Marginalizing women by diverting them into the vagina wars


When you think about it, it’s a stroke of genius.

If you were a misogynist who felt threatened by competition from women in business, science and politics, what better way is there to marginalize women once again than to divert them into competing over who has the better vagina and breasts?

That was the conscious plan of the founders of the natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting movements. The movements were explicitly created to convince women to withdraw from competition with men and re-immure themselves in the home. Grantly Dick-Read, fabricated the racist lie that “primitive” (read black) women had painless childbirth and that white women of the “better classes” who wanted to have painless childbirth, too, simply had to withdraw from competing with men to compete with other women over who had the more “authentic” birth.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#A5194C”]Convincing women to fight over who has the better vagina and breasts diverts them from taking their rightful place in wider world.[/pullquote]

That was the conscious plan of the founders of the La Leche League, 7 devout Catholic women, who saw the promotion of breastfeeding as a way to keep mothers of young children out of the workforce and send them back home where they belonged.

Dr. William Sears, the popularizer of attachment parenting, is a religious fundamentalist who promulgated a philosophy that fetishizes physical proximity of mother and child (“baby wearing”) effectively forcing women back into the home.

As a result we have women claiming to be “empowered” by unmedicated vaginal birth when the reality is that designating one form of birth as better than another is just a way to instigate a sophisticated version of a cat fight. We have women feeling that they have “failed” because their babies were born by C-section, when the only failure is the willingness of women to judge each other by whether a baby transited her vagina.

As a result we have a public health campaign grossly exaggerating the benefits of breastfeeding in order to moralize infant feeding, implying that some mothers are superior to other mothers because of the way they wield their breasts. The truth is that we have never detected any population wide benefits to breastfeeding term infants beside a few less colds and episodes or diarrheal illness over the first year. The aggressive promotion of breastfeeding is a masterstroke in marginalizing women, because the hours devoted to breastfeeding, or attempting to breastfeed or feeling guilty for not breastfeeding are hours that hamper the quest for equality in the workplace.

As a result we have a dominant parenting philosophy, attachment parenting, revealingly known as “intensive mothering,” that keeps women bound to their children 24/7/365 and therefore out of the workforce, the political arena and the wider world.

On the surface, it seems rather surprising that natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting, explicitly created to force women back into the home, have gained traction among so many women, even women who call themselves feminists. It happened because the sexists who created these movements were aided and abetted by women who were able to monetize these movements. And the women who turned these movements into profit for themselves promoted the movements as feminist merely because all the workers are women.

Midwives have always existed, but had been overshadowed by modern obstetrics, which succeeded in saving so many lives where midwifery had failed conspicuously. The philosophy of natural childbirth came to the rescue of midwifery just when it was needed most. Natural childbirth allowed midwives to turn necessity into virtue. Their inability to use life saving and pain relieving technologies were transmuted from a rather obvious disadvantage to an asset by demonizing the technology itself.

Midwives, at least, are highly educated, but the natural childbirth industry has spawned a variety of childbirth paraprofessionals – doulas, childbirth educators, and lay birth attendants — who profit by promoting the virtues of unmedicated vaginal birth. Many of these paraprofessionals lack college degrees or even high school degrees. Their employment prospects are therefore rather bleak. Where else but in the natural childbirth industry can a woman who might not have the skills to work at Target become a private contractor charging hundreds of dollars per hour for her services?

Actually, there is one other place: the lactation industry. The lactation industry is the creation of La Leche League. In its early days, LLL leveraged the experience of mothers who had successfully breastfed to provide free advice for women who wanted to learn how to breastfeed. It didn’t take long for LLL to realize that there was no reason to give away knowledge for free when they could profit from it instead. LLL elevated the volunteer LLL leader to the lactation consultant who gave the exact same information but now charged for it. LLL leaders were not the only ones who profited. The organization itself, by charging for the certification and the courses designed to obtained it created a new profit center.

The race was on to increase profits by subverting science, claiming that unmedicated vaginal birth is superior (it’s not) and that breastfeeding provides immense health benefits (it does not). Curiously, though both unmedicated vaginal birth and exclusive breastfeeding are venerated as natural, both now require a legion of paraprofessionals, a stash of books and products, and large wads of cash in order to accomplish successfully. The central driver for both industries is vicious competition among women over who has better deployed her vagina and breasts.

And that explains in large part why my writing is deplored both by members of the natural childbirth and lactivism industries (I threaten their profits) and by natural childbirth and breastfeeding advocates (I threaten the sense of superiority that the industries have striven to promote). The result is the ultimate irony: philosophical movements created to marginalize women are aggressively promoted by women who profit from marginalizing other women.

The natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting industries portray birth and infant feeding as feminist issues. It is a brilliant marketing tactic. By convincing women to fight with each other over who has the better vagina and breasts, they divert women from taking their rightful place in wider world.