Yesterday, I posted an essay about the unethical marketing practices that breastfeeding advocates – you know… outrageous entities like the World Health Organization and UNICEF – are trying to curb. I stated very clearly in big bold letters that I support formula feeding moms, but I do NOT support the way corporations are entering every women’s delivery room and trying to snag her as a consumer before she has even had the chance to make her own choices. I asked fellow feminists to examine the marketing and join me (and other loud, proud lactivist feminists) in bringing down these predatory marketing tactics. For example, Annie Urban at PhDinParenting has done a wonderful job of articulating all the reasons she protests Nestle’s business practices.
In response, Jessica Valenti didn’t bother to read my entire article, yet formulated a scathing attack on what she thought I said, including calling me a “supremacist”, making fun of my twitter profile, and telling me to “suck” her. Charming. Yet instead of returning an attack on any individual woman, I will stick to the issue at hand.
Bottom line: I support the UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to remove aggressive and predatory formula marketing from the delivery room because it is Mother-Friendly as well.
But Valenti’s main argument in her attack on me was that she believed I think women are too stupid to make infant feeding decisions for themselves.
It is almost mind-numbing that I would have the explain predatory marketing to a feminist. I always felt that the cornerstone of feminism was knowing that the massive marketing machines often hurt people – all people – in one way or another.
Feminists are constantly calling out “Pregnancy Crisis Centers” for being predatory. They snag women who may be alone, scared, and confused by a major reproductive choice, and they offer them freebies to gain their trust. They tell them they’re helping them make a decision about parenting, but what they’re really doing is piling their Anti-Choice agenda on them, promising the mothers they’ll help, and then vanishing when it comes time to foot the costs of raising this baby. Feminists recognize that these centers are preying on a woman during a vulnerable time in her life. We’re not saying these women are stupid or that they’re being duped. We’re not saying that one choice is better than the other. We’re saying that the marketing is absolutely unethical.
Feminists are constantly calling out and boycotting the beauty industry for shaming women about their bodies, their lifestyles, and their choices. Why do we do that IF we think women are immune to marketing influence? Isn’t a woman smart enough not to fall for that “skinny is better” imagery? Don’t we trust her to recognize the airbrushing for what it is?
Of course we trust HER. We just do not trust the predatory marketing department whose job it is to find a weakness and exploit it for capitalistic gain. They dismantle her self-esteem so they can sell her a product the same way that free samples work to sabotage the initiation of breastfeeding causing reliance on their product. When we go after the predatory beauty product marketing, we are NOT shaming those who use the products. We are only shaming the capitalistic intentions of the marketers who use self-doubt to pad their bottom line.
But Valenti already knows this. In her book “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know About,” she responds to predatory magazine marketing by saying,
“Gossip magazines also make a career out of shaming women who conform….
…Now some of you may not want to hear this, but here goes: Don’t buy magazines that do this to women. I know that celeb magazines are popular, I do. But take a step back and look at what they’re doing to women. Look at what they’re telling you about women. Is that something you really want to be a part of?”
Valenti is telling us not to trust an industry whose bottom line relies on shaming women. I am telling feminists not to trust an industry whose bottom line rests on separating a woman from her breastmilk. We are on the same side.
But feminists like Valenti then go on to assert that every woman who is making the decision to accept free formula is making a conscious decision about her plans for feeding.
Really? To even suggest that all women have equal access to information and support in the decision-making process is to completely ignore classism, racism, sexism, and privilege. I’m sure that many white, middle-class feminists like Valenti do have access to a computer, internet, the best health care providers, research databases, and tons of family support to help them make their decisions, even in the face of the most aggressive formula marketing tactics.
But what about the mom who barely has prenatal care? What about the mom who doesn’t have family support? What about the mom whose skin color, financial standing, or physical ability puts her on the receiving end of healthcare discrimination? When some moms can barely get treatment, how can we expect that they’ve received complete information and support on anything else? What about the women who don’t have our White Middle Class Woman’s access to the internet, the library, healthcare, insurance, etc, etc? And does Valenti even know that we White Middle Class Women still can’t get the hospital to provide us with free breastpumps or lactation support services? She seems to think hospitals are handing these out like candy, but they are not because our society supports formula marketing over all else.
In fact, formula marketing is SO convincing, that even Valenti, with her laptop, computer access, and middle class education, still insists,
“I also believe that formula feeding your child is just as valid and healthy a choice as breastfeeding.”
Once again, I support formula feeding moms (I was one) and it’s certainly a valid choice, but the above statement about it being “just as healthy” as breastmilk is patently false, and is disputed by every piece of lactation science published by every health organization in the world. This purposeful misrepresentation of facts and truth is incredibly insulting to women. If an educated, privileged white woman still believes that any processed artificial food is exactly as healthy as any living, whole food, then how are people without access to information expected to know the difference?
As Alison Stuebe, MD, MSc, so eloquently states in her essay, “What does breastfeeding have to do with feminism?”
When we frame infant feeding as a choice made by an individual women, we place the entire responsibility for carrying out that choice on the individual woman.
Feminist scholar Penny Van Esterik addresses this as well in “Breastfeeding, A Feminist Issue.” Penny states,
“Women who wish to breasted their babies but cannot – because of inadequate support from family or health workers, constraints in the workplace, or misinformation from the infant food industry – are oppressed and exploited. Groups and individuals interested in fighting for women’s rights and human rights should take action to change this situation, and recognise breastfeeding as a woman’s right.”
We should NOT be lying to women in order to make them feel good about their choices. Thinking that women can’t handle facts is the most paternalistic attitude I’ve seen yet.
Feminists like Valenti use science to smack down the HPV vaccine debate. Yet science is insulting to women when it comes to lactation? Why?
Meanwhile, nobody even mentions donor milk as a choice. Even if a woman cannot or doesn’t want to breastfeed, there are other options besides formula, but nobody is telling her about them. In fact, the World Health Organization lists formula as, not the second, not the third, but the FOURTH best option for infant feeding. How many people actually know that?
I Trust Women. That is why I trust that they’ll make the very best choice for themselves when they are given the tools, information, and support to do that. Capitalist, predatory marketing disguised as free gifts from a hospital is NOT supporting women.
Call me all the names you want, but I will never back down from standing up for women.