The Breast Pump Battle: A Losing One for Women

Years of militant pro breastfeeding campaigns combined with an American economy that requires two incomes and doesn’t tolerate maternity leave have fueled sales of breast pumps and a culture of mothers expressing milk.

In case you have been living under a rock for the past 15 years, this is from the American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement (published in 1997, updated most recently in 2005. Full text here.)

Although economic, cultural, and political pressures often confound decisions about infant feeding, the AAP firmly adheres to the position that breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant.

“Our message is that breast milk is the gold standard, and anything less than that is inferior.”

This message has been picked up by everyone from NOW to politicians (Iowa Senator Tom Harkin advocated warning labels on formula like we put on cigarettes). We have the “Liquid Gold Awards“, and ads produced by the AdCouncil in 2004 (never aired, by the way) that compared feeding formula to bullriding when pregnant.

Now, all of a sudden, the pendulum has reversed direction.

First it was Jill Lepore in January in the New Yorker:

Pumps can be handy; they’re also a handy way to avoid privately agonizing and publicly unpalatable questions: is it the mother, or her milk, that matters more to the baby? Gadgets are one of the few ways to “promote breast-feeding” while avoiding harder—and divisive and more stubborn—social and economic issues. Is milk medicine? Is suckling love? Taxonomical questions are tricky. Meanwhile, mamma ex machina. Medela’s newest models offer breakthrough “2-Phase Expression” technology: phase one “simulates the baby’s initial rapid suckling to initiate faster milk flow”; phase two “simulates the baby’s slower, deeper suckling for maximum milk flow in less time.” These newest machines, the company promises, “work less like a pump and more like a baby.” More like a baby? Holy cow. We are become our own wet nurses.

Then it was the Atlantic’s “Case Against Breastfeeding

After a couple of hours, the basic pattern became obvious: the medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. …  So how is it that every mother I know has become a breast-feeding fascist?

And then Judith Warner of the New York Times weighed in. And it was the Warner that pissed me off enough to write this post.

Warner’s editorial questions the notion that formula is poison and mothers who use it are child abusers. That’s all to the good. Like Lepore and Rosin, Warner also points to the ways in which the focus on pumping has distracted us from looking for ways to support women who want to stay at home and breastfeed. Yes, she’s right.

But in doing so, she refers to pumping as “a grotesque ritual”, and suggests that pumping leaves women who do it without a “semblance of physical dignity”.

She concludes:

I hope that some day, not too long in the future, books on women’s history will feature photos of breast pumps to illustrate what it was like back in the day when mothers were consistently given the shaft. Future generations of female college students will gaze upon the pumps, aghast.

I became pregnant with my first child almost 10 years ago, and, being very unhappy with my job, I went on the market at the same time. When I was in labor, my family fielded phone calls from interested potential employers, and I conducted phone interviews from bed (I had a c-section). I pumped and pumped to be able to leave enough milk, and when my eldest was 6 weeks old, I got on a plane with my Medela Pump In Style and flew 1500 miles away to interview for a new job, where my potential employers scheduled breaks every two hours to allow me to pump some more.

I never took more than 6 weeks maternity leave, so I have done a lot of pumping in my time.  I never felt “undignified” or “grotesque” while doing it. I felt it was a way to provide a nutritionally superior form of nourishment, a way to keep my milk supply up for the breastfeeding I wanted to do when I wasn’t working, and, sometimes, a way to feel more connected during the day to my babies.

I had a very hard time breastfeeding, especially at first. It hurt, for one thing, which meant, according to the dogma, that I was doing it wrong.  Not only was it not supposed to hurt, but I was supposed to have orgasms when my milk let down! I remember reading one book, the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth, in which the author mentions that she took one of her post c-section prescribed Vicodin before breastfeeding to cope with the pain.  That admission was a wonder to me, and I clung to it.

Maybe things have changed, but at the time, there were two kinds of women who did not breastfeed:

1. The head-in-the-sanders, like the family of physicians into which I married, who wouldn’t breastfeed if you paid them. They didn’t deny the potential benefits. Rather, they refused to get into it. They just didn’t want to do it, and they didn’t.

2. Those who tried breastfeeding but, for “medical reasons” couldn’t do it.

For my part, I found breastfeeding, which I did for at least six months exclusively with each child, at times, wonderful, but also a major source of stress and a major cause of a gendered division of parenting labor that I had wanted to avoid.  I look back now at the amount of stress brestfeeding created, and I wonder if formula feeding (or mixed feeding) might not have been the right choice. I wondered why women who chose not to nurse had to either (1) appear selfish, or (2) come up with a medical “excuse” (and yes, lots of women have real medical reasons — mastectomy, chronic illness, etc., but my point is that many feel forced to come up with “medical excuses” to avoid the censure of the breastfeeding brigade). I longed for a space in breastfeeding discourse to talk about the family as a whole, about legitimate needs and goals of nursing mothers, about the role of fathers in all of this, and about the structure of the American workplace which, at the time, was not conducive at all to nursing (that has changed quite a bit in a decade, as Lepore outlines).

