To what extent can lactivism be considered feminism? How does the dynamic of lactivist extremists interact with current feminist ideals in the United States and what insight does this provide of the greater lactivist movement?
Breastfeeding exists as the intimate exchange between mother and child, providing nutritional and immune system benefits thus laying the groundwork for the infant to “achieve optimal growth, development, and health” (WHO 1). Despite this universality, huge cultural and environmental variations exist. Thus, women face this individual decision against a complex cultural background complete with a colorful history tinged with malicious corporate greed and corresponding misuse of authority. However, this situation further complicates as extremists on conflicting sides of lactivism, the activism of lactation, have polarized the issue. One extreme promotes breastfeeding at all costs while the other end urges individuals to heavily consider the power of choice in this decision. While these groups possess wildly different perspectives, both exist to protect mothers and children and both claim a connection to feminism. Feminism itself can be described as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes”. The divergence of lactivism in the United States context presents a fascinating dilemma- is lactivism feminism? While both sides possess elements of the feminist movement, the presence of extremists makes it so neither side can make such a claim to feminism. Lactivists who exclusively promote breastfeeding and shame mothers who cannot or choose not to participate fall short of feminist ideals just as the reactionary movement that shames the initial movement and perhaps obliviously reinforces choice.
Before I begin my analysis of the extremists present in lactivism and ties to feminism, I will define all of these terms along with cultural and historical context. Given the breadth of this paper, my argument will be based in the United States, while including a few global examples as relevant to the 1970s lactivism efforts and conditions where both extremes in the situation fail. Next, elements of the dichotomy of the movement shall be evaluated based on how feminist ideals are upheld or violated in the American context. Feminism in the United States itself can manifest as a segmented movement, and I will thus focus on feminism as an overarching idea as opposed to the branching out that has occurred, given the scope of the paper. While I do not plan on denouncing a lactivist extreme nor solely promoting another, I believe that such a comparison and evaluation can provide support for my argument that shaming tactics should take a backseat to encouragement and support within the breastfeeding decision.