. Which one have you read?
          I liked PM the most, but I heard from many people that they felt that PM is too abstract and theoretical and that they prefer I&D, despite it being way too marketingy for my taste…
          His latest book, Brain Talk, is also pretty good; it has many things from his Psychology Today articles you’ve posted in the last couple of days better systematized. It is somewhat unusual book for him, as it focuses more on trauma and neuroplasticity and things like that than on all things sexual. He claims that this latest book grew out of him trying to understand why some clients failed in therapy…


          1. I wouldn’t say “read” as much as tried to read but found it too dense and confusing. Yes, I think it was probably PM.

            I’m not very interested in sexology, so maybe I should read this recent one you mention. I’m a lot more interested in trauma than sex. :-)))


            1. Sex part makes it entertaining… But this is really a philosophy of life that is much broader than being about just sex…


              1. No, sorry, no neoliberalism…
                He has a short chapter on Trump… He does is best to make it about psychology – what is common between Trump and dysfunctional toxic parents – not about any particular policy…


              2. My friend, this is my research topic. πŸ™‚ I have a bibliography from here to the moon. To begin with, I can recommend Jim McGuigan and Patricia Ventura, my most recent favorite authors.


              3. I saw your review of the Jim McGuigan book on Amazon. πŸ™‚ From what I can see, neither McGuigan nor Ventura are “neoliberals.” One is supposed to understand a position based on how its supporters interpret it, not the opposition. Imagine if all one knew about “cultural Marxism” or “post-modernism” came from Jordan Peterson. Falsifiability is also important here. If I ever wished to refute a claim of yours regarding neoliberalism, who would be a neoliberal that I can read to see whether or not they say the opposite about themselves?


              4. Actually, both these theorists argue that neoliberalism is the dominant ideology of the day and we are all bearers of it. Including me, you and them. As I always tell my students, it’s neither good not bad. It just is. It has negative and positive, or even seductive, as McGuigan says, aspects of it. A rah-rah cheerleader would be as boring as a monotonous denouncer.


              5. So Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, and David Duke are all neoliberals? Keep in mind that, while all of them may be outside of certain people’s Overton Windows, none of these figures, for better or worse, are saying anything so outside the mainstream that they have been reduced to waving signs on street corners.


              6. Do you know how all progressives proudly say they are pro-choice? The worship of individual choice as such a crucial good that is supercedes everything else is the basis of neoliberalism. But tell any of these folks that their worldview is deeply neoliberal, and they’ll blow a gasket.

                Unless you live in North Korea, you can’t stand outside of neoliberal mentality because that’s all there is. Liberalism, individualism and consumerism have won. We can discuss how we feel about it but we can’t take ourselves out of it.


              7. Ok. So I think we are on the same page here. I might prefer to talk about “post-Enlightenment secular modernity” (something that especially includes religious fundamentalists) but that is a minor technical issue.

                Liked by 1 person

              8. For your reading list, I would suggest Deirdre N. McCloskey and Gordon S. Wood. McCloskey deals with the bourgeois shift in values to make it possible to believe that someone who did not plow, fight or pray could be useful to society. Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution is particularly useful for his opening chapter on what it meant to live in a hierarchal mindset. Both writers come from a position that something happened in the 18th century to change, at a fundamental level, how we look at the world that it is almost impossible to imagine that people could have thought differently.


              9. If you are interested in the political-religious framework of modern thinking as opposed to the political-economic, there is Charles Taylor’s massive Secular Age. One of the interesting arguments in the book is that, despite the Enlightenment, Europe was at its most religious in the late 19th century. His basic narrative is that going back to the fifteenth century, you have this growing rift between elite and popular religion with the elite religion emphasizing the personal as opposed to the communal. He follows these two tracks through the Reformation, Enlightenment and eventually modern secularism.


  3. I hope you ok if I push you on this. I am not trying to be snarky. I am not even convinced that you are wrong. There is certainly something to be said about ideologies that so dominate a society that we cannot think outside of them.


    1. We can gain a bit of a critical distance by realizing how this mentality works in and through us but claiming that we don’t participate is either naive or dishonest.


          1. Thank you. I confess to feeling guilty every time I hear a formally anti-Trump conservative defend him, knowing that such a person would have been all over a President Hillary. Instead of giving the left four years, these conservatives have given the left the country for a generation.


            1. I wouldn’t be so sure. This opposition is so inept, I wouldn’t trust it to win anything easily. I’ll be able to vote for the first time in my life this year and I’m beyond disillusioned with my options.


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