So, I am glad this conversation is happening. But I resent the implication by Lepore and Warner that pumping is a terrible thing, and that the correct stance is that all mothers stay home full time with their infants. This admission may shock you, dear reader, but my preference would not have been to stay at home full time for 6 months or a year, even if that option had been available (which it wasn’t). Why are these columists assuming it would (or should) have been? My preference was to work part time, which, being an academic, I more or less got to do, albeit covertly. But what about families where dads stay at home full time by choice or necessity? Why not advocate as well for flexible work schedules, for quality affordable day care, or — gasp!! — for more fathers to get involved in caring for newborns?

How did a reasonable corrective to hysterical breastfeeding discourse become an attack on the breast pump and those who use it, and a mandate that in a just society all women would become stay at home mothers?

When the pendulum swings on these issues, why does it always have to swing so far?

Review: Practice Makes Perfect, Julie James (with discussion about feminists and gender politics in romance)


My Take in Brief: I loved it, but you should click to one of the other reviews listed below for a more traditional review. In this post, I mainly explore feminist themes in the book.

Hero and Heroine: Both workaholic, intelligent, great looking, successful junior litigators at a large Chicago law firm, both hoping to make partner any day. J.D.’s the wealthy, conservative, golf enthusiast son of an admired judge. Payton’s the vegetarian feminist daughter of a single mom communist PETA loving hippie (and yes, I thought this an oddly WASPish name choice for this character, too). Thanks to their differences in worldview and the competitive environment of the firm, they’ve been antagonists trying comically to one up each other for 8 years.

Plot: The book is pretty light on plot, but as the novel opens, Payton and J.D. are in the final stretch of their 8 years bids to becomes partner. Long time rivals and antagonists, their boss asks them to team up to court an important client.  Sparks fly as the two ditch their prejudices and get to know each other as human beings, not just walking political slogans.

Excerpt here.

Word on the Web:

Babbling About Books, Katiebabs, A

Book Smuggler, Ana, 8

Book Binge, Rowena, 4.5 out of 5

Thrifty Reader, Ames, A

Romance Novel TV, Buffie, 4.5

All About romance, Ellen, B, 4.5 stars after 6 reviews

Fun Factoid: This book feels a lot like a farcical romantic comedy — kind of like the one with George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Jones, or the one with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. It turns out the author is a former screenwriter, and herself viewed PMP in these terms.

Sad factoid: James’ next book has a suspense subplot. Sigh.

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The Duchess Redux: Reviewing for Politics or Pleasure

When I posted my review recently of Victoria Janssen’s The Duchess, Her Maid, the Groom, and Their Lover, I thought it was mixed. After describing the book as lots of sex without as much character development or plot as I would prefer, I wrote that:

I would cut about 80% of the sex and rewrite this as an erotic romance with a strong focus on Camille and Henri’s relationship.

I thought that was a pretty cheeky comment, kind of like ending a review of an Agatha Christie by saying “remove 80% of the mystery and focus on the butler’s battle with cancer and that would be a great book!”. To my surprise, several people responded with “sounds great!”, and my review was mentioned by a few people as a positive one.

[Please note: the rest of this post contains material inappropriate for children.]

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Bookworm award/meme: Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

So, Lori tagged me with a Bookworm award.

She obviously did not read the post in which I indicate that meme participation is one of the Ten Things I Never Do Online.

Here’s how it works. Open the book closest to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there.  Then send it along to five other people.

In the interest of not being an ingrate, I decided to follow half the rules. Hence this entry.

Unless I am in my bedroom, and not just there, but actually either in my closet, or in my bed, the closest book to me will be nonfiction, and that is true at this moment. It’s Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde (1934-1992), who described herself as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”.

Sister Outsider, a collection of essays and speeches, was actually reissued last year, but I have the 1984 version (see image), and page 56 is amazingly appropriate for a romance blog.

It is from a speech Lorde gave in 1978 at Mount Holyoke, “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power”. She defines the erotic as a feminine, spiritual power that women have been taught to devalue, except in a superficial sense.

The erotic functions for me in several ways, and first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, psychic, emotional, or intellectual, forms the bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens in response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.

