How we know natural mothering is about re-domesticating women: there’s no natural fathering.


A lot of angry women have parachuted onto my Facebook page to berate me on my claim that the philosophies of natural mothering — natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting — were promulgated for the express purpose of re-domesticating women.

It’s not my opinion; it’s empirical fact. Grantly Dick-Read (a fundamentalist and eugenicist) made it clear that his philosophy of natural childbirth was designed to pressure women into having more children. La Leche League was explicit in its purpose on founding (by religious traditionalists); the philosophy of “mothering through breastfeeding” was created to keep mothers of small children from working. William Sears (a religious fundamentalist), the man who created the philosophy of attachment parenting, initially made no secret of the fact that he believed his philosophy was vouchsafed by God as His preferred method for organizing the family.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Where is the claim “good” fathers demonstrate their love for their wives and children by killing game animals and dragging them home?[/pullquote]

Their goal: to re-domesticate women, particularly those women who dared to have jobs and careers, exercising economic power that was previously the purview of men.

The unwitting agents: midwives, doulas, lactation consultants and attachment parenting “experts” who convince women that mothering requires staying home, sacrificing and suffering.

The threat: Advocates of natural mothering claim — with no evidence of any kind — that if women refuse to submit to the ideologies of natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting, their children won’t bond (i.e. won’t love them).

And it’s working!

Consider this Facebook post:


Breastfeeding Is hard work. It’s really fucking hard work.

It’s sleepless nights, It’s cluster feeding 24/7. It’s not leaving the house because you’re insecure about feeding in public, it’s judgement, it’s pain, it’s emotional, it’s learning, it’s missing out, it’s feeling like your body no longer belongs to you, it’s waking up every two hours (at most), it’s lonely, it’s changing your anatomy, It’s choosing someone else over yourself every single day, It’s overcoming fear and uncertainty, it’s guilt, it’s isolating -it’s really fucking hard.

Staying home ✔
Sacrificing ✔
Suffering ✔

Cluster feeding? Not leaving the house? Pain? Missing out? Never sleeping more than two hours? Lonely? Isolating?

All of that could be easily averted with formula. That’s why it’s so important to convince women that formula is bad. We wouldn’t want mothers feeling happy, well-rested, able to engage with the world, right?

But there’s another way you tell that the ideology of natural mothering is intended to re-domesticate women: there’s no natural fathering.

There has been no comparable attempt to return fatherhood to the supposedly superior lifestyle of our ancestors with which we evolved. There’s no effort to keep men in pain, away from technology, out of the workplace and tied to their children.

  • Where is the claim “good” fathers demonstrate their love for their wives and children by killing game animals and dragging them home?
  • Why aren’t men escorted out of the delivery room because traditional societies do not allow fathers at childbirth?
  • Where are restrictions on what men can consume, justified by the desire to keep their sperm safe for maximum fertility?
  • Why aren’t fathers competing over who is the more natural father?

Obviously any large social movement, like the movement to re-domesticate women within industrialized societies, is complex and multifactorial. Nonetheless, a significant impetus is to return to the good old days … good for men, possibly good for children, but not good at all for women.

That’s why there are mommy wars, but no daddy wars.

But, but, “the science”!

If the last two decades have shown us anything it is that “the science” is weak, conflicting and riddled with confounding variables. We cannot pin down the answer to something as basic as whether it is good or bad for children if their mothers work and the reason we cannot pin it down is that there is no one answer. It depends; it depends on the individual mother, and individual child and the life circumstances of the family.

It’s just like breastfeeding, where “the science” is also quite fuzzy no matter how much lactivists insist otherwise. That’s because the greatest danger of not breastfeeding comes from contaminated water used to prepare it and that’s not a problem in first world countries. Is breastfeeding better for term babies than formula feeding? It depends; it depends on the individual mother, the individual baby and the life circumstances of the family.

The weak “science” of breastfeeding and the weak “science” on working mothers is stronger by far that any science on natural childbirth or attachment parenting. That’s because there is no science at all to support either of those two components of natural mothering.

What does science show about fathering in nature? No one knows, because virtually no one is looking.

In part that reflects the importance of mothers during pregnancy and early infancy, but, I would argue, it also reflects the fact that we use mothering to control women while there is no comparable effort at all to control men through fathering.

As a society we need to step back and ask ourselves why we are placing such pressure on new mothers and why we are demanding that women accede to the imperatives of natural mothering (and shame them for not doing so), while paying no attention to fathering.

Is this really about what’s best for children? Is this really about “the science”?

No, it’s just the thoroughly modern way to re-domesticate women.