Tag Archives: open letter

An open letter to Stephanie Fairyington (or, breastfeeding and feminism)

1 Sep

Dear Ms. Fairyington,

Before we start, can I just say that you have an awesome last name? Your last name is totally rad. It has the word fairy in it! I bet you hear that a lot. Anyway, just wanted to get that out before we move on to the more serious stuff.

So. This article that you wrote for the New York Observer, Time for Feminists to Stop Arguing About Breastfeeding and Fight for Better Formula – I just read it, and now I feel like I have a few things that I want to say to you.

First of all, I should probably give you some idea of where I’m coming from: I am a breastfeeding advocate, who is still nursing her 19 month old son, and I am a feminist. Oh, and I also run a yoga studio, which, as you pointed out in your article, would totally be a pumping-friendly environment if I was pumping. Which I’m not.

Second of all, I want to tell you how wholeheartedly I agree with the first part of your title. It is time for feminists to stop arguing about breastfeeding. Boy is it ever.

I’ll be totally honest with you – I do truly believe that breast milk is superior to formula. I would be thrilled if every woman chose to breastfeed, and was physically able to do so. I think breastfeeding is the best start in life that you can give a kid (well, that and a killer wardrobe), and I really wish that there was more in the way of education and resources dedicated to breastfeeding.

But I realize that some women are physically incapable of breastfeeding. Some women aren’t able to pump at work. Some women find the act of breastfeeding triggering due to past sexual assault. Sometimes formula is actually better for the baby’s health, in cases with severe health issues or allergies. And sometimes women just plain don’t want to.

As a feminist, I respect any choice that you make with regards to your body. If you want to terminate a pregnancy, I respect that. If you want to earn money as a sex worker, I respect that. If you don’t want to breastfeed, I respect that. Know why? Because I believe in bodily autonomy.

Which means that you should extend the same courtesy to me.

Which brings me to my second point, namely the fact that you believe that breastfeeding “stymies the progress of feminism“.

The first thing you mention in conjunction with this idea are some concerns you have with regards to the Latch On NYC initiative.

You begin by saying that,

Under the new rules, about two dozen hospitals will discourage new moms from formula-feeding by educating them on the benefits of breast milk … ”

This actually isn’t a new rule. According to this, it has been New York State law for the past three years that new mothers must be provided with accurate information regarding breastfeeding. So that actually has nothing to do with Latch On NYC, or Mayor Bloomberg.

You then go on to say,

” … [hospitals] will not provide formula unless medically indicated on the infant’s chart or requested by the mother. The rules will also prohibit formula freebies and ads in hospitals.”

I honestly fail to see how anyone could think this is a bad thing. Formula won’t be provided unless the mother asks for it – meaning that the staff can’t give the baby formula without the mother’s consent. Which does happen, believe it or not.

Furthermore, formula companies have no place advertising in hospitals or offering mothers free samples. Do you think that they do this out of the goodness of their heart, so that babies don’t starve? No, they’re looking for customers. I would think that you, as a future buyer of formula, would actually be happy that they will no longer be spending money on advertisements and freebies. Those “freebies” aren’t really free – they’re paid for by the company’s revenue, which comes from consumers like you.

Next, you say that,

The notion that “breast is best” simply because it’s natural sounds ringingly similar to the arguments made by pro-lifers and even contraception opponents, all of which begin with the same basic premise: women should be shackled to their corporeal destinies.”

There are many scientific studies proving that breast milk is nutritionally superior to and more biologically advantageous than formula. But that’s not the whole reason I decided to breastfeed.

I also decided to breastfeed because I’m cheap and lazy.

Breast milk is free and, living in Canada, I had a full year of maternity leave and thus was spared the cost of a breast pump. That being said, even a one-time investment in a breast pump is less expensive than buying can after can of formula.

And as much as I hate getting up in the middle of the night to nurse my son, I would hate even more having to get up and make him a bottle. Plus, I don’t have to do any of the sterilizing and cleaning of feeding supplies.

