Why do lactivists think a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is expelled with the placenta?

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Formula is Feminist!

That’s the title of my latest piece for Slate.

As I’ve written repeatedly over the years: her baby, her body, her breasts, her choice! Therefore, the decision of the British Medical Journal to ban formula advertising is deeply anti-feminist:

Formula is a legitimate solution to what is often a serious health problem (and a feminist solution to an age-old gendered problem). The argument the BMJ has deployed to explain its decision to limit advertisements isn’t justified by the scientific evidence and instead shows its willingness to pressure women to use their bodies in culturally approved ways.

It’s incontrovertible, yet lactivists are are arguing, although the piece has sparked nuanced discussion in at least one forum.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The same people who would be apoplectic if anyone were to mandate the presence of “pregnancy is best” on birth control pills are nonetheless delighted by the exact same restriction on formula.[/pullquote]

The objection to my claim that formula is feminist run the gamut from hypocritical to very hypocritical.

Formula companies have put profits before people!

Sorry, but if you won’t restrict drug advertising because Big Pharma has a history of harming people for profit, don’t tell me you want to restrict formula advertising because Big Formula has a history of harming people for profit.

Formula advertising makes formula more expensive!

If lactivists cared about the price of formula, they’d allow sales, coupons and free samples and yet they don’t.

Corporations have no right to monetize life saving products!

Seriously? Every other lifesaving product is monetized — food, central heating, medical care — yet we are supposed to believe that formula should be uniquely free from profit?

The most powerful argument against efforts to limit not merely formula use but even mention of formula is a very basic truth: women have an unfettered right to control their own bodies and breasts are part of their bodies.

The ugly truth, however, is that lactivists believe a woman’s right to bodily autonomy is expelled with he placenta. Therefore, women must be pressured to breastfeed by any means they can think of — restricting formula advertising, mandating “breast is best” on infant formula packaging, aggressive breastfeeding promotion in hospitals, the closing of well baby nurseries to “promote” breastfeeding, etc.

The same people who would be appalled by restrictions on contraceptive advertising and apoplectic if anyone were to mandate the presence of “pregnancy is best” on birth control pills are nonetheless delighted by the exact same restrictions on formula.

The same people who believe that women can and should participate fully in every possible job and career look askance at the one product — formula — that levels the playing field for mothers and fathers.

The same people who claim to prize gender equity in parenting fail to see the irony of demonizing the only product that allows for gender equity in infant feeding.

The same people who would argue vociferously against forcing women to donate blood or bone marrow without their consent — even if it would save a life — are all in favor of forcing women to donate breast milk (sometimes non-existent breastmilk) for the “benefit” of their children.

The same people who demand every possible form of support for women who want to use their breasts to feed their babies insist that women who don’t want to use their breasts should be penalized and shamed.

The same people who are “pro choice” when it comes to women’s decisions about pregnancy are emphatically anti-choice when it comes to breastfeeding.

Some lactivists have recognized that irony and have sought to portray themselves as “beyond choice.”

The “beyond formula vs breastfeeding debate” position focuses on constraints to successful breastfeeding, addressing breastfeeding and women’s economic, social, and political status. It is assumed that women are constrained by structural factors and that these factors should be addressed instead.

In this view, it is acceptable to ban formula advertising because it “manipulates” women.

But they cannot square the circle because, for them, there is only one acceptable choice: breastfeeding.

Shifting focus to obstacles and support means that women would choose to breastfeed (“all woman will ‘naturally’ adore breastfeeding”), if they get proper support.

Pro-choice feminists (I consider myself to be part of this group) are deeply concerned about the way that women have become invisible within lactivist culture. Women’s pain, frustrations and difficulties are viewed as meaningless when compared to the supposed massive benefits conferred on babies.

We are equally concerned about the biological essentialism that is such as notable feature of contemporary lactivism. Lactivists appear to think that the fact that women are born with breasts means that they are morally obligated to use them. They conveniently ignore the fact that those same women are born with brains and are quite capable of using them to make the choice that is best for their children and themselves.

But most of all we are concerned with women’s right to control their own bodies.

I agree with Philosophy Professor Rebecca Kukla:

We need to think hard about the condescension and even the strategic imprudence involved in throwing our social resources into finding yet more ways of giving women information they already have [or as in this case preventing them from accessing information about formula]. Even more fundamentally, we need to question our assumption that improper education is the cause of low breastfeeding rates.

This is an issue of medical ethics:

…The current strategies and imagery used by American [and British] breastfeeding advocates … are not only inappropriate, but also constitute unethical assaults on new mothers’ autonomy and agency…

It is a violation of women’s bodily autonomy to pressure women to breastfeed.

With respect to breastfeeding, our public health goal should be to make breastfeeding a livable, comfortable, well-informed option for women, and not to cripple women’s ability to find a way of making caring choices for their children.

Women’s right to bodily autonomy is NOT expelled with the placenta and lactivists should not forget it!