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 Post subject: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:01 pm 
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I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation about the ideas in Valenti's book. I know that Panders, J-Dub, and I have all read it and have had some interesting conversations about it.

I loved her comments about motherhood and identity - how women are expected to subsume their identity into motherhood in a way that men are not. Here's something Valenti wrote for the Nation that touches on that idea. Here's another interview in which she discusses identity and motherhood.

The interesting thing to me is that the push to make motherhood a totalizing identity comes from the left now with the rise of labor-intensive (mostly for women) natural parenting.

Valenti writes:
Quote:
“Telling women — because it’s not a ‘compliment’ levied at dads — that motherhood is the most valuable job in the world is not just a patronizing pat on the head…it’s a way to placate overworked moms without giving them the social and political support they actually need to make their lives better. The cultural insistence that motherhood is the most ‘important’ job in the world is a smart way to satiate unappreciated women without doing a damn thing for them. It’s an empty cliche that strategically keeps women in the home through the sly insistence that motherhood is much more valuable than any job that women could have in the public sphere.”


Not that I can dictate how the thread goes but I would rather this be a thread about the ideas in this book instead of personal anecdotes. I think there are issues of systemic sexism, inequality, and internalized beliefs about biology and women that are worth having. Personally, I also don't think that it matters if you are a parent or not. These discussions should be about the serious changes that need to happen throughout society and making parenting issues the special province of people-with-children does nothing to further those changes.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:11 pm 
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I totally loved this book. And have many thoughts!

One is only tangentially related (forgive me, Vantine!) and I am muddling through it, so bear with me.

It seems to me one of the contributors to what I have seen called "New Domesticity" may be the proliferation of mommy blogs. I think Valenti touches on this a bit, but I am thinking it through...one of the issues with blogs is that they have a folksy, populist appeal, but are usually only showing one side of the issue. They show cookies made and frolicking in the snow with kids, but they don't show 1 (and 3 and 5 and 7)am feedings, they don't show arguing with your husband for the 18th time about who is going to hose off the baby who shiitake himself. And, most relevant to the point I am trying to make, a hell of a lot of mommy blogs are run by Mormons, who are going to be pushing traditional gender roles, but may not be transparent about why that is.

So you have these blogs that show shiny happy life at home with babes, without seeing all of the hard work behind it or getting glimpses at the ideology behind the wife staying home and sacrificing all for the sake of her family. And so this gets normalized in the sort of online-mothering culture.

Just a (scattered) thought that may or may not survive scrutiny.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:13 pm 
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Oh, another thing that I found really interesting was the criticisms I read of the book.

None of them engaged with the actual material and instead engaged in the kind of shaming Valenti talks about by calling her a horrible mother who clearly doesn't love her child. Valenti, throughout the book, talks about how much she loves her daughter and being a mother but how the institution of motherhood is problematic and desperately needs to be critiqued.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 7:38 am 
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I saw this book when it first came into the store and thought it looked interesting but was afraid it would be an argument for why we should all have kids. Now I might put it on my to-read list (and wait for the paperback to come out).

Obviously, I haven't read the book, so my comments are based on the links you posted, Vantine. The whole "women are identified by their familial relations" thing has always bothered me. I hate it when there's an article about an older woman doing/accomplishing something, and the headline reads "Seventy-five year old grandmother writes bestselling novel". I've never seen an older man referred to that way, unless it was something specific to his relationship with his grandchildren.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 9:09 am 
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The book is on my wish list but I do plan to read it. It is interesting that you mention mommy blogs, but I encountered some of that with pinterest. I mean I haven't used pinterest myself but some of the ones I saw were very 'motherhood' focused.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:30 am 
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I liked her work on Feministing and I've read a few excerpts from this book. Looks very interesting! I'll add it to my reading list.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 5:37 pm 
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This sounds like an interesting read, I'll ask my library to get it!


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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:44 am 
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I think this blog post is a really great example of the point I was trying to make above.