So please don’t think that all the pro-breastfeeding arguments boil down to “but it’s natural!”, because there’s so much more to it than that.

Next, you bring up the idea that breastfeeding is anti-feminist because,

A bottle positions men and women equally over the care of infants, while breastfeeding cements the notion that women are central to the process of nurturing children. Wasn’t feminism all about de-emphasizing our corporeality by arguing that our bodies should not define or limit our rights and responsibilities?”

No, my husband doesn’t breastfeed our son, but we do try to share our parenting duties equally. Yes, earlier on I was doing more work – all of the feedings were my responsibility of course (although we did decide that all of the diaper changes that happened when my husband was at home were his job). All of the gestating was also my job – shitty deal!

But, as my son grew older, my husband was able to take over more and more parenting duties. For example, he takes care of our entire nighttime routine – he’s usually the one to feed our son dinner, since I’m often working in the evening, and is always the one to give him his bath and put him to bed. It’s true that our roles in our son’s life remain somewhat different, but then “equal” does not mean “exactly the same”.

And, I’m sorry, but I thought that feminism was all about giving women choices – the choice to have children, or not to have children, the choice to breastfeed or formula feed, the choice to manage a yoga studio or be a children’s therapist who sees an exhausting number of clients. The point of feminism is that we work together to achieve equality, instead of tearing each other down over every little thing.

Finally, you complain that breastfeeding is holding women back because it reinforces women’s “parental centrality” and “undervalues fathers”. You say that this is holding women back in the work force. You also mention how difficult breastfeeding is because many workplaces aren’t equipped to deal with women who need to pump.

Wouldn’t a better idea be to work to change how society views motherhood, and to fight for better regulations regarding pumping at work? How is limiting women’s choices in any way, shape or form a feminist idea?

You write as if formula is somehow under attack when, in fact, it’s still the status quo. By 6 months of age, 52.8% of all infants are formula-fed. Trust me, you’re not a dying breed.

You write as if formula feeding doesn’t, in many ways, reinforce the patriarchy – for example, the idea that women shouldn’t expose themselves while feeding their child in public. Or how about the idea that a woman’s milk simply isn’t good enough or sufficient for a growing baby? In spite of the evidence to the contrary, this myth still persists. Or, my favourite, the fact that so many women and their partners want their breasts to remain exclusively sexual. If that’s not patriarchal conditioning, I don’t know what is.

And finally, I do agree with you that we should continue to work to improve formula, to try to make it more like breast milk. But I also think that we should continue to educate and encourage women when it comes to breastfeeding. Because, unlike you, many women go into parenthood wanting to breastfeed, and we should be offering them the support and resources they need to do that. I would hate to see a woman be forced to wean her child just because she lacked knowledge or support for her breastfeeding.

Anyway, I’m sure you’ll dismiss this whole letter as “nostalgia and conservative orthodoxy”, and that’s okay too. You can certainly believe whatever you want, just as you can do whatever you want with your own body. Just as I can do whatever I want with my body.

And that, Ms. Fairyington, is feminism.




Dear Elizabeth Wurtzel, part deux

20 Aug

Hey! If you liked my post about Elizabeth Wurtzel’s recent article, then you should check out this post at Life In Pint-Sized Form. My friend L shares her response to the same piece, but from a nanny’s point of view. There are a hell of a lot of parenting blogs out there, so it’s amazing to read a blog from the perspective of someone who nannies for a living.

An Open Letter to Elizabeth Wurtzel (or, feminism, you sure do depress the hell out of me sometimes)

17 Aug

Dear Elizabeth Wurtzel,

I should maybe start off by saying that we have this weird one-sided history, you and I. I guess it’s not that uncommon to feel that way about a writer? Especially someone who’s famous for publishing this messy, vulnerable, heartbreakingly honest autobiography? Anyway, I feel like we go way back.

