The other night there was an interesting conversation in the Twitter-mom-o-verse about feminism and the phenomenon of women beating each other’s brains out about the choice to breastfeed or bottle feed. The conversation quickly devolved into jokes about all the things that are worse for kids than formula (dog food, window cleaner, and poop were all discarded as valid feeding choices) but it got me thinking, and not just thinking about the time my son tasted cat food. Although that was pretty funny. I gathered from the expression on his face that cat food did not taste as good as he hoped it would. Good thing, too, since my cat is on really expensive prescription food and I don’t want to have to buy it more frequently because my kid has started eating it when I’m not looking.
Anyway, I was thinking, which you can see is dangerous due to my penchant for thought tangents, and I was trying to come up with a good definition of feminist. One that transcends the usual feminist touchstone arguments like breast v. bottle, full-reproductive-choice v. limited-reproductive-choice, taking-husband’s name v. not taking husband’s name and all the other made-for-mainstream-media arguments. Because those things aren’t at the heart of feminism. A woman’s position on breastfeeding, or contraception, or working outside the home, are not indicative of her status as a feminist; they are indicative of her individual preferences and circumstances. A feminist can bottle feed. And feminist can have an epidural with impunity. A feminist can take her husband’s name, stay home with her kids until they’re 16, and use the rhythm method as birth control.
What would be anti-feminist is if that say-at-home-mom tells her daughter that her main purpose in life is to serve a husband and children because she was born female and that is the only future women should seek and no other choice is as valid. Or if a working mom told her daughter that staying at home is a curse that no woman should ever endure and she should under no circumstances choose full-time child-rearing because a paid career is the only valid choice.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist because of this single idea: I flatly reject the thesis that my lifepath must be dictated by gender and that I must accept a particular type of treatment based on my gender. I know that there are people out there who still adhere to “because you’re a girl” reasoning, but that is not my problem. I do not accept that line of thinking (unless “because you’re a girl” is preceded by “why do I get my period?”) and I will find ways to avoid, circumvent, and alter situations where someone it trying to use it to limit me.
I do not think that my status as a feminist should be called into question because I got an epidural as soon as the anesthesiologist could make his way to my room. I am not less of a feminist because my husband, son and I all have the same last name. My feminist cred was not heightened by my choice (and ability) to breastfeed for a year. Those are choices I made as an individual, choices that I used my autonomy, education, emotions, and logic to make. Feminism only came into play when I thanked my lucky stars for all the generations of feminists who threw their backs into making sure that I was in a position to make all those choices, unhampered by oppressive gender-role restrictions.
A special shout-out to the feminists who pushed for the great breastfeeding protection laws in place in DC that allow moms who choose to breastfeed to do it anywhere they want without fear of harassment and that guarantee moms who pump a clean, private place to pump at work, time to do so, and a sanitary storage space for expressed milk. You all rock and make the choice to breastfeed a little easier!
See, the deal is, all these choices we make, like breast or bottle, co-sleep or crib, natural birth versus medical model, are, at the end of the day, no more significant to the feminist movement than the color of the shirt we chose to wear when we get dressed that morning. The point is that all of those options are available to us because women got together and said “Hey! I want choices! Hand them over!” and said it loud enough, often enough, and determinedly enough that everyone had to listen and give them their choices. Our job now, our job as feminists, our job as women, is to accept that the consequence of a full range of choices is that some women will make choices we wouldn’t make. And that is fine. It’s good. It’s illustrative of the need for a full range of choices to satisfy the full range of need of humanity.
Our second job is to stay vigilant against those who would limit our choices. Just as I don’t want a man with a regressive view of women to tell me I can’t nurse in a shopping mall, I don’t want a woman with a misguidedly militant view of nursing to tell me that I can’t use formula. Neither viewpoint is constructive. They only serve to make women angry, frustrated, and hurt.
The question we women need to ask each other is not “Why are you doing it that way?” but rather “How can I help you do it better?”. Women assisting each other is the best face of feminism.