There are a lot of the same markers you see with progressive SAHM--cloth diapering, whole foods from scratch, etc.--but with a pretty obvious slant toward patriarchal norms and godliness.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 1:15 pm 
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j-dub wrote:
So you have these blogs that show shiny happy life at home with babes, without seeing all of the hard work behind it or getting glimpses at the ideology behind the wife staying home and sacrificing all for the sake of her family. And so this gets normalized in the sort of online-mothering culture.


Being a parent is really a thankless job and I think a lot of people grab onto that new domesticity becomes it makes it seem more important than it is. And I do not mean that parenting is not important, because it obviously is. But we don't really celebrate the truth of raising kids (success and failure) and instead focus on a lot of weird myths that elevates it to The Most Important Thing in the World. Hells bells, nothing can live up to that. And if you are constantly striving to do The Most Important Thing then there is a lot of fear of messing up and doing things wrong and then people like Sears move in and really capitalize on that. So many of those blogs and books and products seem to be there to make women (and men) feel like they aren't good enough which ties in to how things are marketed to women in general. We are always lacking and if we focus real real hard on trying to be perfect we'll be too busy to notice what a load of bullshiitake we're being handed.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 1:53 pm 
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pandacookie wrote:
But we don't really celebrate the truth of raising kids (success and failure) and instead focus on a lot of weird myths that elevates it to The Most Important Thing in the World.


This exactly!!! There are lots of articles bashing attachment parenting, that tend to distract from the more important discussion of this system of myths of childrearing being "The Greatest Joy You Will Ever Experience" that quashes any criticism of the paradigm of parenting by saying "Oh, well, if you aren't having a great time, then it must be that you don't love your child." There should be a distinction between your love for your child and the construct of Motherhood, so you can love one, without needing to buy into the other. The whole idea that this is "The Greatest Experience Of Your Life" makes it so hard for all of us to get help and support and makes everyone feel like they are falling short. And it is so horrible to call it "The Most Important Job In The World" while at the same time routinely refuse to give parents support that would actually allow them to do a good job at parenting (j-dub did a great job listing some of the systemic changes we would need to be able to do that in the other thread - like having universal childcare, universal healthcare, parental leave, a societal shift so that parenting is balanced between mothers and fathers).

We are all affected by the myths and how they shape our society, and those need to change, and it detracts from that discussion to only focus on how attachment parenting can be oppressive. As far as attachment parenting, the one thing that I've really liked is that Sears says that it is really about what works for you and your family. As j-dub said in the other thread, the idea is to have your child be treated like an equal participant in the family, rather than as a trophy to confer status. AP is about honoring and balancing the needs and wants of your child with those of everyone in the family, to foster the relationships. There is no requirement that you co-sleep, breastfeed, stay-at-home or babywear - those are all practices that work well for some families but not others. For me AP is about empowering parents to do what is best for themselves and their children, in the face of a culture that is often telling you that you are going to spoil your child if you don't impose your interests over theirs.

And yikes! That blogpost! I know that Vantine asked that we not use personal examples, but nothing in that post is why I stay home or cloth diaper or make food from scratch. I stay at home, but most of that is because my field does not let me balance work and family in a way that works for me. If I work as a corporate restructuring lawyer, I work 80 hour weeks, I'm working most weekends and holidays, but I make a great salary, have a ton of respect and great benefits. I wish there were a way to work a 40 hour week in my field and at least be able to reliably see Leela after work and on weekends, but there isn't. So I am looking to transition to something else. In the meantime, there is no way for me to buy good insurance, which is the bane of my existence. I clothdiaper because I'm environmentallyminded, and its just not that hard for me at the moment. And I give my kid a vegan diet because I want to minimize animal suffering. I just don't think you can generalize about all SAHMs.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 3:10 pm 
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I haven't read the book but was interested in the discussion here.

pandacookie wrote:
But we don't really celebrate the truth of raising kids (success and failure) and instead focus on a lot of weird myths that elevates it to The Most Important Thing in the World.


I wonder if this is why there's so much emphasis on being a perfect parent rather than a human doing their best in high-pressured circumstances, and if this is one of the reasons children can develop feelings of resentment towards their parents for not being 'perfect'.


