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This book and its faulty formula
on 24 February 2014
I flick the face of anyone that claims this book is unbiased. Its fatal flaw lies in the unfortunate fact that its entire foundation is built upon two faulty assumptions: 1. That there exists a “Total Motherhood” zeitgeist; and 2. That Western culture is pedantically risk-adverse. Let’s look at each in turn:
1. The Total Motherhood Strawman
We can’t blame Wolf for crying feminism. The trouble with a woman’s studies academic writing a book about breastfeeding is that her frame of reference is not necessarily a good match for the subject matter. Wolf paints the whole topic with a sociological brush, when by its very nature, breastfeeding is, of course, physiological. The fact that women lactate is not a patriarchal conspiracy.
Wolf argues that formula is central to women's liberation because apparently, our mammary glands are not just organs which produce milk to feed offspring, they are tools of the Patriarchy, designed to warp our minds and turn us into neurotic perfectionists. Breastfeeding is allegedly at the core of what Wolf calls “Intensive Mothering”, “The New Momism” and “Total Motherhood”. These rhetorical devices are designed to emphasise the pressure placed on mothers (but not fathers! The conspiracy!) to be “experts at everything”. This makes sense in a book about breastfeeding - dads have been dealt a duff card by Mother Nature on that front – however, Wolf asserts that Total Motherhood applies to all aspects of parenting: care, education, health, safety, behaviour, et al. Not only is this hyperbolic fiction, it is deeply offensive and dismissive of fatherhood.
2. Our Supposed ‘Risk-Adverse’ Culture
Wolf bases her analysis on American society and speaks of a “risk culture” which:
“drives many people to build their life around reducing all conceivable risks. What they eat, how they raise their children, and which cars they drive”.
“Efforts to control the future, and specifically to prevent negative events from taking place, serve as an organizing principle”.
However, OCD-sufferers aside, the bulk of us don’t act this way. In fact, America and their Western cousin Britain are considerably accepting of risk (see renowned social psychologist Geert Hofstede’s timeless analysis of this).
The stuffing for these strawmen concepts hinges on denouncing breastfeeding studies. Here, Wolf draws a phony distinction between “what children need (formula) and what might enhance their physical, intellectual, and emotional development (breastfeeding)”. Yet breastfeeding doesn’t ‘enhance’ anything. It’s merely the biological benchmark for normal physiological functioning. Formula is a deviation from this.
The way this debate is framed by Wolf is remarkably off-course. It views breastfeeding as an optional extra - and one which is not worth the effort.