How lactivists treat formula feeders: shame, blame, repeat!


My piece for TIME, Why I’m Not Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week has apparently hit a nerve.

Tens of thousands of people have read it. Overall the reaction has been very positive: lots of Facebook likes, Tweets and expressions of gratitude both public and private. The negative responses, nearly all from women who have breastfed successfully, have merely served to prove the point of my piece, that there exists a pattern of subtle and not so subtle attacks on women who can’t or choose not to breastfeed:

[pullquote align=”right” color=”” class=”” cite=”” link=””]Not only do they have no remorse for making formula feeding mothers feel humiliated, they blame them for their feelings.[/pullquote]

Shame, Blame, Repeat!

To understand this pattern, let’s consider what might happen in a classic social situation. Imagine a dinner party where Martha makes a joke about obesity without taking into account (or forgetting) that one of her listeners, Jane, is morbidly obese. Tasteless, right?

There is utter silence, while eyes dart from Martha to Jane and back again. Jane exits the room in tears.

What would we expect Martha to do if she regrets making Jane upset?

I imagine that most of us would expect Martha to feel terrible that she humiliated Jane. We might also hope Martha would apologize to Jane or to the other guests. We would be shocked if Martha proceeded to make another joke about obesity, or declare, “Stupid cow can’t take a joke” or to insist that Jane ought to be publicly humiliated for failure to maintain a socially acceptable weight.

Now consider that the primary point of my TIME piece was to inform people that World Breastfeeding Week, a week reserved for public celebrations of breastfeeding, makes many formula feeding mothers feel shame and guilt.

What would we expect supporters of WBW to do if they regret making formula feeders feel awful?

We would expect them to apologize, insist that shaming formula feeders was inadvertent, and ask how they might modify their words and actions to minimize feelings of humiliation and guilt. But that’s NOT what breastfeeding cheerleaders do when confronted with the fact that their “celebration” induces shame in those who can’t or choose not to breastfeed. Instead, they double down.

They completely ignore the pain they have caused other women; and they gaslight those women by insisting that formula feeders are imagining that lactivist rhetoric is shaming. They express zero regret and make snide remarks about formula being second best or even dangerous. They attack anyone who dares question their “celebration,” who dares question whether the fact that they breastfed is heroic, who dares question their hurtful claims and shaming words.

It appears that not only do they have no remorse for making formula feeding mothers feel humiliated, they blame them for their feelings, and deny any responsibility for hurting them. These are not the actions of people who regret causing others pain. They are the actions of people who glory in causing others pain.

In other words, they continue the cycle:

Shame, Blame, Repeat!

That’s why I’m not celebrating World Breastfeeding Week. I don’t want to participate in a celebration created by women who cheer on some mothers and demean others, who deny responsbility for the effect of their own actions, and who, when alerted to the pain they have caused, merely double down to cause more shame, guilt and humiliation.