Archive for the ‘breastfeeding’ Category

This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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You have to love art that is this big with this many breasts.

ag skywhale

And maternity and breastfeeding can still alarm. From the artist, Patricia Piccinini: “I didn’t think people would react against her as much as they have, but I think that’s interesting about us. We’re suspicious of difference, and that’s interesting in itself.

I think that she’s got a very beautiful and benign presence. She’s very nurturing. She’s a maternal creature and I think that they’re qualities that are missing in the mainstream and representations in the mainstream”.


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25 historical images of breastfeeding proving that we do not naturally breastfeed under blankets. (Thanks to Heather for the link).



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Photo from here and link from @kissability

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Vogue Netherlands has included a photograph of their model breastfeeding in a fashion spread and the photo looks great.  As some of you may know, I love a non-traditional breastfeeding photo and I collect them on this blog. Mothers looking glamorous or dangerous while breastfeeding are my favourites.

But I just want to say about this photo.. that is a terrible latch, madam. Hurts like hell when a baby sucks on the end of your nipple instead of latching on properly.


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This is one of the strangest anti-breastfeeding articles I have ever read.. and let me tell you, there have been a few.

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.

I like how the author decides there is this one little area of advantage to women in the world and it is the bonding advantage of gestation and lactation, and so the author decides to level things out for feminism, and volunteers to forgo breastfeeding when they have another baby. That’s the problem with gender equity, oh yeah, too many advantages for women.

This piece is also a wonderful example of where we find a conflict between paid work and nurturing work and we decide that, of course, the conflict should be resolved by the baby and not the workplace/economy/household etc.

(I’ve written a lot about this topic previously here: Oppressed by breastfeeding, The mediocre mother, The split, How did the patriarchy influence parenting and what problems did it cause?, Feminism and attachment parenting and why they’ve more in common than in conflict, Why attachment parenting needs feminism, Can attachment parenting be saved?, and The accidental attachment parent).

*Also, I stole the idea for the title of the post from Zoe.

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Jane Gilmore has written a piece at King’s Tribune, “The glorified baby bonus” in response to my article about Abbott’s more generous parental leave scheme in The Guardian.

Let’s start with a quick overview of my opinion on Abbott’s parental leave scheme because apparently my thinking can be quite “muddled”.

For the record, I don’t think the scheme is the highest priority for working parents right now. It’s progressive in that it equates parental leave with sick leave (and this is important when parental leave is too often described as a ‘holiday for mums’), but in doing so it is tilted towards higher income parents.. However, I do think more generous parental leave is better than paltry parental leave, and a scheme based on minimum wage is, let’s be honest, very modest, particularly in light of international comparisons. And if we’re going to be debating parental leave, then I’m predicting there will be plenty of accusations that it is all a complete waste of money and if that happens then let it be known that I disagree strongly.. and the economic data supports me.

Now, on to Gilmore’s article. For starters, I’ve spoken to Gilmore and we’re both of the mind that it is something to celebrate when this topic gets discussed and we’re both enthusiastic participants in that discussion. I enjoy Gilmore’s writing a great deal, and there’s plenty I agree with in her piece, too.

The way forward for so many problems in terms of equity, including inside the workplace and inside the home, is more flexible working conditions for both men and women. I am in full agreement with that statement. That to make a difference flexible working conditions need to be offered to more than white-collar professionals and that they need to be taken up by senior levels of management too, for them to be seen as truly acceptable. Complete agreement. That flexible working conditions should be championed by everyone, not just parents, because everyone has important shit to do in their lives. Complete agreement.

And to some degree, I also agree with Gilmore that juggling work and family responsibilities is seen as a women’s issue and that this both stigmatises the topic and also means that men get to remove themselves from a sense of responsibility for the solutions. It also makes it difficult for those men who are already attempting to take on a more equitable share of child rearing and paid work in their families to do so.

I’d go further than Gilmore’s piece and suggest that if we’re thinking feminist revolutions we could do more than thinking about legislating this stuff just for the public sector.. for instance, introducing something legislatively stronger than the right to request part-time work upon returning to work after a baby for everyone would be a game changer.

Now, here’s where my views differ significantly from Gilmore’s.

Unlike Gilmore, I believe parental leave is, in part, a women’s issue and I think parental leave is about a range of objectives including, but not limited to, “closing the gender pay gap”. Parental leave is about broader goals than just workplace participation and some of the measures include not just outcomes for women but also for children. Giving birth, establishing breastfeeding and forming an attachment with an infant require time and rest. They’re all standard aspects of reproduction (and they all have economic benefits), and it says something about how patriarchal our society is that such standard aspects of reproduction are not catered for when we organise the commercial marketplace.