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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:03 pm 
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To be clear, I only wanted to avoid people thinking that we were talking about *them* specifically instead of speaking theoretically, Tofulish. I don't mind personal examples per se.

I think 8Ball is right; that's too much pressure to put on a child. They can't be the repository of all your hopes and dreams. You need to let them have their own dreams and suffer from their own failures.
Too many people have a sense that it's their failure if their child is not the bestest, brightest, most perfectest child ever.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:52 pm 
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8ball wrote:
pandacookie wrote:
But we don't really celebrate the truth of raising kids (success and failure) and instead focus on a lot of weird myths that elevates it to The Most Important Thing in the World.


I wonder if this is why there's so much emphasis on being a perfect parent rather than a human doing their best in high-pressured circumstances, and if this is one of the reasons children can develop feelings of resentment towards their parents for not being 'perfect'.

And also why so many parents today seem afraid to let their kid fail. And I think Valenti talks about that a bit, this weird veneer that gets put over parenting and Mothering that nothing can ever be less than the best. Which is just weird when you think about it, because nothing again can ever live up to that. And any parenting guru, no matter what they say, is still pushing an ideal on people. This is what should be done, this is what works best. I see that a lot in discussions of breastfeeding. "Breast is best!" is one of the taglines I see often but really, there's nothing wrong with not exclusively breastfeeding or not breastfeeding at all. You don't have to be the best parent or the best child all the damn time. Because no one is.
And I really liked Valenti talking about "expertise" and how there are so many self professed experts on the blogs and books who don't really have any credentials. I do not read any parenting blogs but I think that's something you see across the board these days, in many areas. Someone had a kid or took a class or drank some wine and became all knowing about the subject.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 6:24 pm 
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pandacookie wrote:
8ball wrote:
pandacookie wrote:
But we don't really celebrate the truth of raising kids (success and failure) and instead focus on a lot of weird myths that elevates it to The Most Important Thing in the World.


I wonder if this is why there's so much emphasis on being a perfect parent rather than a human doing their best in high-pressured circumstances, and if this is one of the reasons children can develop feelings of resentment towards their parents for not being 'perfect'.

And also why so many parents today seem afraid to let their kid fail. And I think Valenti talks about that a bit, this weird veneer that gets put over parenting and Mothering that nothing can ever be less than the best. Which is just weird when you think about it, because nothing again can ever live up to that. And any parenting guru, no matter what they say, is still pushing an ideal on people. This is what should be done, this is what works best. I see that a lot in discussions of breastfeeding. "Breast is best!" is one of the taglines I see often but really, there's nothing wrong with not exclusively breastfeeding or not breastfeeding at all. You don't have to be the best parent or the best child all the damn time. Because no one is.
And I really liked Valenti talking about "expertise" and how there are so many self professed experts on the blogs and books who don't really have any credentials. I do not read any parenting blogs but I think that's something you see across the board these days, in many areas. Someone had a kid or took a class or drank some wine and became all knowing about the subject.


I think it's telling that a lot of the "best" things are labour intensive and involve the mother spending crazy amounts of time doing nothing but mothering. There is little room for other identities.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 7:21 pm 
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Also, the part of the interview linked in the first post, from the hairpin, where she's talking about choice feminism is spot forking on.
That whole article is really really good.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 8:07 pm 
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Here's a quote that echoes what Panda said:

Quote:
It may be that American mothers are so desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves ‘expert’ moms rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role for us.
Believing that our maternal instinct somehow means we know more than anyone else not only puts undue pressure on ourselves and our ability to feel like good parents, but it also furthers the idea that there is such a thing such as a natural, overwhelming mother love- a belief that actually falls apart when we take a look when we take a closer look at the way children are really being treated.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:05 pm 
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Did anyone read yesterday's NY Times article, "Why gender equality has stalled?" It got into the danger of labeling everything as choice, reducing feminism to personal choice issues and ignoring the systemic issues. The part that reminded me of this conversation was addressing the human tendency to create myths to reconcile with circumstances that can't be immediately fixed. That often when people were asked about the decision making process that went into the choice to leave the labor market, it became clear that the choices were a lot more limited than just I'm doing the best thing for my family. Say your workplace is shitty about flex-time and your partner works long hours and child care is about as expensive as losing your salary, so you stay home, and maybe it's good, maybe not, but to deal with the frustrations you create a story about your choices, and throw yourself into a competitive parenting and uber-domesticity. Very "The Feminine Mystique," but not that much has really changed structurally since then.


