Patriarchy is a social system in which: males hold primary power; males predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.
Even better is this explanation from thinkinggirl.wordpress.com:
Patriarchy informs all other social systems and relationships between men and women, men and other men, and women and other women. Patriarchy is the root of gender oppression. Patriarchy is insidious and runs very deep. It is The MATRIX. It is not always immediately visible to the naked eye. Feminist analysis exposes the ugliness, existence, and persistence of patriarchy, even in seemingly innocuous situations.
In a thread on The Feminist Breeder’s Facebook page where she expressed curiosity to why someone would choose not to breastfeed, barring any other medical or social reasons, there were those who told her that she’s not a feminist. If that’s what you think, I’m about to blow your mind. Choosing not to breast feed is patriarchy. When someone decides not to breast feed just because she “doesn’t fancy it” that’s everything to do with patriarchy’s invisible hold on your mind.
A comment from the thread on FB: “maybe you should step back and realize how this type of mindset parallels with extremist cultures who treat women like a resource, a thing instead of a person with a choice and bodily autonomy.”
Well there’s that, but no. Breast feeding doesn’t make you a thing any more than holding your baby when she cries, changing her when she’s wet, or any number of other tasks a caregiver takes part in. In fact it’s also patriarchy that causes you to devalue caring, as that was traditionally the woman’s domain. Lots of elementary feminists make this mistake, thinking that they are trying to lift up women to more powerful status, when really they are devaluing many women, as well as the only job that matters.
Lets explore what patriarchy does to us and our decisions. Rhonda Trust Phd has a lot to say about the media’s influence on how we perceive breast feeding, “If you see a television show and there’s some kind of breast-feeding scene, it’s usually a joke or embarrassing; very rarely, you’ll see a scene that’s educational, describing the benefits of breast-feeding.” A big part of why women feel “grossed out” by breast feeding is because of the over sexualisation of breasts. Our patriarchal culture, which informed our media, has us focused in on the use of breasts for the sexual use of men, and our own pleasure of course. But the original, and more important, use for a woman’s breasts is infant feeding. So when we decide not to breast feed because it makes us feel gross, this is because patriarchy has oppressed us, preventing us from using our natural power and strength.
Then you have the fact that formula is made and marketed by profit seeking corporations, run by men and notably patriarchal. The fact that any of us think that formula is “just as good” is the triumph of patriarchy. Yes, infants grow and thrive on formula; they thrive better on breast milk. They get sick less often, they are less likely to get cancer, crohns disease, autoimmune disease, and more. This is actual fact.
Image credit, The Alpha Parent, who says it was found in a hospital in Georgia, USA.
Talking about the risks of formula is not about trying to make women who use it feel guilty. We cannot censor facts to save your feelings when these facts impact the health of our entire population. If you didn’t know this stuff when you formula fed, you need to forgive yourself. If you did know this stuff and you had your own reasons, then just own your decision. Its not up to me to decide whether your decision was right or not and I won’t. What I’m saying is that on the macro scale we need to get more women breast feeding. We cannot afford to sit quietly ignoring health epidemics that can be prevented.
To those who say it’s nobody’s business, The Alpha Parent has an excellent post on why this is not true, even when not simply an academic discussion. I’ll give you a quick run down on the points most compelling to me: formula companies are immoral and we should not support them, formula and it’s packaging is bad for the environment, some of us are compassionate enough to care about other people’s kids, but there’s more than that and it’s worth a read.
Now, I am not a Feminist Breeder apologist. I’ve been the object of her ire before and as I said I don’t always agree with her. But she’s right on this, choosing not to breast feed is both a public health issue and a feminist issue. Sociology, anthropology, public health, these subjects are not about judgement but inquiry and understanding. You can’t understand without asking the question. To say that even asking the question (or indeed admitting you wonder sometimes) is akin to being against women’s autonomy is profoundly anti-intellectual.
If you liked this, follow me over to my Facebook page and give me a like, if not, come on over and discuss.
Featured image courtesy of Owen Blacker on flickr