Remember the breastfeeding fathers

From last month at the Huffington Post blog – The Troubling Erasure of Trans Parents Who Breastfeed.

When we think about breastfeeding, the image that comes to mind — the one pushed on us by society, medical professionals and the media alike — is that of a mother nursing her newborn baby. Brochures, websites and PSAs promote the picture of a woman lovingly looking at her child as the baby suckles at her breast. The language accompanying this imagery is inevitably gendered, specific to cisgender women who are nursing a baby that they themselves gave birth to.

Isn’t that awful? Women are always shoving themselves forward that way, hogging the mic, taking up all the slots, erasing everyone else. Imagine women pretending breastfeeding is something women do. Slags.

For a long time, no one has questioned that language. But in recent years, as acceptance of genders outside the binary grows, our understanding of many things that have long gone unchallenged have needed to shift. There has been a push for gender-neutral language when talking about reproductive justice, from abortion to pregnancy.

Yeah! Because what better way is there to overturn women’s relegation to second-class status than to stop talking about the reproductive realities that are the source of that second-class status? Godalmighty can we please finally stop talking about women? By the way did you know that for every word a man says, a woman says seven hundred million words? Fact.

Despite acknowledgment by many in birthing communities that pregnancy is not limited to women, the language used by most people still hasn’t changed. Jasper Moon, a genderqueer parent who prefers to be called “ren” by their child (short for “parent”), notes that when they hear the term “nursing mother,” they know “that obviously doesn’t apply to me.”

The term “mother” is itself problematic. As J. Kathleen (Jake) Marcus, an attorney in Philadelphia who specializes in parenting and gender legal issues, notes, “Kids are nursed by people who are not their mothers all the time.” While this is less common in Western culture, people have been nursing their friends’ and family members’ kids throughout history.

Yes: wet nurses. They were women though. It wasn’t men who did it. It wasn’t “people”; it was women. Trans people shouldn’t be erased, but neither should women.

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