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Chapter 11 133 Human reproduction is inherently gendered: women, not men, give birth, lactate , and breastfeed.1 Domestic work and child care are also highly gendered activities, but not necessarily inherently so. Among two-parent families with children, wives perform about twice as much domestic labor and routine child care (such as feeding and dressing them) as their husbands.2 Couples are particularly likely to take on gender-specialized roles during the transition to parenthood : women take on the majority of unpaid work in the home, and men spend more time in paid work. Research has clearly documented this pattern, but it has not fully accounted for the gender gap in domestic work.3 In this chapter, we argue that breastfeeding promotion and practice seem to exacerbate the already unequal division of child care between mothers and fathers. It is important that breastfeeding advocates and supporters are aware of this “dark side” of breastfeeding; otherwise, breastfeeding will fail to be a liberatory practice for women. Although the division of child care seems to be more egalitarian, on average, among couples who feed their infants formula, we do not think formula promotion and feeding is an adequate feminist solution to this social problem. Instead, we advocate a feminist alternative that addresses the problems of women’s subordination more broadly in order to support all mothers with infant feeding. The Dark Side of Breastfeeding and Father Involvement Thus far, most research on breastfeeding focuses on the benefit of the practice and of human milk itself for infant and maternal health, the environment, sexual assault survival, and many other aspects detailed in this book. Far less Breastfeeding and the Gendering of Infant Care Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung and Mary C. Noonan research has examined the ways in which breastfeeding may constrain women. One exception is found in the work of sociobiologist Joan Huber, who argues that ancient patterns of human lactation (feeding infants for a few minutes every fifteen minutes) put women at a distinct social disadvantage. Historically , women breastfed their babies frequently and for long durations and so were necessarily excluded from public roles, such as engaging in battle with other human groups. Freed from the responsibilities of infant feeding, men were able to garner power and political leadership roles in society through their warring and relationships with other far-reaching tribes. Thus, Huber argues, the human need for lactation set a pattern of gender inequality that tied women to the care and nurturance of children and men to the social relations of power.4 However, she argues that these gender role differences are neither deterministic nor inevitable, particularly considering that lactation is less constraining in the modern era than it was in more primitive times. Today, mothers no longer need to be physically attached to their babies to nourish them, largely due to changes in technology that have led to safer bottle-feeding— through increased sanitation, breast pumps, and human milk substitutes (formula). Huber posits that these technologies are, at least in part, what led to the rise in women’s leadership roles in politics and the military.5 Thus, biology may not be destiny with respect to family and societal roles, but thus far the solution to the constraints of breastfeeding revolves around bottle-feeding. Not only is there evidence from comparative-historical studies that breastfeeding has contributed to the gendering of public and private spheres, but there is qualitative and anecdotal evidence as well. Some argue that breastfeeding inevitably leads mothers to be considered the primary parent within the family, and fathers are considered to be a “helper” parent.6 In her highly controversial article in the Atlantic Monthly, for example, journalist Hanna Rosin discussed her resentment toward her husband when she had to wake in the middle of the night to feed her child. As she writes: About seven years ago, I met a woman from Montreal, the sister-in-law of a friend, who was young and healthy and normal in every way, except that she refused to breast-feed her children. She wasn’t working at the time. She just felt that breast-feeding would set up an unequal dynamic in her marriage—one in which the mother, who was responsible for the very sustenance of the infant, would naturally become responsible for everything else as well. At the time, I had only one young child, so 134 P. L. F. Rippeyoung and M. C. Noonan I thought she was a kooky Canadian—and sel...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813553160
Related ISBN
9780813553030
MARC Record
OCLC
805510887
Pages
356
Launched on MUSE
2012-08-22
Language
English
Open Access
No
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