I suspect a critical difference in Gilmore’s and my feminism is covered in this post, “Why we should be careful taking the ‘maternity’ out of ‘parental leave’”, quoting Julie Stephens:

This, however, taps into a productivist ethos entirely consistent with the demands of the neoliberal marketplace, with caregivers replaceable or interchangeable in much the same way as employees in workplaces. In addition, a feminism promoting gender neutrality (in the name of equality) denies the bodily experience of women after they have given birth. Though a boon to the productive workplace, the breast pump may not necessarily protect the emotional needs of women and babies. To deny that baby leave is a women’s issue, to decouple ‘maternity’ from ‘leave’, is also to conceal human vulnerability and dependence. It reproduces what Iris Young has called ‘the normalising but impossible ideal’ that we are autonomous, unencumbered self-sufficient individuals, somehow beyond human dependency.

However, parental leave as public policy is obviously also about keeping women attached to the workforce. This goes some of the way towards ensuring long-term security for women but by no means can a single policy turn back the entire tide of structural inequality for women, and I think it is unfair for Gilmore to use that as its measure. No individual policy will “keep women in the work place and support their earning capacity”, it is always going to require a combination of strategies. And I note that Gilmore’s path to equality is predicated on the assumption that women must be participating in paid work. There is no mention of institutional changes that could benefit women’s financial security when they specialise (by choice or otherwise) in unpaid care.

Gilmore believes for equality to be achieved that the responsibilities of child-rearing need to be shared and I agree with her. In her article, Gilmore refers to data indicating that unless countries legislate for some of the parental leave to be used by fathers then regardless of other benefits of maternity leave, women tend to get stuck on a ‘mummy track’. (There’s an implicit assumption here I’m uncomfortable with that financial earnings, rather than work life balance, is the key to fulfillment, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment). The ‘mummy track’ includes not just taking parental leave when babies are born, but also opting for career-limiting moves, like taking part-time, low-level jobs and being the parent to take ‘sick leave’ when children are home ill. This becomes a long-term problem because one parent’s career progresses while the other’s stalls, and eventually it can appear pointless for a household to do anything other than rally resources behind furthering the higher income parent’s career. Split up and the consequences can be disastrous for women.

For the record, I support the case for generous parental leave schemes to include legislated time-sharing between men and women (it normalises care work in the workplace), and I agree that such schemes accelerate progress towards more equitable divisions of child-rearing and income-earning responsibilities. But by no means does this imply that parental leave for mothers is “nothing more than a feminist cause celebre that makes a symbolic nod to the significant gender differences in wealth”.

Gilmore takes particular issue with the fact that I focused my article around parental leave as an issue for women rather than one for both women and men. I understand this criticism. I considered preemptively addressing it in the article but subsequently decided I couldn’t afford the ‘words’ given there was a tight limit and I already wanted to cover a number of angles on the topic of Abbott’s parental leave scheme.

Although there are plenty of instances where I have talked about  ‘work and family juggling’ as a topic involving both men and women, none the less, this concern comes up quite a bit here. I realise that some feminists (including many readers of this blog) feel strongly that the discussion should be gender-neutral and I have a lot of sympathy for that opinion; however, I remain of the view that while this juggling act dominates women’s lives I will often address the topic with women as the focus. And as I mentioned above, I have some concerns with seeing women and men as completely interchangeable parts in the experience of parenthood.

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From Claire Messud in this fantastic article in Vulture and here she is talking about her break-through novel, The Emporer’s Children and how she came to write a novel so different from her previous works:

“Of course, you wrote that for the money,” even a few good friends told Messud, assuming she’d finally taken Hitchens’s advice (or maybe followed her husband’s haute-populist prescriptions). In fact, she says, those short chapters and quippy sentences were all she could manage between feedings of her infants. “I had a memory span about as long as the lines in a school play,” she says. “It was like a book by somebody else. The idea that there was any plan or strategy—” Well, she did try something new. “I had never been very interested in plot,” she says. “I felt I should practice drawing hands.” But gone were the days when she went over her sentences so many times that she memorized them. “It’s actually a good thing not to be able to recite every last line,” she says. “Lighten up a little!”

