Following the controversy over the “gender-inclusive” move of the Australian Breastfeeding Association to include natal males in their purview, I have been reflecting on my breastfeeding years. It is hard to express (pardon the pun) what happened to my feminist ideology in the five years between falling pregnant with my first daughter and stopping breastfeeding my second daughter. It was a time when my gender ideology was burned up, as ideologies do, in the fire of reality.
I went home with my first baby anaemic, with a large episiotomy, a uterus infection, haemorrhoids, cracked and bleeding nipples and, later, nipple thrush. Along with feeling shocked and fragile, I had no earthly idea what I was doing and scurried to find a bunch of equally clueless local women.
I found a mothers group through a breastfeeding association meeting and it became the centre of my social world for the next few years. When the babies were small, we sat around and talked about all the strange issues we were facing. How the breastfeeding was going, how the babies were sleeping, when we were thinking about solids, the kind of formula we may use, when we were resuming sex, how our relationships had changed, how our wounds were healing and how gruesome the labour was. For an exclusively female space, this last topic was the closest we came to an old-fashioned dick measuring contest. Each woman with a more impressive story about the length of the labour, the amount of blood involved, how long they went without drugs and how useless their partners were.
The power and strength to endure childbirth is the bedrock of the legendary mythology of matriarchal strength. All cultures need legends, folk tales and masculine and feminine power archetypes. This may have been debated by me as a young feminist and student of cultural studies, but I have come to believe that if women don’t own and embrace their cultural power, it will be stolen from them.
Feminists have in the past framed marital sex, childbirth, breastfeeding and child-rearing as violent, bloody prisons for women, and not without good reason. Women’s childbearing capacities have destroyed their bodies, killed them and made them vulnerable to a perpetual state of domestic slavery in many societies and for a very long time. The narrative goes, that we have shielded ourselves from the body prison with reproduction control, medical advancement, sanitary products, legal equality, government-defined rights, and cultural re-engineering of womanhood.
As a keen young feminist scholar, I learned about wet nurses in France. Their existence was presented to our young minds as evidence that the magical “mother-child bond”, was a cultural invention of gender oppression. Judith Butler’s ideas of woman as performance was given to me by the university as a way to consider breastfeeding as a task that could be successfully outsourced, its mystical meaning lying only in the “gender” we have imposed upon our construction of the “woman”. The “woman” and “mother”, I learned, were cultural inventions, used to enslave women to the domestic sphere. As women’s studies morphed into gender studies, feminists continued to fashion their escape from their body prison with the ideological separation the female body from the gender identities we call “woman”.
When my body made me a mother and a weeping, physically weak dependent person, I struggled against what was an essential female experience with ideas that I was still a powerful human. I had adopted a fear of the processes of the female body as if it was a terrorist waiting to enslave me to a powerless life I had never wanted, into the gender prison of “woman”. I began to be released from this thinking when I found commonality with others who had the same bodily experience as me. We were mothers because of what our bodies had in common, that seemed obvious to me, but the denial of this may cost women more than we are willing to face.
The birth of my second daughter at a “Birth Centre” showed me the value of female body centred medical practice. Birth centres are places in hospitals where women can birth naturally, without drugs and without doctors, but in easy access to medical care. Natural birth advocates consider that pregnancy is not a sickness, it is a natural process that has manageable risks. Their philosophy is that female bodies are born to birth and young women, such as I was, should be given the opportunity to do so without medical intervention. The consequential damage to my body was very minimal and with the help of a lactation consultant, I was able to breastfeed pain-free. The professions of midwifery and lactation specialists are those at the centre of shielding women’s vulnerabilities and our most powerful abilities.
I had unexpectedly lost both my parents while I was pregnant with my youngest child, and as I gave birth on my hands and knees, and then breastfed my daughter, I became quite free of the gender paranoia that university feminism had given me. The body that birthed me had just died, my body had just birthed a child that contained the eggs of my grandchildren. My body was not oppressing me as a woman, my body was my womanhood.
