Americans didn’t always have a problem with public breastfeeding? What is that lactivist smoking?

breasts delight

When I finished Amy Bentley’s piece about public breastfeeding on Slate I looked for the disclaimer that it was a parody.

Surely no one could take such a ridiculous fantasy seriously? But, alas, Bentley’s piece is yet another example of the ways that lactivists deliberately mangle history to support their own beliefs, albeit a particularly laughable attempt.

Bentley’s piece is titled When Breasts Became Sexy, Breast-Feeding Became Disgusting and the central contention is hilarious: the sexualization of breasts began in the 1800’s and culminated in the mid-20th Century.

Okay, let’s catch our breath from laughing so hard and try to understand what Bentley is trying to argue with that delightfully nonsensical claim.

Bentley is apparently a purveyor of the lactivist revision of history that is attempting to demonize formula while simultaneously ignoring the lived experience of millions of women.

The real history of formula in the US bears no relationship to the lactivist fabrication.

Here’s a convenient chart to help you tell the difference between real history and lactivist history.

Real history lactivist history

In the real history, breastfeeding was ALWAYS inconvenient, often painful, and more than occasionally led to the death of the infant from starvation when his or her mother didn’t produce enough breastmilk. Lactivist history imagines a breastfeeding paradise in every time, place and culture.

Reality is that babies whose mothers didn’t make enough milk (and up to 5% did not) starved to death. Lactivist history pretends that all women produced enough milk.

In reality, doctors invented formula to save the lives of babies whose mother were dead or did not produce enough milk. In the lactivist fantasy, corporations invented formula to profit from it.

In reality, thousand of babies died each year because their mothers fed them cow’s milk rather than breastfeed them. In the lactivist fantasy every mother loved breastfeeding.

In the real world women eagerly adopted the use of formula because they didn’t want to breastfeed. In the lactivist fantasy women were brain washed into formula feeding.

In the real world La Leche League was created by a group of devout Catholic women who believed women shouldn’t work outside the home. Lactivists routinely ignore the real history of LLL.

Bentley had just added two new fantasies to the lactivist revision of history.

In the real world women breastfed within their homes, or perhaps within the casual company of other women. In Bentley’s entirely imaginary history, women breastfed publicly. That would be the same women who weren’t allowed to show their ankles in public, were swathed in layers of corsets and fabrics, and weren’t allowed outside the home except in the company of an escort, etc.

But Bentley’s best revisionist attempt at history is her most hilarious: the idea that breasts only became sexualized with the past 200 years.

Her article would be nothing more than a punchline except for one thing: It is a slap in the face to the millions of women who wanted to breastfeed but couldn’t. It is a slap in the face to the millions of women who watched their babies starve to death. It is a slap in the face to the mothers who did then and continue now to find breastfeeding difficult, painful,  and inconvenient. It is a slap in the face to the millions of women who don’t want to share their breasts with their babies. And most of all, it is a slap in the face to the millions of women who don’t have the opportunity to breastfeed because they have to be in the workplace so that their children won’t starve to death.

Moreover, it is based on a fundamental lack of respect for women. It rests on the assumption that women are silly little things who can’t think for themselves, have no authentic feelings and are easily manipulated by corporate interests. It utterly ignores the fact that women are sexual beings who may view their breasts as sexualized, and instead substitutes the profoundly misogynist assumption that sexuality is the sole purview of men.

Bentley has unwittingly joined the sexist effort to keep women figuratively barefoot and pregnant by glamorizing their function of their reproductive organs. Whether it is natural childbirth, lactivism or attachment parenting, advocates conjure a blissful past that never existed in order to keep women in the home.

Bentley’s piece elevates the lactivist revision of history to farce. The idea that women breastfed in public is utterly absurd and indeed Bentley herself can find no examples in photographs, art, literature or anywhere else. The idea that breasts were sexualized within the past 200 years is beyond absurd.

The truth is that infant formula, like other forms of technology such as the birth control pill, and epidural anesthesia are instruments of women’s empowerment and liberation.

To Bentley and her cohorts I say this:

You cannot force us back into the home no matter how much you glamorize reproduction, no matter how much you ignore our lived experiences, and no matter how ludicrously you rewrite history!