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Choosing not to breastfeed is patriarchy

Patriarchy is a social system in which: males hold primary power; males predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.

Even better is this explanation from

Patriarchy informs all other social systems and relationships between men and women, men and other men, and women and other women. Patriarchy is the root of gender oppression. Patriarchy is insidious and runs very deep. It is The MATRIX. It is not always immediately visible to the naked eye. Feminist analysis exposes the ugliness, existence, and persistence of patriarchy, even in seemingly innocuous situations.

In a thread on The Feminist Breeder’s Facebook page where she expressed curiosity to why someone would choose not to breastfeed, barring any other medical or social reasons, there were those who told her that she’s not a feminist. If that’s what you think, I’m about to blow your mind. Choosing not to breast feed is patriarchy. When someone decides not to breast feed just because she “doesn’t fancy it” that’s everything to do with patriarchy’s invisible hold on your mind.

A comment from the thread on FB: “maybe you should step back and realize how this type of mindset parallels with extremist cultures who treat women like a resource, a thing instead of a person with a choice and bodily autonomy.”

Well there’s that, but no. Breast feeding doesn’t make you a thing any more than holding your baby when she cries, changing her when she’s wet, or any number of other  tasks a caregiver takes part in. In fact it’s also patriarchy that causes you to devalue caring, as that was traditionally the woman’s domain. Lots of elementary feminists make this mistake, thinking that they are trying to lift up women to more powerful status, when really they are devaluing many women, as well as the only job that matters.

Lets explore what patriarchy does to us and our decisions. Rhonda Trust Phd has a lot to say about the media’s influence on how we perceive breast feeding, “If you see a television show and there’s some kind of breast-feeding scene, it’s usually a joke or embarrassing; very rarely, you’ll see a scene that’s educational, describing the benefits of breast-feeding.” A big part of why women feel “grossed out” by breast feeding is because of the over sexualisation of breasts. Our patriarchal culture, which informed our media, has us focused in on the use of breasts for the sexual use of men, and our own pleasure of course. But the original, and more important, use for a woman’s breasts is infant feeding. So when we decide not to breast feed because it makes us feel gross, this is because patriarchy has oppressed us, preventing us from using our natural power and strength.

Then you have the fact that formula is made and marketed by profit seeking corporations, run by men and notably patriarchal. The fact that any of us think that formula is “just as good” is the triumph of patriarchy. Yes, infants grow and thrive on formula; they thrive better on breast milk. They get sick less often, they are less likely to get cancer, crohns disease, autoimmune disease, and more. This is actual fact.


Image credit, The Alpha Parent, who says it was found in a hospital in Georgia, USA.

Talking about the risks of formula is not about trying to make women who use it feel guilty. We cannot censor facts to save your feelings when these facts impact the health of our entire population. If you didn’t know this stuff when you formula fed, you need to forgive yourself. If you did know this stuff and you had your own reasons, then just own your decision. Its not up to me to decide whether your decision was right or not and I won’t. What I’m saying is that on the macro scale we need to get more women breast feeding. We cannot afford to sit quietly ignoring health epidemics that can be prevented.

To those who say it’s nobody’s business, The Alpha Parent has an excellent post on why this is not true, even when not simply an academic discussion. I’ll give you a quick run down on the points most compelling to me: formula companies are immoral and we should not support them, formula and it’s packaging is bad for the environment, some of us are compassionate enough to care about other people’s kids, but there’s more than that and it’s worth a read.

Now, I am not a Feminist Breeder apologist. I’ve been the object of her ire before and as I said I don’t always agree with her. But she’s right on this, choosing not to breast feed is both a public health issue and a feminist issue. Sociology, anthropology, public health, these subjects are not about judgement but inquiry and understanding. You can’t understand without asking the question. To say that even asking the question (or indeed admitting you wonder sometimes) is akin to being against women’s autonomy is profoundly anti-intellectual.

If you liked this, follow me over to my Facebook page and give me a like, if not, come on over and discuss.

