Dear LA Times, imitation of my work is the sincerest form of flattery but …

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There is nothing more satisfying than having your work reach the mainstream. It is truly thrilling to read people expounding on the themes that I have blogged about for over a decade and collected in my book Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting. But it’s a little disconcerting to see it in a major newspaper under the byline of one of my Twitter followers but missing attribution to me.

It’s thrilling to see my ideas succeed and be embraced by others, but a brief attribution would have been appreciated.

Imagine my surprise to see today’s piece in the LA Times, Is ‘natural motherhood’ more feminist? by Lizzie Garrett Mettler. It’s a question I’ve asked repeatedly on this blog and in my book.

Here’s what I read in the LA Times:

Dr. Fernand Lamaze, who popularized the technique for breathing through contractions, ranked women’s childbirth performance from “excellent” to “complete failure” on the basis of their restlessness and screams…

Grantly Dick-Read, an evangelical Christian who wrote the best-selling book “Childbirth Without Fear,” once wrote: “Woman fails when she ceases to desire the children for which she was primarily made. Her true emancipation lies in freedom to fulfill her biological purposes.”

William Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting,” spent most of his life as a Christian fundamentalist and believed his technique to be God’s design for raising children. In his 1997 book “The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Child Care,” Sears opposed the idea that women belong in the workplace…

Even the female icons of the movement are overtly traditional. La Leche League, the group that gave rise to modern “lactivism,” was started by seven Catholic housewives who advocated for a return to breastfeeding and were also opposed to mothers working outside the home…

Not only are these my ideas, expressed very similarly to the way I have expressed them, but Mettler describes them using words similar to those I have used.

To me, the approach feels retrograde. It further entrenches women in the home as primary caretakers, places much of their value on their bodies, and makes it even more difficult for them to work.

I’m thrilled that Mettler thinks so highly of my work and clearly agrees with much of it. I’m disappointed, however, that she didn’t attribute it to me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not plagiarism since nothing is quoted exactly. And it’s not a copyright violation because you can’t copyright ideas. But it is my work and acknowledging that would have been appropriate.

I guess ideas can grow up and move away just like children can. After years of caring and worrying, it’s thrilling and deeply gratifying when you see your children succeed emotionally, educationally and financially, but a little thank you every now and then never hurts. It’s also thrilling and deeply gratifying to see my ideas succeed and be embraced by others, but a brief attribution would have been appreciated.

  • Seola

    Granted, I mentioned I just stumbled on this site last week, but is there a sample of side by side work or am I missing something?

    I’ve long heard about breastfeeding’s roots based on “women in the kitchen” fanatics. Lamaze’s “technique” influenced the silent birth portion of Scientology and all the “damage” the “engrams” can do by the screamers.

    I’ve long held the LLL, to the notion that they were Stepford Wife-ian in their commitment to duty! Knock em up, suck em dry then knock em up again!

    That said, I don’t particularly see any form of hard or soft plagiarism in the short sample, other than agreeing with you and women who came before and after you.

    • fiftyfifty1

      To me it does look like lifting her work because Dr. Tuteur was the first to make the connection between NCB, lactivism and AP: each designed to keep women in their place, each with a leader who was hiding an agenda, each a continuation of the next. Dr. Tuteur has had a lot of posts where she lays it out exactly like Garret Mettler does above–Lamaze, Dick-Read, La Leche, Sears–boom, boom, boom, building her case.

      • Seola

        Dr. Tuteur isn’t the first to make that assertion though. There has been theories like this (maybe not as expansive in one place, or necessarily as eloquent) for a few decades now, long before posts on the internet. My mother has a 35 year old book from when she was having kids that was given to her (never read), that propounds similar ideology – the transplanting of putting women “in their place” under progressivism banners, and when that fails, the ultimate guilt trips.

        That’s why I asked for more than “we have the same idea”. It’s not plagiarism to expound the same idea. That sounds more like trying to take ownership for pride and ego, rather than actual plagiarism or even imitation.

        If we do that, then Dr. Tuteur is plagiarizing the dozens of scientists, doctors and social workers before her since at least the 70s to note these hard swings of society on child rearing.

