"In an era when many feminists are (in my opinion rightly) dismayed by the suggestion that a woman’s right to an abortion should be subject to conditions, I have been shocked by the high level of acceptance when it comes to the notion that women who formula feed should be forced to justify their choice, not only to medical staff, but to pro-breastfeeding women. While I have never seen anyone claim that formula is better than - or even equal to - breast milk, a large number of women are vociferously and uncompromisingly against a woman’s right to choose formula milk. I have witnessed a sizeable number of women, some of whom are self-declared feminists, debating on one another’s social media profiles and calling for formula to be made illegal."
Lorrie Hearts, at the f word.
This whole post - which is about a hospital ceasing to provide free formula to the women who give birth there in an effort to be “baby friendly” - is a great, important read. I just want to add one thing, though. Hearts writes that she’s never seen anyone claim that formula is better or the same as breastmilk. Well, for me, formula feeding was absolutely, 100% better than breastfeeding. Like, life changing better. I wrote a column earlier this year about it, so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. But truly, refusing to give mothers access to formula is not “baby friendly” or helpful - it’s shaming and in some cases could be very dangerous. Enough already.
And this shows where Valenti goes wrong. She says that because formula feeding was better than breastfeeding for her that formula is better than breastmilk. No, never, not true. That’s a failure in facts and logic. Formula has less health benefits to babies than breastmilk. Now, this doesn’t mean formula should never be used but it is a huge downside of it that it is markedly inferior to breastmilk. Thus, formula feeding may be best in a situation but that never means that formula is better than breastmilk.
Yesterday, when I quoted Lorrie Hearts about a hospital’s decision to stop making free formula available to new moms in an effort to be “baby-friendly”, I got a lot of supportive comments and questions through Tumblr. (Thanks, y’all!) I also got a lot of hate and misrepresentation directed at me through Twitter. (Does this decide the never-ending social media battle in my head? Maybe!)
When I wrote about breastfeeding and formula feeding for my column in The Daily earlier this year, what I stressed was that too many moms who choose (or must) formula feed are outright shamed for it:
But why a woman doesn’t nurse is beside the point. Whether she’s unable to or simply chooses not to, the guilt has got to go.
We should reserve our motherly disdain for systemic issues that make parenting harder — workplace inequities and the maternal wage gap, the lack of paid maternity leave and affordable child-care options — not other women’s personal decisions about how to feed their babies.
So it’s all the more infuriating that the responses directed at me (shrouded in patronizing rhetoric about wanting to “educate”) have been absolutely rife with shaming.
FeministBreeder, a blogger and lactivist whose Twitter description touts herself as a “rocker chick turned natural mom” (I’m dying to know what kind of mother isn’t a “natural” one), started in by suggesting my post was “harmful to women’s health,” that I hadn’t researched the issue, and that I was “siding with the formula marketing industry” who take advantage of “vulnerable” women.
Her tweets actually embody the main issues I have with those who shame formula-feeding mothers: the condescending attitude that women who formula feed are somehow stupid or have been duped, the assumption that anyone who formula feeds or supports women who do so isn’t educated on the issue, and, of course, the shaming inherent in suggesting that formula hurt women (and babies). The other issue, which I’ll get into in a bit, is the mind-boggling classism I’ve seen bandied about.
Jessica Valenti adds more heat than light to the whole FF/BF debate and at the very least annoys me by claiming that formula-feeding is as good as breastfeeding. No, it’s not. It may have its uses and may be understandable to do but it has never been as good as breastfeeding. The debate needs facts and fairness and Valenti is lacking in both. The title alone makes me want to hurl her into the pit.
And don’t even get me started on the whole cissexism…