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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:06 pm 
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Vantine wrote:
Here's a quote that echoes what Panda said:

Quote:
It may be that American mothers are so desperate for power, recognition, and validation that we’d rather take on the burden of considering ourselves ‘expert’ moms rather than change the circumstances that demand such an unreasonable role for us.


My problem with Valenti's interview in the OP is that she isn't doing much to call for a change in circumstances or a change in the mythology of Motherhood. Its just a lot easier to criticism AP mothers as being oppressed culture carriers. As the article says, AP is far from mainstream. AP is an imperfect reaction to a flawed system, not the system itself.

There was a snippet where they are discussing how breastfeeding CAN be a shackle, and say "Can a truck stop waitress breastfeed? Can she exclusively pump? What about when it's her third child?" And then Valenti shares her challenges breastfeeding and the take away is that we should stop pushing women so hard to breastfeed, with lots of discussion about how mean AP mothering boards often are to women who use formula

But what she doesn't talk about how the patriarchy screws women who want to breast feed. First, that truck stop waitress likely doesn't have sick days (85% of food service workers don't) and lactation support often isn't covered by insurance and even though women who want to pump are legally protected, employers still often make it really hard for them to do so. So there isn't enough support from the law and enforcement to make breastfeeding less of a shackle for many women. And hopefully the conversation about the fact that it can be a shackle can then go the next step and ask that truckstop waitress and so many others what they would need to BF if they want to, and focus on trying to achieve that. And second, is that there is no research being done into lactation failure and that breastfeeding doesn't have much medical support. If you have a problem, then you go to LCs and others who run through a list of remedies (galactagogues! domperidone! Drinking lots of water!) and if that fails, then there isn't much interest in how to help women.

This piece was a short run down. I really wish I could find Ariann's take on this, because it was brilliant.
http://bfmed.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/w ... esnt-work/

Its always a lot easier to slam other mothers for not being nice, than it is to really call out the systemic structures that make it so hard for mothers.

I don't think it is particularly feminist for women to be attacking other women, rather than figuring out how to change the system so it supports us all. J-dub says it best.

j-dub wrote:
We should all be working together to broaden women's choices, to make parenthood a do-able choice for those who want it and to make non-parenthood an unquestioned position.


I thought this was an interesting review that didn't call into question Valenti's love for her child, but focused on the flaws in her arguments.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:20 pm 
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Tofulish, I haven't read the book yet but overall this is my problem with Valenti, she doesn't consider all sides. Like when she criticized Michelle Obama for saying her children were her greatest accomplishment, but didn't consider how racism affects black mothers who are demonized by society as welfare queers and terrible parents. She does have good points, but often its half-truth and there's a lot of factors missing.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:29 pm 
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Derp,I didn't include the link : http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2 ... story.html

That is really interesting Shy Mox! I was not familiar with her criticising Michelle Obama (good article linked), but in terms of half-truths, in that article she blames anti-vaxxers for the resurgence of whooping cough, which is actually linked to the fact that the pertussis vaccine doesn't protect people as long as previously believed. There are pertussis clusters out there, but they are generally not linked to anti-vaxers, just people whose immunity expired. There is more in the vax thread in the playground on this.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 10:02 pm 
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Friday, that is a brilliant article. Thank you for sharing: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opini ... wanted=all

Loved this:

