Monday, July 25, 2011

A woman's real superpower

The controversy of late regarding The Breast Milk Baby makes me suspicious of the critics' underlying feelings about breastfeeding and womanhood.

Critics say the doll is over-sexualizing young girls or forcing girls to grow up too quickly. The company that makes the doll and its supporters say the doll is teaching young girls about a natural part of motherhood. Some critics have said the doll is too graphic. And yet another headline asked "Toy for Pervs or Sex-Ed Tool?" Of course, the doll is neither. And it's a lot less graphic than a gaggle of teen girls in skimpy bikinis.

This $90 doll includes a halter top with strategically placed flowers that allow the girl to breastfeed the doll. The doll even makes noises and mouth motions consistent with suckling.

Of course, breastfeeding their dolls is nothing new to young girls. My daughter does this routinely and, much like breastfeeding itself, there is no need for expensive gadgets to accomplish this. Her 2-year-old imagination and a $10 doll work just fine. Role playing is what my daughter and my son are doing when they imitate breastfeeding or anything else they see around here. It's exactly what they should be doing. It's called the work of childhood.

I suspect, though, that discomfort with the use of breasts for anything but voyeurism is behind this ridiculous criticism. I can tell you, as a mom who has breastfed three children and still is breastfeeding a toddler, that sexual is the very last thing I feel when a child is attached to my chest. What I feel is outgoing love, a sense of calm and confidence and pride in my body's ability to care for my children in this way.

People are so uncomfortable with the motherhood slice of womanhood but are perfectly happy to promote the sexualized version of women. They teach their little girls about the most superficial aspect of womanhood and ignore the most important parts. This is why we have Toddlers in Tiaras and girls dressing like Bratz dolls, princesses and pseudo rock stars. But when a doll comes along that mimics a natural function of a woman's body, people shudder. They would rather see little girls dancing in plastic heels, dolled up like princesses or streetwalkers, than see them taking on an empowering and natural role.

A princess in training is far less intimidating than a girl who is learning to be a woman. One is submissive, taking on a false identity crafted by a patriarchal society; the latter is confidant, taking on an identity born of instinct. And raw instinct that is encouraged rather than squashed is hard to control in a consumerist and patriarchal society. The instinct to feed your baby from your own breasts won't make formula companies any money and the woman who knows the power of her own body is less likely to be submissive.

What I want my daughter to know is that her body is exquisitely designed to grow, birth, nurture and feed another human being. Of course, girls and women do want to look and feel attractive. That is merely one slice of the womanhood pie.

I never felt like a woman until I carried children in my body, gave birth and nurtured and breastfed them. The years I spent wanting children and not having them, even those years before I met my husband, were agonizing. In my twenties, I felt like I was running out of time. After I was married, each month we failed to conceive was met with grief and sorrow in those years when we were waiting for our firstborn. I felt that I was being cheated out of an important part of being a woman.

Whether I buy The Breast Milk Baby or just stick with imaginary play, my daughter will get the message that she can sustain a life. And that is the most powerful and important trait of a woman.


Erin Cathcart said...

YES YES YES! Loved this, and quite agree.

Anonymous said...

Josee, I am with you all the way on this one. Thanks for your comments. I breast-fed three now-grownup, confident babies and loved the closeness. Millicent