Mama Drama: The Milk of Human Whininess?

Mama Drama: The Milk of Human Whininess?

Whether you are male or female, a parent or childless, Lady Macbeth’s scathing commentary on womanhood, particularly maternal nursing and women’s perceived predilection to nurturing, is certain to leave an impression. In her attempt to spur her spouse to murder, she insults Macbeth’s masculinity by proclaiming him surfeit with femininity, the quintessence of which she identifies as “the milk of human kindness” (1.5.17). In order to emphasize her disapproval of the weak traits historically gendered feminine, she calls upon the spirits to “unsex” her and exchange her “milk for gall” so that she might play a masculine part and do Macbeth’s despicable deed for him.

Two recent articles by Judith Warner, a blogger for The New York Times, prove that the topics of gender roles and maternal nursing are not just perennial, but perennially contentious. Alas, Lady M’s hang-ups are doomed still to be ours.

In her March 19th piece, titled “Families to Care About,” Warner argues that the media has recently given too much attention to the hardships of wealthy, educated moms who opted out of the work force and have now, because of the grave state of the economy and their husbands’ pay cuts or job losses, had to prune their household budgets or, worse yet, go to work themselves. She ultimately insists that this is a middle- and working- class recession and that it is these groups that most deserve sympathy and government support in the way family friendly workplaces. This article has elicited nearly 200 comments, as varied as there are many.

In her most recent post, dated April 2nd and titled “Ban the Breast Pump,” Warner weighs in on (and finally sides with) Washington writer Hannah Rosin’s new feature on The Atlantic’s website, “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” Rosin has spoken out and written about her loathsome feelings towards both breastfeeding and pumping. An inspired and comforted Warner wraps up her review of Rosin by envisioning the future obsolescence of the breast pump. Warner’s diatribe on the “Pump” has already elicited over 400 comments, and I suspect the number of responses it provokes (!) in the end will far exceed her previous article on Opt-Out moms returning to the work force. In the 2005 (if I remember correctly) the US Department of Health launched Healthy People 2010, a multi-faceted long-term effort to improve the physical wellbeing of Americans. Exclusive maternal breastfeeding of infants for at least the first 6 months was a cornerstone of the women’s health component of this campaign. For more details click here. The government has amassed lots of evidence, statistics, to bolster its position, including the support of international medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, WHO, etc. While the campaign’s intentions were good, it never achieved the results for which it aimed. (If you listened to the radio PSA’s and watched the TV PSA’s, which were so lacking in integrity!!, you would understand why.) Even in the face of dense and recent scientific research purporting the benefits of breast milk over formula, there are just too many variables to impose breastfeeding on all new mothers in such a do or die fashion.

There is nothing kind about current discussions of breastfeeding. Women as a whole would be best nourished by whining less about other women; respecting the differing circumstances of one another’s lives; and concerning ourselves with our own circumstances in order to prevent pride and ignorance from breeding feelings of guilt and inadequacy and hindering the progress of women’s liberation.


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