The Woman Upstairs is another swerve, a departure from both the ornate early books and its social-novel predecessor. The title is a play on The Madwoman in the Attic, a feminist study of Victorian literature, and Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground. It’s an intense, digestible work, whose real subject is the ways women try to balance work, family, and dreams.

Which all reminds me of this that I read in Motherlode (The New York Times today, “Breastfeeding Killed My Focus On Work. I Don’t Miss It” by Shoba Narayan:

As a feminist who believes herself to be equal to any man, it is easy for me to take umbrage at Mr. Jones’s remarks. As a mother who enjoyed having babies to bosom, it is difficult for me not to nod in agreement. When you are caught up with a baby — your baby — the world does fall away. Petty competitions do not make sense any more. Trading does seem like small change relative to the rich rewards of motherhood.

I find myself drawn to a small phrase in Mr. Jones’s diatribe that nobody seems to have noticed or remarked on. Forget the female body references that got everyone’s goat. (“As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it.”) Forgive the finality with which he dismissed women’s futures as traders — “never,” “period.” Focus instead on the relationship that Jones described in poetic terms: “the most beautiful experience, which a man will never share, about the connection between that mother and that baby.” Do you hear the envy in that phrase? Do you hear the longing of a parent who wants to experience that “connection”? I do.

Which is not to say that you don’t mourn the loss of status that comes with falling into the love of motherhood and that you’re not scared of the danger this represents, but that there is something important about fighting for that love and for that impact to be recognised as valid in self-actualisation. These are very much the kinds of thoughts swirling around me here with posts like this of mine – “Some women want to stay home with children and feminism needs to make peace with that”.

But back to Messud and there are so many quotes of hers I enjoyed in that article about her home-life and this exchange between her and her husband, the critic James Wood is pretty delightful; it’s about ‘selfhood’ in a relationship (a topic that preoccupies me somewhat):

“That’s not true—can we stop that dog?”

“We can bottle her,” says Wood.

“Especially since having children,” Messud continues, “a lot of the time if you ask me ‘Have you read that book?’ the answer would be ‘not personally.’ [BARK!] The household has read it! I’m like the dog eating the leftovers, preying on James’s erudition.” (“On my employment,” Wood mutters, deflecting the compliment.)

“But the embarrassing [BARK!] truth,” she continues, “is that we probably spend more time together than almost anybody we know.”

“It’s funny, in a way, that you don’t have a room of your own,” Wood says. He has a work room upstairs, Messud an office elsewhere, but she often just works around the house. “On the one hand, there is this continuous marital exchange, but on the other there’s an independent thing going on, which is [BARK!] that her work is a life very separate from me [BARK!].”

“And you from me, which is as it should be,” says Messud. “When James says he writes his pieces between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.—it’s not just the children that he’s escaping.”

“I think there’s something to that,” Wood says. “That something is claimed at the expense of the [BARK!]—God, it’s not working tonight”—meaning the “bottling.” “That there’s an assertion of need and space and—”

“Selfhood,” says Messud.

“Selfhood it absolutely is,” says Wood. “Neither of us is good at boundaries.”

And then:

To explain, Wood recites two sections from Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, passages about what children can do to a woman—first to her body, then to her work (“like an insect’s poison injected into a vein”). It’s an oddly brutal thing to read to the mother of your children. At the end of the second passage, the narrator abandons her family. “Nora’s a softy compared to this,” says Wood. Messud is listening stoically, and I begin to wonder if she might even be a little jealous of this unhinged narrator. Then Wood pivots to discuss “this strong counter-impulse” they both feel: “Fuck the outside world. Fuck the work. Children are right in front of you. That’s the work, and the joyous work.”

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Photo credit: Your Wo(Man) in Washington

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“Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children” by Cristy Clark over at Larvatus Prodeo. Cristy and I have long been expressing our increasing frustration to one another with the dominance of liberal feminism over motherhood and I’m so pleased she wrote this post about it. This post of Cristy’s should be essential reading for any feminist writer before she dips her toe into motherhood topics.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

All of these rights are important prerequisites to equality and all of them have historically been denied to women, particularly after marriage. The struggle for these rights is also an ongoing one, as they continue to be denied to the majority of women across the globe and remain under threat even where they have been achieved. Nonetheless, this vision of equality falls down when the reality of dependency enters the picture. For women who are, or become, dependent on partners, families or the State, liberal feminism’s vision of equality through independence becomes unattainable.

The right to education, to work, or to participate in public life is of limited value, for example, when participation requires that you disencumber yourself from dependents of your own.

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