Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gisele Bundchen and Forced Breast Feeding

Celebrities do occasionally say some messed up things, but this one takes the cake.  In Harper's Bizarre U.K.,the supermodel had this to say:
According to the fetching supermodel and new mom, breastfeeding is so essential it should be law for all mothers to do it for at least 6 months. "Some people here [in the U.S.] think they don't have to breastfeed, and I think 'Are you going to give chemical food to your child when they are so little?," she said. "I think there should be a worldwide law, in my opinion, that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months."
Is anyone else glad that this woman is not in charge of creating law? Do I even need to say what is wrong with this statement?  Creating a law which enforces what women do with their bodies is absolutely unacceptable.  When Bundchen got a backlash from a statements she clarified with the following:

"My intention in making a comment about the importance of breastfeeding has nothing to do with the law. It comes from my passion and beliefs about children," wrote the mom of 8-month-old Benjamin Rein.

"It's unfortunate that in an interview sometimes things can seem so black and white. I am sure if I would just be sitting talking about my experiences with other mothers, we would just be sharing opinions. I understand that everyone has their own experience and opinions and I am not here to judge," Bundchen clarified.

She went on, "I believe that bringing a life into this world is the single most important thing a person can undertake and it can also be the most challenging. I think as mothers we are all just trying our best."
Out of the pot and into the fire as the saying goes.  She is not here to judge, but being a mother is more important than anything else you do in your life.  Where does this leave childless women or women that are infertile and do not have an actual choice about whether or not to reproduce?  Motherhood may be the most important identity for her and for countless other women, but motherhood does not hold the same place for many women and that needs to be respected.  You cannot place one identity above another without oppressing someone.

I do want to talk about the one issue that is not being addressed in many of the complaints about her statements - class.  In Canada, a woman has one year paid maternity leave, but this is not a global universal.  In the states, maternity leave is often six weeks and it is unpaid.  Breast may be best, but because of the way this world is organized, it is not a choice that many poor women are allowed to make.  Often women lose their jobs when they take  time to express milk.  Many places of employment don't even have a space where this can happen in privacy and relative comfort.  If you are a middle manager with an office door that you can close this provides an environment that a factory worker by nature of her job simply will not have.  So this idea that you are a bad mother if you do not breast feed, fails to take into account how women/mothers are often in extremely different circumstances due to class.

Bundchen also fails to recognize the attacks that mothers face for breast feeding in public.  Women have been forced into bathrooms, even when it is against the policy of specific retailers to do so.    There is a constant discourse that public breast feeding makes people uncomfortable. Even those that would say that breast feeding is what is appropriate for their families, often seek to closet these women in their homes because female breasts have been sexualized.  A woman's breasts are for whatever purposes she sees fit and that is the bottom line that many cannot accept, because when we approach the female body, it is still from a position of ownership.  Shaming women for failing to perform motherhood is not supporting them.  Bundchen may think that this makes her some kind of women's activist, when in fact it makes her nothing more than a dupe of patriarchy.  Heaven save us from over zealous mother's who only see life from their perspective.