My last post on breastfeeding, and finding ways to support both nursing moms and formula-feeding moms, seemed to make few people happy. It’s likely my fault – it wasn’t my debate to enter. However, I felt that, as someone who works as both a birth-rights activist and a strong supporter of breastfeeding and as an abortion-rights activist and a strong supporter of choice that I could somehow contribute to the discussion. I learned a lot from the response: don’t use the word “jerk” in the title of a blog post, even in the abstract; it alienates people. Don’t go for brevity over nuance when the topic requires that nuance. And, at the end of the day, recognize when the people who disagree with you on the details are ultimately on your side.
The most startling feedback I received, however, were comments to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing, but not exaggerating): “Feminism doesn’t support breastfeeding and motherhood because it requires women to stay home for longer after giving birth and recognizes biological differences between men and women.”
I was shocked and disappointed that someone could think this, and that they could use something I’d written as an example of this. At first I dismissed it as an extreme response, but similar sentiments kept cropping up: feminists parents do seem to feel marginalized from the rest of the feminist blogosphere. This post on The Mamafesto yesterday drove home the point for me, and I really encourage you to read it.
The thing is, my idea of feminism is absolutely contingent upon the acceptance of motherhood, of birth, of breastfeeding, of parenting, of stay-at-home moms. In fact, this is where my feminism began, with a focus on motherhood not only as a source of personal fulfillment, but of public activism. Many women are empowered by motherhood, not only for themselves, but also out of the desire to create a better world for their children. Much of my daily research and work focuses on not only the rights of parents (breastfeeding support initiatives, healthcare reform, paid maternity leave, paid sick days, affordable childcare) and soon-to-be parents (adoption reform, infertility insurance coverage, birth advocacy, childbirth education, labor support), but the rights of those parents on the margins that are frequently told by society that they should never, never parent: young (teen) parents, very low-income families that receive public benefits, undocumented immigrants, etc. These issues are not superficial or tangential to my feminist belief structure: they are the crux, the very heart of the issue.
The thing is, I know I’m not the exception. I suspect most feminists, even young feminists, even feminists who aren’t parents or don’t want to be parents, feel this way, too. But for some reason, we’re not doing a good job of communicating that and making our conversations inclusive of feminists who are parenting.
I am very sincerely discouraged that feminist parent bloggers feel they’re excluded or marginalized because of the form their feminism takes, and I’m even more disappointed if my earlier post contributed to that in any way. I am going to take it upon myself to more actively try to include discussions of motherhood in my writing, and I encourage others to do the same. While I stand by the points I made in my earlier post – that we should support new mothers who breastfeed as well as those who formula feed – the primary point I was hoping to make was that we should ultimately support women and trust them to make the best decisions for themselves. These beliefs are what unite us as feminists, and remembering what bring us together is always more important that arguing over the smaller things that may divide.