Feminists utilised the theorising of gender separate from sex for good purpose. But the use of gender as a theoretical tool needs to be scaled back to a tool rather than a master. Gender is the word we use to describe the cultural expression of sex. We use it to describe feminine and masculine expressions, that can never be separated from sex because they describe typical cultural representations of sex. Gender expressions can be problematised and changed with societal consent, over long periods of time, but it is proving a dangerous thing to reinvent as an identity characteristic.
Gender has become Frankenstein’s monster as it has taken on distorted and confusing legal and cultural meanings. The idea that woman is not a biological entity, a sexed body, but an identity that can fit any kind of body, and that bodies have to conform to, is permitting disturbing mainstreaming of fetishization and disgust of the natural forms and processes of the female body.
A detransitioner named Eden recently commented on Twitter that it had been five years since a double mastectomy she deeply regrets. She said “I can’t believe I was allowed as a child to have this procedure…. I was promised sunshine and rainbows. Happiness. All my sadness and dysphoria would go away… I don’t even feel as if I fit into any gender anymore. My dysphoria is worse”.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has just released a guide for “chestfeeding”. My problem, and to be honest deep offence with this, is four-fold. Firstly, I believe that the peak organisation for breastfeeding in our nation should not allow activists to move them one inch from centring the mother and the infant from their focus. More importantly, they should guard the space of breastfeeding mothers as an exclusively female one for the safety and dignity of women and their children. Thirdly LGBTIQ organisations promote an ideology that leads to the removal of healthy breast tissue in increasingly younger women as an unproven treatment for a range of gender identity conditions. Finally, and to state the bleeding obvious, the ABA should strive at all costs, to keep breastfeeding away from the realm of fetishization.
I am unfortunately not exaggerating by talking about breastfeeding as a fetish. You can google it if you are game. Recently a pregnant woman with an Only Fans following has decided to cash in on pregnancy and breastfeeding fetishes by selling tickets to the birth and selling her breastmilk. It is not only a fetish for heterosexual men regarding lactating women, but for autogynephilic males. If you wanted to be fundamentally disturbed, you could read an article by a trans-identified male titled “The First Time Breastfeeding my Daughter”. This male-bodied person describes how they “kind of got off on” breastfeeding their child. The journey they went on to get to a place where they were “chestfeeding” the infant, involved the Newman-Goldfarb Protocol, a cocktail of drugs and a moral compass that was clearly influenced by a magnet of elite university bred gender ideology.
The ABA, when I was breastfeeding, promoted the practice of taking the baby from the womb, and then to the mother’s breast as soon as possible. The trans-identified male who wrote the article, took the baby away from the mother, into a separate room and fed her a cocktail of “milk” that was manufactured in ways as yet untested. Thanks to years of gender ideology undermining the connection of a baby to her mother’s milk, we now have a peak breastfeeding group cowering to males who “perform” the female “gender”.
Even with the existence of trans-identifying males, wet nurses and mothers who have had double mastectomies, birthing and breastfeeding remain a baseline of motherhood. Not all mothers have become mothers through childbirth and not all mothers can breastfeed, but this does not affect the truth that mothers are made through birthing and all humans are birthed searching for a woman’s breast. Any feminist, culture or ideology that separates motherhood from these bodily processes have lost their way.
Men cannot now, nor can they ever be mothers. They cannot have female bodies, and they cannot have our mythology or matriarchal power. Any state power that compels me to say anything else is violating basic scientific knowledge, my right of belief and conscience. Any organisation that pushes another ideology to these truths, is engaging in harmful behaviour toward women. In our rush to shed ourselves of biological shackles, women have embraced a lie fed to them by gender ideology and have misplaced the cultural power that we have always held in the delicate set of hands that rock the cradle. Such power has been coveted famously by governments and various forms of patriarchy (real patriarchy not the imaginary kind). If western women don’t engage in a grassroots push to urgently re-establish ownership over our own bodies and matriarchal cultural power, a much more aggressive set of hands will usurp the cradle.
Edie Wyatt Tweets at @msediewyatt.
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