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  1. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 13, 2008 at 3:18 pm |

    For those that aren’t aware, historically it has been white women paying, or forcing WOC to act as wet nurses for their children.

    Historically everywhere, or just historically in North America in the past 400 years?

  2. octogalore
    octogalore September 13, 2008 at 3:21 pm |

    The guilting out of women over breast milk does seem to coincide with more women working full-time. I think looking outside the existing support structure for a “wife” is problematic, as you say. Ultimately, feeding the baby should be a shared responsibility. If the employer does not offer day care, so that the mom who wishes to breast feed can do so easily at work, the spouse (whether male or female) needs to share the work. That can mean ferrying the child to mom, or sharing in bottle-feeding.

    One point the guilter-outers don’t make about breast-feeding is that two key benefits re

  3. octogalore
    octogalore September 13, 2008 at 3:25 pm |

    [sorry I must have hit submit!]

    two key benefits require BF to be done by a household member. One is bonding, the other is that the breast milk of the mom has particular customization for her child. Without these factors, appropriately mixed formula has equivalent benefits.

    So it gets back to antifeminism.

    It feels wrong to ask a lower-income woman to be a human breast pump. It’s an incomplete solution not to have that line of work open, in that closing it will not necessary improve her set of options. But I absolutely agree, it’s not an acceptable solution to take advantage of someone less fortunate in this way, especially when there’s usually someone real close to home who isn’t pulling equal weight.

  4. Andy
    Andy September 13, 2008 at 3:49 pm |

    I think all this is tip-toeing real close to a discussion I’ve been waiting to see. Is motherhood inherently or institutionally unequal?

    I’ve been lucky enough to have the option to stay home with my little one. He’ll be a year old in a few weeks and we’re still breastfeeding. But it was a rocky, rocky start and I know if I had been working, I wouldn’t have stuck with it.

    So I think most people can agree that breastfeeding for the first year is optimal for the child, and that formula is not poison. Mothers, by default, have to do all the breastfeeding (and pumping). How do you handle the inequities in this? Fathers pick up more of the other chores? Radical changes in the workplace? Longer (paid) maternity leave?

    Obviously, some women have looked at the inequities and said, “Ah-HA! I’ll just pay someone else to do it!”

  5. Hilary
    Hilary September 13, 2008 at 4:14 pm |

    Octagalore, you are completely wrong about appropriately mixed formula having the same benefits of breastmilk except for bonding and customization for the child. That is contraindicated by the vast body of research on the extensive benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and child. They are far too numerous for me to list here, and it is not the topic of this thread.

    As for the original topic of this thread, yes indeed, it is an unfortunate trend with possible racist overtones. I did not realize people were advertising for wet nurses.

  6. alexandra
    alexandra September 13, 2008 at 4:29 pm |

    I don’t think there’s anything “possibly racist” about the reproduction and childcare business, certainly not in the U.S. I’m a white college student of average looks with good grades – if I wanted to, I could sell my eggs for 5,000 – 10,000 on the market, and most of that value comes down to the color of my skin and my class privilege. No chance of a “damaged baby” from my eggs!

    White women – and not just rich white women – hire poorer women of color to take care of their children. I found out a couple of years ago, and I hadn’t known this before, that when I was an infant my parents employed a live-in nanny to take care of me after I was two months old, until I was nine months old – so my mother could get back to work. My parents were grad students with massive debt and almost disposable income, but because they were culturally middle class, because they were white, and because they could afford an apartment in Hyde Park with a spare bedroom – they hired a live-in nanny, who was African-American, who got free room and board and a pittance of a salary to take care of their child, so that my parents could advance their careers – my mother as a librarian, my father completing his doctorate.

    The position of the badly-paid live-in servant, particularly women fo color, is so precarious – I’ve done some childcare myself, and it’s nerveracking enough when you’re just working forty hours a week for low wages. At least I got to go home at the end of the day. I didn’t have to worry that if I angered my employer, he’d try to have me deported. I didn’t have to worry that if I lost my job, I’d be homeless. I didn’t have to care for other people’s children in order to have enough money to feed my own.

    There are many, many women in this country who have emigrated from the global south and who are providing childcare in various forms to the children of rich, usually white, women. The notion that it’s acceptable for women to care for other people’s children in order to feed their own just infuriates me, but god knows, I don’t know what to do about it.

  7. octogalore
    octogalore September 13, 2008 at 4:41 pm |

    Hilary, none of the studies correct for appropriate mixing of formula. There is substantial room for error in that regard, and unfortunately, lower income families sometimes have to water down formula based on expense where both parents work and breast feeding is undoable.

    While this isn’t the topic of the thread, it is relevant to looking at why women are pressured to breast feed and/or use wet nurses to do so, invoking sexism and racism.

    If they are far too numerous to list here, by all means just list one study which does correct for imperfectly prepared formula. Always happy to learn.

  8. Uccellina
    Uccellina September 13, 2008 at 4:59 pm |

    Octogalore, I’d be interested in reading your sources on this, since I’m frankly skeptical that formula is ever equivalent in nutritive value to breastmilk (before anyone jumps on me for that, I nurse my twins and supplement them with formula, so I’m not totally anti-formula).

    Renee, you are absolutely right about the racist implications of white women hiring WOC to wet nurse for them. However, a lot of what gets called “wet nursing” is actually “cross nursing,” where women nurse the babies of their friends, relatives or neighbors, for no money.

