Lactivist-splainin’ is not support, no matter how much lactivists insist that it is


Yesterday I wrote about lactivist-splainin’ and compared it to mansplainin’.

Lactivist-splainin’ occurs when a lactivist explains to formula feeders why they choose not to breastfeed. The fundamental problem is the same as in mansplainin’: a group of people so enamoured of their own opinions that they never listen to anyone else.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Those who truly wish to offer support take ownership of their behavior and then ask how they can do better.[/pullquote]

Lactivist-splainin’ shares another important trait with mansplainin’. When confronted, the splainers insist that they were just trying to be helpful.

Point out the biological essentialism of lactivism — demeaning formula feeders for not using their breasts is no different from demeaning gay people for not having heterosexual intercourse — and the splainers insist that they were just offering “support.”

Point out the misogyny of lactivism — judging women by the function of their reproductive organs — and the splainers insist that they were just offering “support.”

Point out the sheer obnoxiousness of campaigns like “Breast is Best” and the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative — imagine a health facility where any woman fearing an unwanted pregnancy was forced to navigate staff and signage that proclaim that “Pregnancy is Best” and boasting they are a Pregnancy Friendly hospital — and the splainers insist they they were just offering “support” (just like the anti-abortion crowd whines that it is only offering support.)

But they’re not offering support; they offering lactivist-splainin’ instead of support.

How can we tell the difference? It’s pretty easy.

Support depends on the perception of the recipient NOT the feelings of the donor. In a medical setting, support always starts with listening to the patient, emphathizing with her feelings and perceptions, determining her desires, and helping her achieve HER goals, not yours.

Lactivist-splainers ignore all of them.

Consider this thought experiment:

Imagine if a 35 year old woman came to you requesting a tubal ligation. She and her husband have been happily married for 10 years and have decided they don’t want children.

Would you tell her that she was made to have children? That’s biological essentialism.

Would you tell her that she will never know her true power as a woman unless she gives birth? That’s misogyny.

Would you force her to listen to a lecture or sign a “contract” acknowledging that remaining childless is an inferior option? That’s obnoxious.

When she became frustrated and angry that you weren’t considering her goals and feelings would you angrily declare that you were just offering “support,” that surely she would want children if she only knew more about them?

No one would consider those actions to be “support” and rightfully so. They are directed toward the goals of the provider, NOT the goals of the patient.

There’s also a quick and dirty way to tell the difference between lactivist-splainers and those who offer support:

What do they do when informed that their efforts do not feel remotely supportive?

Those who truly wish to offer support take ownership of their behavior and then ask how they can do better. In contrast, the splainers immediately become defensive and insist that those who are upset are at fault for misunderstanding.

That’s what has happened in the Twitter discussion I referenced yesterday, when called out Prof. Amy Brown for the biological essentialism of claiming:

We are animals. Mammals. Did you not realize? Or are breasts the animal bit? …

She and her many lactivist colleagues have continued arguing — over and over and over again — that they only offer support.

But if they truly offered support they’d be asking what they could do to improve, not incessantly splainin’ that they do everything right and that women who feel pressured and bullied into breastfeeding are at fault for their own despair.