The self-connection shared is also a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply of all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand for ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize  all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.  And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

I wonder whether Lorde’s definition of the erotic is really captured in the lingo of weeping pussies, penis barbs and explosive orgasms. That’s the central question of this blog, actually, but I’m not even close to trying to answer it directly.

Runaway Train: Uncontrollable Hero Lust in Romance


“If you touch me again,” [Zachary] said raggedly. I won’t be able to stop. I’ll take you right here, Holly … do you understand?” — Where Dreams Begin, Lisa Kleypas


He bent his head beside hers. “I can’t help myself,” he murmured roughly. “I can’t — stop myself.” — The Shadow and the Star, Laura Kinsale


I couldn’t stop now if all the forces in hell got in the way,” he said, and he was parting her legs with his own…” — The Waiting Game, Jayne Ann Krentz


“Tell me if I’m too rough, Or tell me to stop altogether, if ye wish. Anytime until we are joined; I dinna think I can stop after that.” —Outlander, Diana Gabaldon


“Be sweet”, I said, the first time I had spoken.

“I can’t. Next time I’ll be sweet, I swear.” —Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris


His face lowered to hers, so close that she felt his ragged exhalation against her lips. “Emma, you can trust me with your life. But I am not your brother. You cannot trust me in this.” — Duke of Shadows, Meredith Duran


She smiled. “We’re engaged. You can touch me.”

“No, actually, I can’t.” He straightened and picked up the paring knife again. “If I touch you, I’m not certain I’ll be able to stop.” —The Serpent Prince, Elizabeth Hoyt


“Lucinda,” he breathed, his arms shaking a little as they held his weight, “This is your last chance to esc-” —England’s Perfect Hero, Suzanne Enoch


“Don’t move, or I won’t be able to stop myself.” —Dreaming of You, Lisa Kleypas

These examples weren’t hard to find: they’re from my own book shelf.  Historicals are overrepresented, due both to the fact that I have more historicals in my house than any other subgenre of romance, and also because historicals, featuring so many virgins, probably lend themselves to this kind of talk.

Still, I don’t think it would difficult to find many other paranormal and contemporary examples (and if you have any in mind, please share).  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that male lust as a runaway train is pretty common in romance, or at least in romances published in the last several years, probably because driving men wild is a powerful fantasy for many women readers.

Note: I write at length — and many people comment at length –about author and reader responsibilities regarding rape in romance in this post.


"Somebody stop me!"

It just so happens that I was reading the classic Lois Pineau essay, “Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis”, this week. (Law and Philosophy 8, 1989, 217-243).

In that essay, Pineau defines date rape as nonconsensual sex that does not involve physical injury (actual or threatened). Consent is determined from the perspective of the man: the court has to be persuaded that the man believed, sincerely and reasonably, that the woman did not consent (this is the mens rea, or “guilty mind” — criminal intent — requirement).

Pineau claims that it’s very hard for a woman to prove she did not consent to date rape thanks to some mutually supporting myths, the whole of which she calls the “aggression-acquiescence” model of sexuality. One is the myth that male sexual desire is “so hard to control.”

The rationale, I believe, comes in the form of a belief in the especially insistent nature of male sexuality … At a certain point in the arousal process, it is thought, a man’s rational will gives way to the prerogatives of nature. His sexual need can and does reach a point where it is uncontrollable, and his natural masculine aggression kicks in to ensure that this need is met.

Pineau claims that this myth works with other myths, like that women have a disproportionate burden for controlling men’s sexuality, for example, by not being sexually provocative, to invalidate nonconsent. (She’s offering mainly conceptual analysis, but there’s lots of empirical data for the prevalence of the myth of uncontrollable male sexuality among rapists. Prosecutor and law prof Andrew E. Taslitz, in Rape and the Culture of the Courtroom, gives a number of examples of these myths at work, to support his general thesis that “what storytelling theory teaches us is that patriarchal tales are of enormous power, weighing heavily in favor of the defense. The power disparity is so great that it is very difficult for the victim’s story even to be heard” [NYU Press, 1999].)

Catharine Peirce Wells thinks that Pineau’s proposal to allow mere silence or unenthusiastic encouragement to count as nonconsent is harmful to men. In “Date Rape and the Law: Another Feminist View” (Date Rape: Feminist, Philosophy and the Law, Ed. Leslie Francis, Penn State University Press, 1996) Wells has this to say:

[Consider] a typical romance novel. The handsome hero sweeps a charming but inexperienced woman off her feet. She doesn’t object, nor does she offer much encouragement. For her, the romance of the situation is enhanced by the fact that she feels overwhelmed by the hero’s strong (single-minded) and silent (noncommunicative) pursuit of sexual pleasure. Certainly, the woman who “succumbs” in such circumstances does not have a self-empowering view of her own sexuality. And perhaps there are many women who would find the hero neither sexy nor ethical. However, if millions of women buy such novels and describe these scenes as ‘sexy’, can we really convict a man of rape when he interprets his partner’s conduct in the context of this story? Is it unreasonable for a man in this society to construe such silence as consent? Under such circumstances, shouldn’t we at least require that the woman say “NO!”?

