A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

A Father’s Perspective on the Similac Ad

by Danny Pitt Stoller

Mommyblogs are buzzing about the new Similac ad—called “Sisterhood of Motherhood”—which ostensibly calls for a truce in the ongoing Mommy Wars.

It starts out as a sort of comedy sketch, where parents arrive at the park in separate, recognizable packs—the Stroller Moms, the Babywearers, the Working Moms, the Stay-at-Homes, the Breastfeeders, the Bottlefeeders, the Dads, etc. The various groups banter with one another, with insults hurled back and forth, as a parody of the Mommy War status quo. At the end, though, the parents unite to rescue a baby who is rolling down the hill in an errant stroller, which gives us our big “Sisterhood of Motherhood” ending: we all want the best for our children, we’re all in it together.

And if that’s the real message, then of course I applaud it. In our public discussion about parenting, one of the biggest roadblocks is this ubiquitous tone of competition and nastiness, this feeling that everybody is constantly being sized up as a good or a bad mom, this oppressive atmosphere of judgment. For anyone to stand up and say No More Mommy Wars! seems like a positive thing. Who could disagree with that?

That’s all fine and good, until you examine how the ad actually portrays these groups.

As the Breastfeeders enter, one of the Bottlefeeders mutters, “Here come the breast police…” The Breastfeeders proceed to start boasting about their 100% breastfed babies; moments later, one of them contemptuously remarks, “I guess somebody’s too LAZY to breastfeed!”

The breastfeeding moms are consistently portrayed as unrepentant bullies, and the Similac moms (this is, after all, a Similac ad) as their victims. OK, so the Bottlefeeders do use the snide epithet “breast police”—but their use of it is, in the skit, totally justified. These stereotypical Breastfeeders DO act like breast police. This communicates a message, not of moral equivalence, but of Breastfeeder-as-aggressor.

There is nothing in the skit about the negative judgments that breastfeeding moms encounter on a daily basis—the frequent suggestions that they are being exhibitionistic or otherwise obscene, that they are “spoiling” or excessively pampering their children. If the purpose is truly to expose the negative judgments moms must face, why not include these? In the world of this skit, all the judgment goes the other way.

So—it’s a formula ad. While we are still fighting to change people’s perceptions about breastfeeding—to teach people that it isn’t obscene!—what we have here is a skit that presents Similac moms as “normal” and breastfeeders as some kind of playground bullies. And this is supposed to end the mommy wars!

The fact is—if this isn’t too obvious to point out—Similac wants to sell its product. If formula is compared with breastmilk in terms of nutritional value, Similac loses the argument. So what is their strategy? To dismiss the argument as “judgmental.” They aren’t opposed to “judgment”; they’re only opposed to the types of judgment that might influence moms to avoid formula. The widespread negative judgments about breastfeeding are of no concern to Similac, and so they are not included here.

Families should be able to make thoughtful, informed choices without being badgered, bullied, shamed, or judged. But this ad does not promote self-assurance for all families. Instead, it feeds the sense of aggrieved victimhood that too many parents already feel. It tells them, “Yes, it’s true: the Breastfeeders and the Homebirthers and the Babywearers are laughing at you, judging you.” Though the ad calls for an end to the Mommy Wars, the ad’s power ultimately depends on that culture war, and brings that war no closer to an end.

What do you think?