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.
The topic of lactivism- the activism of lactation- contains a convoluted history and an element of dichotomy amongst extremes of the movement. While this creates a complex issue to present in visual terms, this infographic provides a streamlined approach.
The editing process complete with peer feedback was helpful in developing my infographic, especially given that an infographic posed a challenge as a personally new way to present information. I ended up recreating my infographic on a new program, and the critique and appreciation I received during in-class presentations allowed for this to be a structured process. Initially, I was told too little text was present, so I attempted to strike a balance by including slightly more textual information so that context could be provided for images. Additionally, classmates expressed an appreciation for the order and flow of my presentation, so I kept this original structure even as I recreated my infographic. However, I was told that the quantity of images created a cluttered appearance, so I sifted through for the most impactful and relevant graphics and pictures.
As I look ahead to my research-based argument, I am considering if activism can go too far and how extremists can be reconciled in the context of lactivism in order to create unity and effectiveness in reaching the purpose of the movement. Thus, education and empowerment of women to be able to make an individual choice concerning breastfeeding should be emphasized. This reduces mothers feeling limited or not informed in order to reduce unintentional harm to infants.
Humanity has experienced a variety of disparities and countless cultural changes, if not upheavals. Even in the current world, tense political climates and increasing globalization has culminated in a melting pot of pressing issues. From environmental concerns to systematic injustices, the need for change, for activism, is just as pressing as ever.
While a plethora of topics exist which are deserving of advocates and protests, I have narrowed my intellectual interests and social concerns into five potential topics for further exploration. Immigration issues, from lawmaking to reform, particularly between the United States and Mexico is incredibly relevant, especially given the looming inauguration of Donald Trump. Additionally, educational disparities, whether it is between public versus private school systems or how access to education can look very different on a global scale piques my interest. Especially being a first-generation college student at an elite institution, the varying degrees of quality of education astounded me coming in to my freshman year. Reproductive health rights also contain many connections to activism and current issues, from legal reform to advancing medical breakthroughs. Another interesting area to analyze would be the role of students in activism, and how student movements have shifted between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Lastly, I am interested in how activism manifests when the victims of injustice are nameless and plentiful, such as the street children of Latin America.
Reproductive health rights transcend international borders, and this fight for human rights looks very different throughout the world. Even in the United States, a nation that takes pride in its progressivity, reproductive health rights are casted into a very murky gray area. Given the current political climate, where President Trump has chosen Tom Price to head as Secretary of Health and Human Services, women feel threatened. Price can be described as “a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act and of Planned Parenthood funding”, leading many individuals to fear for the future of women’s care (Center for Reproductive Rights). This fear and fight for human rights has led to events such as the Women’s March on Washington to take place later this week to the formation of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. I am interested in further exploring how activism for reproductive health manifests in different parts of the world and how scientific advancements such as in vitro fertilization play into this issue.
Activism! itself can be viewed as a compilation of counterculture movements, existing as collective actions intent on disrupting the social norm. In chapter 5 of Tim Jordan’s Activism! : Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, the role of advertisements, as spewed by corporations, in shaping society and these very norms are explored. While traditional advertisements typically follow the stream of culture, feeding into the insecurities of a society or enforcing rigid societal norms, the counterpart of culture jamming seeks to “reverse and transgress the meaning of cultural codes whose primary aim is to persuade us to buy something or be someone” (Jordan 102). This culture jamming not only represents a movement intent on removing the pervasive power held by money-driven companies, but also another layer to the definition of activism! that may not be initially considered.
To use the same “language of corporate desire” in order to actually reverse the initial message is a strategy that enables cultural jammers to level the playing field with enormous corporations (Jordan 103). While the same strategies are employed, cultural jamming’s effect is jarring and unsettling, as opposed to the subconscious seductiveness of traditional adverts. Perhaps it is this emotional and mental stirring that can cause one to want to act towards change and to contribute to the overarching goal of activism!. Through this elicited reaction, individuals transcend into supporters of a unifying cause. It is this unity towards the vision of an improved world that allows semiotic terrorism, or individual acts of cultural jamming, to permeate the façade of culture put forth by advertisers.
While the average person is inundated with countless advertisements each day, it is downright dismaying as to how shallow content matter appears in a world filled with despair and disparities. Advertisements may be not only harmful for one’s self-perception, but also distract from current dilemmas, such as the millions of refugees wandering aimlessly, a group mostly consisting of unaccompanied children. Therefore, perhaps cultural jamming can be utilized to not only showcase the underlying evils of an advertisement and corporate greed, but also shed light on more pressing issues. It is through this that these acts of semiotic terrorism may permeate into larger movements and societal issues.