Wells contends that the popularity of romance novels proves that Pineau’s definition of date rape is too all encompassing, not leaving room for a very popular and socially accepted type of seduction which both women and men enjoy. (She doesn’t consider that what women may enjoy in fantasy is not that enjoyable in reality).

None of the romance scenes I listed above are rapes. In several of those scenes, the hero does in fact stop, despite claiming that he cannot. And the ensuing or eventual sexual encounters are very satisfying to both consenting parties.

However, it’s undeniable that those passages make sense to readers because of a pervasive myth about male sexuality, and it’s also undeniable that this very myth plays a certain unsavory role in rape, whether legitimizing it in the eyes of the perpetrator, or in the eyes of the court (or the eyes of the victim).

[Consider those lines — in a contemp or paranormal — coming from a woman. Would they feel as normal?]

How do you think this common romance “trope” functions in these examples?  Does it shore up problematic myths about uncontrollable sexual urges of men? Or does it serve, pace Wells, to re-conceive the myth of uncontrollable male sexuality from a woman’s point of view?

A Rape by Any Other Name

Warning: This Post May Be Triggering for Some Readers

Reading Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold led me to consider the question of rape in romance. This is more a set of observations than a coherent essay, hence the numbers. Actually, this is a rant, and it’s probably a day late and a dollar short, but if a blogger can’t indulge in bully pulpit blogging from time to time, what’s the point?

0. This post isn’t about any and all rape in fiction. It’s about rape by the hero of the heroine in a romance novel, presented positively, or in such a way that the real harm of rape is minimized or ignored.

1. I spent some time reading online threads about Claiming the Courtesan, and about the Gaffney, and I noticed it’s hard to really have a good discussion about this because of all the red herrings.  So I want to say, in this first bit, that this is NOT about the following: censorship, labeling romance covers, or kicking people out of the genre.

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Erotica Warning Labels, and Porn v. Erotica.

Summary for the tl;dr crowd:

1. Warning labels may be helpful, but they may mislead readers into thinking books with warning labels are more extreme than books without.

2. Erotica and pornography both intend to arouse the reader, but erotica intends to do so in a way that has other kinds of merit, such as artistic.

3. Feminists who object to porn do so not b/c it is obscene, but because of its negative effects on women. From a feminist point of view, much erotica is consistent with feminist empowerment, although plenty is not.

4. It is odd and too bad that one central intention of erotica — to arouse the reader — is downplayed by many erotica writers, and readers, giving lie, in some sense, to the idea that erotica empowers women to be fully sexual beings.

I’ve been trying to get myself to write a review of Lauren Dane’s Giving Chase, which I liked, but I can’t muster the willpower. I actually purchased it in paper, and as I sat looking at it, willing myself to come up with something interesting to say about it, I noticed something.

It has a warning label:

“Warning, this title contains the following: explicit sex, graphic language, and some violent situations.”

I find it interesting that Samhain uses warning labels, and while I know their executive editor has her own blog, I feel like it would be too forward to write in and ask her about it. I guess my unconsidered opinion about it is that it probably doesn’t hurt and it may help, for example, by alerting parents of minors about the content of what they read, so that they can make knowledgeable decisions that accord with their own family values, the same way the “Explicit” notation on lyrics at iTunes helps me decide whether a song is appropriate for my child.  On the other hand, speaking as a consumer new to Samhain Publishing, the warning led me to gird my loins, as they say, for what turned out to be a pretty tame read.

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Is Verity Durant a "Feminist" Heroine?

Rachel Potter’s C+ review of Sherry Thomas’s Delicious over at All About Romance is, IMO, very well done, although I liked Delicious a lot more than she did. But what struck me most about Potter’s review were the following statements (and, in my biz, it’s a compliment when someone’s writing inspires you to think hard about something, so I hope Ms. Potter, should she ever stumble upon this, takes it in that spirit):

” Verity is a strong character, never a victim even when victimized. Readers who like feminist heroines will love her. … Readers who like love triangles, feminist, sexually experienced heroines, disguises, and strong sensuality might like it more than I did, however.”

I personally *heart* all of the things in that list, which explains, in part, my more positive view of the book. But I find myself asking, “Is Verity Durant a feminist heroine?” And what does that even mean?

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