I have never been shamed for breastfeeding. But saying that I have never been shamed for breastfeeding is like saying that I have never been raped. It doesn’t really matter. I still live in fear of it. No, I don’t mean shuddering in fear and unable to live my life. I mean my behavior (and yours) is shaped by the experiences of other women. I don’t walk alone at night. I am always aware of my surroundings. I walk briskly through empty parking garages. I would never think of cutting down an alley at night. As a matter of fact, I won’t even do it during the day in my neighborhood. I have lived my whole life being shaped by a culture where women are brutally abused every single day, where the responsibility lies on me to not be victimized.
You are not likely to be harassed while nursing in public. But you live in a culture with a pattern of violence against women. Rape, molestation, groping, domestic abuse, workplace abuse and murder are not isolated incidents. They are everyday occurrences for women, and women who have not been victims live with the behavioral and emotional consequences as well. This breastfeeding movement is passionate, chaotic and explosive for a reason. It shines a light on how women do not own their own bodies, how every other man or woman has a right to control our behavior. It exposes our society’s double standard of breasts; you are to use them to sell products and attract a partner, but you better not try to exercise the power your body has to sustain life.
But now I hear women say that they are being shamed for bottle feeding. What the hell is up with that? You must be exaggerating, you must just feel guilty about not breastfeeding.
Bottle feeding moms are shamed all the time. Here’s the twist. We can complain about the sexualization of the breast, but sexualizing a woman is not about sex, it’s about control. And control comes in many forms. Sexualizing her body keeps her body under control. Framing her as irrational keeps her thoughts and feelings under control. Devaluing her role as mother keeps her maternal choices under control. Slut shaming keeps her desires under control.
You were shamed for breastfeeding? I believe you. You were shamed for bottle feeding? I don’t doubt it for a second. Women feel the shame every day. We live in a society set up for women to feel the shame in everything we do. We have internalized the misogyny and do it to each other and even ourselves without even knowing. Some men shame women with direct intent. Many men shame women without even realizing it. Because we live in the patriarchy. And patriarchy breeds hatred of women.
Shame is what keeps us silent. Shame fuels victimization. It can no longer be ignored and we can no longer be silent. We will only stop the cycle when we speak.
There is no such thing as a breastfeeding versus bottle feeding duel. There is only a system that hates women. A system that thrives on us fighting with each other. This doesn’t mean that we all throw our hats in the air and yell, “end mommy wars!” I think the mommy wars are a bunch of crap. I think the only thing going on here is a patriarchal system that is breeding misogyny. It doesn’t want women to become empowered to make their own choices about their bodies. It doesn’t want women to be successful at breastfeeding. It doesn’t want women to feel secure in their choice to bottle feed. It doesn’t want breastfeeding advocates pointing out the predatory marketing tactics from big corporations. It doesn’t want you to have information. It doesn’t want you to exercise control over your own choices.
We can point at each other all day saying, “That woman was mean to me!” “That mom gave me a dirty look for feeding my baby a bottle!” “That mom said I was gross for breastfeeding in public!” But what we really need to do is look up at the giant machine around us. It’s made from patriarchy, misogyny and corporate greed and it feeds on our insecurities, ignorance and fear.
Take control. Recognize the power of your body. Learn about all of your choices in any situation. Make a decision that is right for you. Then lift your head and live your life unapologetically. Rage against the machine.