A month ago a breastfeeding doll from Europe made a controversial splash in the U.S., erroneously accused of "sexualizing" children. A week ago the CDC issued a report that hospitals don't support nursing mothers. And yesterday, a teacher in Colorado claimed she was fired for pumping on the job.
Our medical institutions are in agreement that breastfeeding provides significant health benefits to babies and mothers. So, why are hospitals and employers reluctant to give the support required? And why does the Breast Milk Baby render everyone apoplectic with embarrassment?
Come on, America. Are we that hopelessly bound to the contorted psychology of our Puritan ancestors? The only reason this doll is accused of sexualizing children is because we can't unsexualize the breast.
I remember traveling in Europe and seeing every potion and lotion advertised with a naked body. An artful tangle of limbs and breasts, just for regular old soap. It was startling. I asked my friend Volker how he kept sex exciting without the puritan confines of naughtiness. If everyone's already naked, what does a teenager have to fantasize about?
Volker assured me that lust flourishes even in groovy, breastfeeding Sweden. But here, it's more complicated.
In my last trimester of pregnancy, my husband and I took a breastfeeding class, which was horrible. I love classes; I'll go to class for anything. But this teacher was a humorless, militaristic breast-is-best-er, who made us feel inadequate before we even had babies to nurse.
But there was one interesting tidbit that always stuck with me: While talking about how breastfeeding is undermined in America, she mentioned that we have lots of baby dolls that are sold with bottles but not a single breast-feeding doll.
Now we have one. And the response has been, as on The Bill O"Reilly Show, "I'm all for breastfeeding but this grosses me out."
But, come on, you're not for breast-feeding. Otherwise, you'd actually support it. And it's not just Fox news that's in a dither.
Look, I think there are plenty of things wrong with this doll. First, the name. There's nothing cuddly about Breast Milk Baby. It's clinical. And, more problematically, it implies sticky wetness, which is both unpleasant and inaccurate, as there's no actual liquid involved.
Plus, it just lacks poetry. "Nancy Nurses" -- or, I don't know, "Bob," might be a better name. And yes, it's just more plastic destined for a landfill, but if we're going to manufacture dolls, we might as well get behind one that could normalize the medically preferred method for feeding infants.
Formula is awesome. It provides a nutritious option for parents who can't or choose not to breastfeed. We should all be incredibly grateful for it. And we should celebrate the first doll to explicitly encourage nursing.
But instead there's a flimsy notion that somehow this doll has the potential to hurt children.
"I just want the kids to be kids," continued Bill O'Reilly, "We don't need this."
Of course, pretending to be adults is exactly what kids do. Should we also ban toy strollers, mini-kitchens, and little grocery carts?
I hate to break it to you, but children who see mothers nursing will mimic it. My daughter has been lifting up her shirt and "nursing" her babies for years. Are you suggesting this is shameful? What if she feeds her doll with a bottle? Is she not being a kid then, or is it just the breast that's the problem?
Or, most absurdly, "...it forces girls to grow up too quickly. It glamorizes the idea of having a baby and I think it would promote teen pregnancy down the line."
So, a breastfeeding doll is more likely to spur teen pregnancy than a bottle-fed doll? You know that's completely ridiculous, right?
Let's step back for a minute... we're comfortable with a popular chain of restaurants called Hooters, but we have to pass laws that allow mothers to nurse in public. We're cool with Barbie -- who, by the way, was modeled on a German cartoon prostitute -- but a doll that simulates nursing makes the media queasy (except, bless him, George Stephanopoulos).
As a culture, it seems that we're okay with breasts as long as they're for pleasure. But as nourishment for children, well, that just creeps us out.
I'm all for breasts as a secondary sexual object as long as we don't forget their primary purpose. Or, here's a novel idea: Why can't they be both?
Follow Tessa Blake on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tessablake