Featured image courtesy of Owen Blacker on flickr




  1. Ness Ness

    Feminism is about having choices, and by judging people who choose to bottlefeed, you are just as bad as the patriarchy. Feminism means I can choose to vote, choose to wear a niqab, choose to be a SAHM and choose to bottlefeed( or both breastfeed and bottlefeed to suit myself as I did) I totally disagreeing with the judgy tone of this article.

  2. Renegade Feminist Renegade Feminist

    I completely agree with you that feminism is about having choices. In fact I started this blog precisely because I didn’t think that there was enough representation of pro-stay-at-home-parents in modern feminist discourse. Not where I was reading. I am sorry if you felt judged by the tone of this article. I did work quite hard to keep it matter-of-fact rather than judgey. In fact I specifically said that if you are formula feeding it’s not up to me to decide if your decision was right so I was laying it right out there that I do not judge because I do understand that everyone has their reasons. This post was written in a response to a discussion on The Feminist Breeders Facebook page, and I apologise for not making the context clear enough, but I was specifically referring to people who decided it was anti-feminist to even start a discussion on the subject of women who just don’t want to breast feed. To be clear, if you do (or did) both, this post was not about you at all, and even if you only formula fed, I wouldn’t say it’s your fault the patriarchy has oppressed you at all.

  3. Nic Nic

    Great points! I’d like to add one more – that for women, choosing formula due to being ‘unable’ to breastfeed is also patriarchy. The actual incidence of mother-baby pairs who are physiologically unable to breastfeed is far lower than we are led to believe; the truth is that the circumstances and supports required to establish successful breastfeeding are, thanks to patriarchy, simply not made available to the majority of women. This includes everything from overmedicalised birth, to lack of maternity leave, to health professionals who are uneducated about breastfeeding (which is either not covered or barely addressed in medical schooling, including obstetrics and paediatrics) or who are dismissive of mother-baby pairs with breastfeeding difficulties. So very often, breastfeeding promotion is met with ‘but I had to use formula because I was unable to breastfeed’… In reality, motherbabies who are not able to breastfeed are victims of patriarchy.

  4. Simone Simone

    Probably should link the original Feminist Breeder article if this is a response to it, I’ve somehow ended up here & have no context for your blog post 🙂 I do however like what you have written.

  5. Renegade Feminist Renegade Feminist

    Yes you’re right, I will do that! Very sorry about that.

  6. Renegade Feminist Renegade Feminist

    Yes really good points. Can’t say I disagree with that either!

  7. Siobhan Siobhan

    You’re a lunatic. Seriously, you’re nuts, love. Are you American by any chance?

  8. Jen Jen

    Thanks for putting the argument so succinctly. My current PhD study is about how breastfeeding support is given. I am asking the question!
    We are so hung up with the idea of “choice” in western society. But choices have responsibility embedded in them. In the case of breastfeeding it really isn’t just “breast or bottle” . There are tremendous positive health implications for our society when more women breastfeed, for longer. The breadth of these effects is only being gradually rediscovered after a couple of lost generations .

  9. Renegade Feminist Renegade Feminist

    Haha, thanks love 🙂

  10. Renegade Feminist Renegade Feminist

    Thanks so much for this Jen. I just don’t understand the denial of breastfeeding’s benefits. It reminds me of climate change denial to be honest. Its all anti-science, anti-intellectual, and Luddite to me really.

  11. Anne G Anne G

    Jen – I am reading Breast Intentions by Alison Dixley right now. I think it would be a great book to use for a PhD study about breastfeeding. It does not focus on the health implications or the best counseling styles to help moms, but it does offer a lot in terms of why “breast or bottle” is so emotionally charged for a lot of women. It also offers pointers for mothers about how to become more empowered in terms of “breast or bottle”. Denial of the benefits is covered in depth.

  12. Jen Jen

    Thanks so much for the suggestion Anne G. Will certainly look it up.

  13. Jen Jen

    Yup. And we know that there are some mighty big, powerful and wealthy forces at play pushing the climate denying for all they are (literally) worth.

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