As a new parent, I am amazed at how parenting expectations and parenting culture have changed since I was a child. As far as I can tell, the changes are in the direction of enforcing a ridiculously controlling version of over-parenting that accuses those who don't follow it of utter negligence without bothering to understand their situation. (Now I know why so many of my students are emotional cripples who text their parents repeatedly during the school day.) Much of this I think has to do with the endemic economic uncertainty in the laissez-faire capitalist world of the last three decades. Bourgeois parents are so scared that their children will fall in status in a fiercely competitive world, so they try to give them every "advantage" and "edge" they can, from endless after-school activities to tutoring to test prep classes. The desire to do this has reached ridiculous proportions, with women paying to have Mozart played for their children in the womb, as if this will make them culturally refined or super intelligent while they are still in utero.
Of course, members of the bourgeois class are never content to leave their Puritanical moralizing to themselves. Case in point is the the issue of breast feeding. Yes, there are undeniable health benefits to mothers and children that accrue from breast feeding versus formula feeding, I will not argue against that one bit. However, there is an increasingly powerful movement to characterize women who bottle feed into negligent monsters destroying their children's health. Recently Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is a huge fan of moralistic crusades that don't inconvenience the racist practices of the NYPD or the economic exploitation committed by the financial industry in his city, endorsed a plan to severely limit the availability of formula to new mothers in New York hospitals. Formula will be kept under lockdown, and those mothers who want formula will have to make a request and endure a lecture about why they shouldn't do it. The effect of this will be to shame any woman who prefers not to breast feed, and probably make those women who are having problems breast feeding beyond their control feel even worse.
The thing that almost no one who pushes breast feeding every discusses is that it is often inadequate or doesn't work. Many women who want to breast feed have to use formula supplements because their milk supply is too low, for a variety of reasons. Other women have physical impediments to breast feeding. There's also the issue that breast feeding is a lot easier the more privileged you are. If you are a new mother who can't afford to take maternity leave in a nation that is the most parsimonious with family leave among its peers, breast feeding is pretty damn hard. If you have low quality or no health insurance, you can't exactly afford to be going to breast feeding consultants to help you, either. The breast feeding fanatics often act as if all new mothers are just as affluent as their peers in the bourgeois class.
While there are legitimate benefits to breast feeding -though perhaps not as tremendous as many fanatics believe- those who shame mothers who use formula are not making the world a better place. For the most part, they seem bent on either proving their own moral superiority, or are completely blind to the dynamics of social class in this country. Like jogging and "buying local," breast-feeding militancy is taking something good and turning it into a badge of bourgeois identity. That's hardly something to applaud.
Note: I will be continuing this series with other installments, since I am already getting sick of the ridiculous behavioral expectations being foisted on my family and myself.