Barbara Katz Rothman: New Breast Milk in Old Bottles

Keynote Address, Breastfeeding and Feminism Symposium:

Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD

Different ideologies through which one can look at a mother and baby breastfeeding:

Patriarchy. We are all children of men, the essence of everything is in the seed. It is now acknowledged that women are contributing half the seed. Who carries the child (the gestational carrier) is not important, or has no genetic relationship to the child. She can’t add anything, but she can screw things up.

Technological society. Efficiency is everything. The outcome is what counts, if you can get there more quickly, that’s better. Body as machine. Medicalization, efficient management of medicalized body is the goal.

Capitalism. There is a price tag on all things–everything is for sale, blood, semen, of course milk. We promote breastfeeding through the economic lens–it’s financially smarter. What if it wasn’t? Would we still breastfeed? The capitalist ideology makes us see the world as a global market of equal choices. More choices are always seen as good, there is no higher value than choice.

Race. The racialization of milk, history of wet nurses and slavery, the race politics of America has a huge impact on breastfeeding. Pumping: you pump and someone else will feed the white milk to the baby.

Feminism. Looking critically at the “public health recommendations,” which have a history of being wrong (hormone replacement therapy for example).

What are we really doing? What are we trying to achieve? The logic we use to promote breastfeeding needs to be critically examined. If we argue that breast milk is healthier, what happens when they create a formula that is just as healthy, or healthier? Why does it matter? If it’s about breast cancer prevention, what happens when we eradicate breast cancer?

It’s not gonna be about health, and it’s not going to be about choice, or bonding. Why is it we really value it and what are we doing here?

Blogger note: I think there are a lot of connections between Barbara’s argument about breastfeeding and other social and reproductive justice movements. This examination of our logic is huge, and what we need to make long term gains rather than short term wins based on what works today. (Think about the natural birth movement, the pro-choice movement, etc).


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