Quote:
Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice. So let’s stop arguing about the hard choices women make and help more women and men avoid such hard choices. To do that, we must stop seeing work-family policy as a women’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders. Feminists should certainly support this campaign. But they don’t need to own it.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2013 11:20 pm 
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I think we have to acknowledge that some women don't want to breastfeed. They should be supported and not demonized.They should also not have to justify their decision to anyone.
Quote:
Listen, I support breastfeeding women - long before I had my daughter I was blogging about the heinous lack of resources for breastfeeding mothers and the various ways they are discriminated against. I think we need mandated paid maternity leave, insurance that pays for lactation consultants and breast pumps, employers who are required to have a space and breaks for pumping moms, hospital- and state-funded breastfeeding support groups and more. But I also believe that formula feeding your child is just as valid and healthy a choice as breastfeeding - it’s not something women should have to justify or be denied resources for or access to. If that makes me less of a feminist or a mother to some people, well - they can just suck my left one.

http://jessicavalenti.tumblr.com/post/1 ... y-left-one

For the record, Valenti was critiquing the idea that motherhood is the most important thing that a woman can do. Here's the opinion piece from the Nation.

Quote:
But still, identifying as a mom first in a culture that pays lip service to parenthood without actually supporting it has consequences. It means that women are expected to be everything—and give up anything—for their children. Whatever women do that seems to separate them from “true” motherhood is seen as misguided, or at worst, selfish. If we formula-feed we’re not giving our babies the best start in life. If we work outside the home, we must do it with tremendous guilt and anxiety. Time away from our children in the form of an occasional movie or hobby is seen as a treat rather than an expected part of living a full life.

Accepting this role without argument or critique also reinforces political inequity, assuring the powers that be that women can be satiated with political table scraps. If raising children is “reward enough,” there’s no need for paid parental leave or subsidized child care. “Fulfillment” becomes a stand in for structural support, parental joy for actual change.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:41 am 
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Most babies in the US are formula-fed. Every single drug store has an aisle of different formula options and every parenting magazine has ads for them. When you go home from the hospital you get samples and coupons and gifts to help you start using formula, and when you go to the pediatrician, they are quick to recommend supplementing to formula for any weightgain issues.

I really don't think anyone can say our society demonizes formula-feeding.

Breastfeeding mothers are routinely harassed for nursing in public, and especially if you are going back to work (85% of mothers work outside the home) then it is not easy to keep breastfeeding, especially if your employer isn't willing to help you find a place to pump. Breastfeeding rates are quite low in the US, and often mothers who express an interest in BFing find themselves unsupported. People who want to BF should be supported in doing so, just as mothers who wish to formula feed should be, and for the most part are.

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Last edited by Tofulish on Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:48 am 
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Tofulish wrote:
Most babies in the US are formula-fed. Every single drug store has an aisle of different formula options and every parenting magazine has ads for them. When you go home from the hospital you get samples and coupons and gifts to help you start using formula, and when you go to the pediatrician, they are quick to recommend supplementing to formula for any weightgain issues.

I really don't think anyone in our society demonizes formula-feeding.


Actually a lot of hospitals have stopped giving formula samples. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/healt ... wanted=all


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 Post subject: Re: Why Have kids? by Jessica Valenti
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 12:55 am 
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Tofulish wrote:
Most babies in the US are formula-fed. Every single drug store has an aisle of different formula options and every parenting magazine has ads for them. When you go home from the hospital you get samples and coupons and gifts to help you start using formula, and when you go to the pediatrician, they are quick to recommend supplementing to formula for any weightgain issues.

I really don't think anyone in our society demonizes formula-feeding.


Plenty of people in our society demonize formula-feeding all the time. every day. There is exceptional pressure to breastfeed, particularly in communities of highly educated, (generally) leftist, relatively well off women. That kind of social pressure is exactly what is being discussed earlier in this thread.

One aspect of this is discussed here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archi ... d/260530/#
But it's also a huge part of the subsuming of identity that Valenti talks about.

Shy Mox, you note that Valenti is at fault for not exploring all sides of the issue. Why do you think she should explore all sides? Is that her job in putting forward her argument? Is that true of all arguments, or is there something particular with this issue?

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