        • fiftyfifty1

          Certainly the idea of mothering and homemaking ideals being oppressive to women is not new. And Dr. Tuteur cites (with attribution) a lot of philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists who have made that argument.

          What was new to me was how she made the connection between the 3 bits: NBC, lactivism and AP, and the explicit goals of their leaders. And how one philosophy hands off to the next as the child ages, all under the banner of female empowerment. I had never seen that anywhere else.

          In 2011, when I started reading this blog, NCB and lactivism were actually considered the feminist ideals (AP was less talked about.) It’s hard to believe things had gotten so off track. The Business of Being Born was a Women’s Studies staple. Baby wearing and nursing in public stuck it to The Man!

          Public discourse around these issues really has changed in the ~7 years years since. And Dr. Tuteur’s writing (on her blog, in her book, multiple interviews, opinion pieces for magazines and newspapers) has been a big part of that. As she indicates above, lifting her work without attribution may not reach the threshold of plagiarism, but it sure is lame.

          • Seola

            I don’t want to downplay Dr. Tuteur’s contributions. Her site is easily read, well-read and EXTREMELY informative. I love most of her articles (this is the only one that perturbed me, after I stumbled on here and read linkage upon linkage). Dr. Tuteur gives no examples of plagiarism, except “hey, we had the same idea”, which was not a unique or new idea. In fact, because the author of the piece she comments on doesn’t claim it’s “their” idea, but rather expands upon one, while Dr. Tuteur DOES claim ownership of it, Dr. Tuteur would be the guilty party if it can’t be sorted out.

            I just find this particular post off-putting, because she states what others have stated, and then claims plagiarism for an idea that’s been bandied about previously. Especially once that various social and economic papers have examined (albeit in lengthy cold scientific data that is hard to parse, or extremely dated data which doesn’t help AS much as most recent data when trying to identify social trends). Not only are these my ideas… That is what bothered me about this post, then she offers up a generic “this is how I talked about them” with no reference point.

            In fact, Lamaze has long been a contention in the medical community. I gave the commenter above you a list of resources that expounded Dr. Tuteur’s ideas at varying stages, Dr. Tuteur claims the idea is theirs by blogging “for a decade”. If someone blogs for a decade, especially about a universal or controversial topic previously, you are BOUND to hit on at least SOME of the same words, unless you are blogging literally the same content with the same words everyday. Which doesn’t make for good reading. Most good bloggers find ways to reiterate standpoints with varying dialogue. So is it possible the LAT writer hit some of her buzzwords? Indubitably, if you are considering 10 years and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of words put to paper, and only about 200,000 words exist in English.

            So I must only refer to the IDEAS, and as I said, long before I found this little slice of goodness on mothering in the modern world (especially in relation to actually FEEDING an infant over starving them trying to force an unworkable breastfeed), so coming to this article as a (newer) reader, who has seen this ideas for many, many years, including back in the day on Geocities sites, I’d like a little more than “that’s mine, give it back!”.

        • Sarah

          I’m not familiar with the work you mention so would be very interested to have some names and titles.

          • Seola

            Breastfeeding Rights in the United States – 2008 book Kedrowski
            Body in Health and Social Care – 2006 book Twigg
            Extending the “Bright Line”: Feminism, Breastfeeding, and the Workplace in the United States – 2000 article Galtry
            The Politics of Breastfeeding: Assessing Risk, Dividing Labor – 2000 article Law
            The Romance and Science of ‘Breast is Best’: Discursive Contradictions and Contexts of Breast-feeding Choices – 1998 Nadasan
            Crimes of Attachment – 1996 NYT article Rophie
            Breastfeeding and feminism – 1994 Van Esterik via Rutgers study
            Breastfeeding Practices of Japanese Mothers in the South Bay Area of Los Angeles – oft cited 1994 thesis Hongo
            FILM; Say Hello To the Nanny From Hell 1992 NYT article WEINRAUB (this relates the topic as part of an interview for the Hand the Rocks the Cradle movie, as seen through a scope of women, breastfeeding, having it all – this particular movie spurred many, many articles, webpages – even then – and discussions about whether it portrayed women as not able to have it all, whether they were feeble minded, particularly after having a baby, whether they were too trusting, etc.)
            The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business – 1988 book by Palmer (which doesn’t expressly cover feminism, but rather breasts in the workplace, basically and career advancement/home maker)
            Human Milk in the Modern World: Psychosocial, Nutritional and Economic Significance Paperback – 1979 book Jeliffe

