Ronda Kaysen: The breastfeeding wars reached a fever pitch this week as two writers squared off about whether or not we should burn our nursing bras.
On one side stands Hanna Rosin, who penned "The Case Against Breast-Feeding" in last month's Atlantic magazine. Dismissing much of the science supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, her story immediately generated a firestorm in the blogosphere and she even appeared on the Today show to argue her case. Rosin compares nursing to Betty Friedan's enduring symbol of gender inequality: the vacuum cleaner. "It was not the vacuum that was keeping me and my 21st-century sisters down, but another sucking sound," she wrote. After all, a mom who is home to nurse a baby eight or ten times a day hardly has the time to shatter any glass ceilings.
This week, natural birth advocate Jennifer Block fired back, insisting that breastfeeding isn't the problem, it's pathetic maternity-leave policies and a general lack of support for nursing moms. If new moms knew their jobs -- and salaries -- were secure for a year, they'd happily kick back and nurse longer. "This is the real tragedy of the mommy wars: they drag us down where expectations are so low, where we don't value mothers enough to fight for them. We're making a case against ourselves," she wrote.
Just to add fuel to the fire, a new study came out this week touting another health benefit of breastfeeding: moms who breastfeed for more than a year may reduce their risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
All this is nothing new. The breastfeeding debate has been raging for centuries, according to New Yorker scribe Jill Lepore, who finds that people have been getting huffy about who should be dispensing mother's milk since the 18th century. Lepore argues that cultural changes drive whether or not breastfeeding is popular.
These recent squabbles make me wonder if this week's variety of the Breastfeeding War has something to do with the "r" word. Recession. Yes, it sounds like a stretch, but bear with me. Jobs are scarce. Women who have a job are likely being asked to work longer hours to keep it. For a mom worried about job security, rushing home early to empty her leaking breasts or scooting off to the bathroom five times a day to pump liquid gold into a ziplock freezer bag hardly makes her feel productive and indispensable to a penny-pinching employer. At the same time, with fewer jobs available and upwards of 4 million people hungry to get off the dole, the idea that a segment of the population (nursing moms) might stay home -- and off the job market -- for a few extra months is a pretty tantalizing one. Yes, the issue of how we mother is inextricably tied with feminism. And women's bodies have long been a central battleground in the feminism debate. But this time, I wonder if it's more about the economics of the issue than the politics of it.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|