When I was in high school, after giving up on Lincoln Douglas debate competitions because they were too much work my senior year, I fell in love with foreign (now called international) extemporaneous speaking in the National Forensics League. This was the perfect category for me, because I love to rant about things generally, and there are many things going on in the world on which I have strong opinions. Thankfully, some of those opinions have moderated over time.
One such example of a moderation over time is on the subject of breastfeeding. So when I read about the new law in the United Arab Emirates REQUIRING breastfeeding, I was immediately inflamed. Let me explain why.
There was a time in my life when I was somewhat of a breastfeeding Nazi. This was right around the time I took the International Political Economy of Women class co-taught by Valerie Hudson and Donna Lee Bowen at BYU. I was too ignorant at the time to realize that Valerie Hudson is not a feminist as she professes to be, but rather a female essentialist, so I bought into her breastfeeding rhetoric hook, line and sinker. I assumed every mother should be in the business of breastfeeding her child. It didn’t seem like a choice to me. I lamented my mother’s choice to breastfeed me for only two weeks, using it as the basis for a number of my flaws.
Thankfully, in the past few years I have come to recognize how flawed and anti-feminist that position is. This doesn’t mean that I think breastfeeding is bad. I believe that science has found that there are many benefits to breastfeeding a baby. However, unless you live in a country with tainted infant formula or water (like China), the choice a woman makes to breastfeed or not breastfeed a child does not determine the welfare of that child in the long run. It is just another choice that women make that anti-feminists use to blame women (and never men) in regard to child-rearing.
My mother was the best mother I could possibly have had. Her choice to only breastfeed me for two weeks was based on many factors – I was a difficult baby, my mom was stressed out trying to make ends meet on the $400 monthly GI bill that we received while my dad was in school and she needed to go back to work so our family could make it, she had Sarah to worry about too… and probably plenty of other relevant factors of which I have ignorance. My mother was no less of an outstanding mother because I was bottle feed from that point on. I was an idiot to think anything less that my mother was simply doing the best that she could and that, in fact, she did do the best for me.
A law forcing women to breastfeed their children could only come from a place as restrictive and anti-feminist as the United Arab Emirates. It could only come from a place where once again, women are forced by others to use their bodies in a particular way regarding their supposed duty to be mothers based on one accepted mode of thinking. Consider the enforcement of this kind of law. What about women who pump? Will all bottles immediately become suspect? What if a woman doesn’t have the ability to breastfeed, or it causes her great personal pain, and she cannot afford a wet-nurse? This is just beyond ridiculous. And of course, the enforcement of this law only falls on women to shoulder the burden.
In Valerie Hudson land, I am sure this kind of law from the UAE is most welcome. After all, Hudson argues that not only childbirth, but “lactation” are “ordinances” of motherhood in the LDS gospel. In the Mormon world, something being an ordinance means that it is required for our salvation. A “priesthood ordinance” is something necessary for our salvation – like baptism. Because of the distinct inequity inherent in the fact that only men can perform these saving ordinances, people like Hudson argue that women perform ordinances of motherhood – pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation, that are also necessary for our salvation. So just for a moment consider that. Valerie Hudson thinks that lactation is a necessary saving ordinance for all of God’s children. If she thinks that, then she certainly thinks it shouldn’t be optional. If a child is denied the chance to breastfeed, then that child is denied inheritance in the kingdom of God. Yeah, I get it now; that is absolutely crazy.
A ramble away from my main point: I cannot claim that infertility has been a delightful journey, but I will say this, I am grateful for infertility because it has made me realize how crazy Hudson and others are in the Mormon church to equate Motherhood with Priesthood. Because my body keeps me from conceiving, carrying, and bearing children, I am prevented, from participating in these “ordinances” (if that was really what they are). However, no Priesthood member is prevented from participating in Priesthood ordinances on account of their biological shortcomings; it is only on account of their own choices with regard to keeping church commandments. Also, her argument fails because women outside the church can participate in these saving “ordinances” whereas no man outside the church cannot do it because we believe they don’t have proper authority. There is so much WTFery with her thinking. So let’s be honest for a moment and say motherhood equals fatherhood; priesthood should equal priestesshood (or maybe it should just be priesthood, I haven’t really come to a conclusion yet on this); we just don’t know what that means because no one important is asking the right questions because too many people have been diverted with this idiotic false logic.
But the rest of that is rant for another day, now back to my main point. How crazy to think that the state gets to determine what choices a woman makes with her body in regard to feeding her infant! I have had family members and friends who have made the choice to breastfeed, and others who have made the choice to feed with formula. I don’t doubt any of those people were not incredibly thoughtful about what works best for them, and therefore, works best for their children. I don’t doubt that any of them at any point in time was made to feel guilt about that personal choice by a judgmental other person. I hope I have never been that person to someone else, but it is possible that I have been. I am sorry if I was like the government of the UAE to someone who I love!
I just wish that one day we lived in a world where women could make decisions in regard to pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing without constant judgment about what they do with their bodies. Lord knows that isn’t something men have to realistically deal with.