2003 was a terrible year for me. I like to refer to it as my annus horribilis, partly because I have never before and never since reached such a nadir of depression and despair, and partly because I’m super pretentious and really like Latin. I won’t go into everything that led up to my sort-of breakdown, but I will say this: it was shitty, and I was really sad.

I read Prozac Nation again and again – I must have read it ten times over the course of that year. When I read things like this:

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

and this:

I don’t want any more of this try, try again stuff. I just want out. I’ve had it. I am so tired. I am twenty and I am already exhausted.

and this:

I was so scared to give up depression, fearing that somehow the worst part of me was actually all of me.

I thought, yes. Yes yes yes. That’s me that she’s talking about. I’m not the only one living like this. I’m not alone.

And though that thought didn’t stop me from spending entire weekends crying in bed, surrounded by balled-up kleenexes and dog-eared books, it did, on some level, make me feel better. So thank you for that.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about you, but that’s probably a good thing because it means that it’s also been a long time since I lay on the floor, listening to angsty music, feeling paralyzed by sadness. I’ve semi-followed your career trajectory since then, in that I’ve read excerpts from a few of your more recent books and I know that you went to law school, but I haven’t really given you any serious thought. Until today, that is, when I read your piece in the Atlantic on feminism and stay-at-home mothers.

I am a stay-at-home mother, and there are a few things here that I would like to address.

First of all, when I say that I’m a stay-at-home mother, I don’t mean that I go to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments. I mean that I am there for the joy and drudgery of parenting from the time my son wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed (excepting a few hours in the evening, when I work at a yoga studio – although we don’t currently offer any Jivamukti classes, and my husband takes over child care in the evenings, so there goes that scenario). This is also true for all the other stay-at-home mothers that I know, although I obviously can’t speak for your friends.

You say that the whole point of feminism to begin with was, “that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.” I respectfully disagree. The whole point of feminism is and was that women, historically, had little or no agency over their own lives, and were oppressed by a society that treated them as men’s possessions and offered them very few choices in life.

I don’t understand why your solution to the problems with modern feminism is to offer women less choices. Or rather, to tell them that they have the choice to stay home, but should they choose that avenue in life, they will be regarded as failed feminists.

You say that real feminists “earn a living, have money and means of their own“. No. Real feminists understand that sometimes leaving the workforce to stay at home with your children is an economic necessity. Real feminists know that the cost of daycare is prohibitively expensive (in my city, it’s between $1,800 and $2,000 a month for a 12-month-old child), and that sometimes having a parent stay home makes the most financial sense for a family. And real feminists know that male parents are starting to make the choice to stay home more and more frequently (in fact, I personally know three stay-at-home dads). Are women still more likely to stay home to raise their children than men are? For sure. Is the way to correct this imbalance to say that no one should stay home ever? Probably not.

You then go on to say that there is only one kind of equality, and it’s economic. Hey, listen, I’m all for economic equality – that sounds great! But that doesn’t mean there are other kinds of equality that aren’t just as important. How about equal rights? How about equal in terms of the law? Like you, I also want equality in terms of absolutes. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure as hell don’t feel equal. Probably because I understand that in many ways, women have yet to achieve equality.

Finally, do you know what’s really making the war on women possible? The divisiveness of the feminist community. The fact that you, and others, think that feminism should be some kind of exclusive club that won’t admit members who don’t toe the company line in exactly the right way. The fact that we’re too busy fighting each other to fight for equality.

Your piece doesn’t make me angry, but it does make me sad, and so tired. I can’t believe that it’s 2012 and we’re still arguing over whether or not feminists are allowed to stay home with their children. I can’t believe that our solution to women’s oppression is to continue to dictate how they should live their lives. It’s been decades and decades of the same arguments being repeated over and over and over. It’s exhausting, and it’s starting to make me feel hopeless.

So here we are again, Elizabeth, you with your critically acclaimed writing, and me feeling tired and sad and hopeless. It’s almost like the last ten years never happened. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a floor to go lie on and some depressing music to listen to.