            I’ve got a few more, if you’d like – those are just some basic articles to get it started on the various viewpoints throughout the last couple decades. I’ll see if I can track down the book my mother gave me – I lost a whole box of books during a military move because those guys don’t give a hoot what they break. But she might remember the specific name of it.

          • Sarah

            Thanks, off to google!

  • androidsdream

    OT: I hope it’s not too weird to post this here, but I’m a former regular here and had been thinking of you guys recently.

    Several years ago, I went into homebirth as a young, recently single mother-to-be. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about biology, birth, or healthcare. As someone who’d previously had a negative experience with a dodgy medical practitioner, the “cascade of interventions”, and accusations of financially motivated decision making by OBs seemed plausible to me. I was the perfect mix of ignorant and emotionally vulnerable, and the homebirth community’s claims were convincing. I had my homebirth under the “care” (I use that term very loosely) of the same Australian midwife who oversaw Caroline Lovell’s tragic death. Besides my midwife and doula, I lacked a support person who would look out for my best interests (and not the interest of “drug-free vaginal birth at all costs”). The experience was traumatic and I required corrective surgery due to inadequate (read: nonexistent) management of a third degree tear.

    Following this experience, I discovered the Skeptical OB after googling the phrase “I regret my homebirth”. It was the first time I’d encountered the skeptical community, and I devoured post after post for weeks on end. This experience triggered a passion for both skepticism and science, and I tentatively started taking online units in nursing and psychology (I didn’t have much faith in my ability to perform at a tertiary level, so this was an intimidating step to take). I later transitioned to an on-campus degree, majoring in pharmacology. I recently completed my studies with top marks and I’m so excited to have been accepted into postgraduate neuroscience.

    For all the negativity this blog gets, I credit to my experiences here for providing the positive influence to pull myself out of a rut, and pursue something positive and powerful from a negative experience. Both Dr. Amy’s posts, and the comments section filled with highly educated, articulate, hilarious, and caring people significantly influenced my interest in the biological sciences and critical thinking . I credit my time here for giving me the curiosity and courage to pursue my studies in this field, and I’m proud to have gone from a high school dropout (I left in my penultimate year due to illness) to where I am now – something I never thought would happen 🙂

    So, thanks Dr. Amy, and thank you to the awesome commenters. The impact of spaces like this is more significant, and can have longer-lasting impact than you know 🙂

    • crazy mama, PhD

      Congratulations on your accomplishments and best of luck in your future studies!

    • Mishimoo

      Congratulations! I hope you keep succeeding with your studies and have an awesome career.

    • Lilly de Lure

      Congratulations! I hope all goes well with the postgraduate studies!

    • FormerPhysicist

      More congratulations!

    • Christy

      Congratulations!

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      Congrats!

    • Melaniexxxx

      CONGRATS! What a wonderful life you have built for yourself and your bub. I am so so sorry for any mistreatment you received

    • Felicitasz

      OMG. Wow. Congratulations!!!!!

    • mabelcruet

      Congratulations, and well done-thats a lot to take on as a new mum!

      I hope if you have students, you teach them healthy skepticism, and how to read and interpret papers and publications in an unbiased and balanced way. What the whole lactivist/AP/homebirth/anti-medical intervention crowd have in common is their unethical cherry picking approach to data: only data that supports their point of view is allowed, and their websites are full of this-evidence based support or treatment is regarded as the devils work. And they blame any failures (‘failure’to achieve natural birth, ‘failure’ to provide sufficient breast milk) on the woman herself-its so misogynistic and hateful. Far from empowering women, it is profoundly anti-woman, paternalistic and offensive.

    • Phascogale

      Congratulations. Out of curiosity what degree did you end up doing? I love pharmacology (most people think I’m weird!) and is the neuroscience stuff you are doing linked with psychology? I have a kid really interested in becoming a neurosurgeon – most likely wants to go to Monash.

  • Anna

    I called out my local ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) yesterday for posting a meme with a Grantly Dick Read quote which was something along the lines everything a newborn needs is delivered by breastmilk in the loving arms of its Mother. I got a private message saying it was taken down as they were unaware of who Dick Read was and they were sorry for any offence caused and didnt want to cause further. I think the woman who posted it remembered me from when I borrowed a pump from her so she knew I’d decided to mix feed. I just messaged back thanking her, saying I realised it was a cute photo but just that I was very impressed that ABA hasn’t sunk to the level other Australian breastfeeding groups have of advocating bm by shitting on formula and women that use it. So my yay for the day and I think that while you might never convince the extremists the middle grounders are starting to get it.

    • Fiona

      I saw that too and rolled my eyes. Thanks for taking the admin to task, glad they were receptive. I have attended a few ABA meetings now and I have to saw they weren’t as atomic-level lactivist as I expected, just a bunch of normal mums sharing solutions to their feeding troubles. As it should be.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Are they unaware that breastmilk is somewhat lacking in Vitamin D and most newborns don’t get enough direct sun to make up for that? Or that babies that are exclusively breastfed past the age of 6 months have a higher risk of iron deficiency than babies who get iron fortified formula? Also their cute quote shits on anyone who isn’t the birth mother.

      • kilda

        that’s what amuses me about their whole idea that breastmilk magically adjusts to give the baby exactly what it needs at that moment – exactly the right antibodies, precise blend of nutrients, calories etc. It knows exactly what your baby needs.

        Except vitamin D and iron. It somehow forgot about those.

        • And Vitamin K, it’s notoriously lacking that one too.

  • Gæst

    Close paraphrase is a form of plagiarism. I fail students for it in my classes.

    • Melissa Wickersham

      I agree. I took a journalism class in college and there are strict rules for writing articles and essays. Citations and giving appropriate credit are absolutely necessary to avoid plagiarism. I had to learn about using inline citations and creating bibliographies.

    • Daleth

      How many different ways are there to say that attachment parenting, formula-shaming, etc., is anti-feminist? Nobody owns that idea.

      Everyone is or should be free to express that idea. By the nature of ideas and of language, there is a limited number of ways to express any given idea in prose, and an even more limited number that will be appropriate in any given genre of writing (e.g. if there are–say–20 ways to express an idea in clear, succinct English prose, perhaps only 5 of them will sound right in a newspaper editorial, another 6 will only sound right in a specialized academic journal, another 4 would only sound right in casual speech or blog posts, etc.).

      • Gæst

        I haven’t compared these two texts side-by-side, but close paraphrase isn’t simply making the same argument. It’s a form of plagiarism in which you change a few words here and there, but don’t credit the source you are modifying to do so.

        • hart

          I also encounter students who do this, several times per year. And I also fail them for that assignment (and the class, in serious cases). It’s not about “the ideas” – there are original ways to adopt ideas that have been adopted and fleshed out before. If an examination of these two texts together reveal that the wording/sentences/paragraphs are very closely aligned, then it is plagiarism, a violation of intellectual integrity, and the LA Times should be on it.

  • Who?

    My guess is it was a press release/promo piece from Mettler submitted to the LA Times, which they topped and tailed and labelled ‘opinion’.

    Newspapers are struggling financially and have limited staff. Back in the day a sub-editor would have done some homework on a press release and got to the bottom of its genesis, but now there’s no one to do that.

    Loss of an independent press is hurting everyone, in different ways, every day.

  • cw

    I thought you were plagiarized or something. If the author is aware of this website, she may have specific reasons for not mentioning you, a lot of the non obstetric content on here is controversial. I don’t think you should use narcissist as an insult for other women anymore, jeez.

    • hart

      Found the lactivist/anti-vaxxer with an axe to grind into AT! 🙂 How are you, love?

  • Zornorph

    Yeah, I don’t blame you. It wouldn’t have taken much – just a one line blurb. I hope you wrote to her.