  9. Bruce from Missouri
    Bruce from Missouri September 13, 2008 at 5:04 pm |

    I’ve gotta ask… is that picture really from a Benneton ad? If so…Wow. Considering the history of wetnursing, that is just all sorts of wrong.

  10. Natalia
    Natalia September 13, 2008 at 5:35 pm |

    Great post. I would mention that outsourcing childcare is something that a lot of people must do nowadays, whether they’re wealthy, middle class, or poor. My aunt lives in poverty, but I know she hired a nanny for her third child when she needed to hold down three jobs. I always thought she was an exception, but in the last few years, I’ve encountered many families like this, in E. Europe, Middle East, and the States.

    The logic goes that although hiring someone is a huge financial sacrifice, it’s an important future investment (because as you work more, you can gain more experience, and move up the career ladder). I don’t know if this works for everyone, but it certainly worked for my aunt. She’s not out of the woods, but her work experience did allow her to eventually find a better job.

    I think the problem with outsourced childcare is how little it can pay, how little work protection there is, and all the other creepy dynamics that come into play (race is obviously a big one). I think the actual act of caring for someone else’s children isn’t inherently wrong. Many people in my family have been paid for it.

    The work itself though is so devalued (since motherhood in our society is devalued, it makes sense that this line of work gets trampled on as well), few people can do it and make decent money and are allowed to keep their integrity as well.

    And this is something that needs to change.

    But then again, I’m not into communal ideas, so I’m biased. ;)

  11. Tster
    Tster September 13, 2008 at 5:37 pm |

    I have seen a few white women who are breast feeding other people’s kids as a way to make enough money to stay home with their newboirn kids. (Maybe this is only a phenomenon I’ve seen amongst my super Christian friend’s set, but I’ve definitely seen it.) So the question I’m wondering about is, if it’s a transaction going on between people of similar socioeconomic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds, is it still exploitative? And is there something about it being the purchasing of someone’s body (indirectly) that makes it so? I nannied some kids after college. I was watching lawyer’s kids, but I felt like they were from the same class as me, and I’m kind of white (part Asian). I felt like they were farming out their dirty work, but I didn’t feel exploited per se. I felt like it was a crappy job (the kids were odious and badly behaved) but since I had more hope for my future job prospects, I felt like it wasn’t coercive. I wonder if it would feel different if I were breast feeding their kids as well?

  12. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 13, 2008 at 5:44 pm |

    Renee: esurgislac…it is a global phenomenon. With colonization white women living in India, Africa etc employed wet nurses for their babies.

    Oh really? So in 19th century China, 18th century Scotland, 14th century France, 12th century Benin… globally and historically, it’s always white woman hiring black woman to be wet nurses? You do realise that is complete nonsense? Perhaps not: it is a function of American privilege not to have to think about the world outside America very hard.

    Class is the chief factor in wet nursing, if we’re talking global/historical: low income women are much more likely to lose their babies, and therefore to have milk to feed the babies of upperclass women. That class and race are strongly linked in many parts of the world is a strong factor: but it’s neither global nor universal through history.

  13. exholt
    exholt September 13, 2008 at 5:45 pm |

    Have many incoherent confusing feelings about this after recently watching a Bollywood movie which placed several scenes of an Indian wetnurse in the service of a British family as one symbol of how certain Indians collaborated with the British to bring about their colonization.

    If they are far too numerous to list here, by all means just list one study which does correct for imperfectly prepared formula. Always happy to learn.

    Octogalore,

    You may also want to consider the possibilities that some babies have severely allergic reactions to the formula available at the time to the point the parents and the doctor feel it necessary to go back to breastfeeding or finding alternatives such as early introduction to solid foods.

    May be anecdotal, but according to my parents, that was what I experienced during my first year on this planet.

  14. Juan
    Juan September 13, 2008 at 5:52 pm |

    Jesurgislac,

    You need to reread and rethink a bit. It was/is not just Black women but Women of Colour. Black, Native, Chicana, etc. used by white women as wet nurses.

  15. Tara
    Tara September 13, 2008 at 5:55 pm |

    It seems to me that the only solution for this is state subsidized/regulated affordable day care – like the $7 a day program in Quebec. I’m reluctant to heap blame on individuals (and it seems like the blame usually seems to gravitate towards individual women – how about that) when it’s a failure of our society and (male dominated) government that even puts us in this position. It’s great that some people, like Renee and her partner, are able to avoid any dependence on private child care, but it’s not a reasonable expectation on everybody (ie, single parents), and it’s also unrealistic to depend on every individual being a super hero in order to compensate for a broken system.

  16. Natalia
    Natalia September 13, 2008 at 6:12 pm |

    Looking beyond the obvious takes work.

    I agree with you there, but I also do not see labour as something that is strictly exploitation. I think it’s many things, both positive and negative. I mean, the people in my family who have taken care of other folk’s children throughout the years had many different experiences, but they also needed the money and many liked the experience. If one of them lost their job because their employer decided it was wrong to continue in this fashion, I think most would have been devastated. Same goes for my cousin’s nanny, I believe. My aunt still keeps in touch with her, and she asked her to be my cousin’s godmother, because I think they really bonded over their situations. I think that when you’re working hard to keep your family afloat, you understand and appreciate another person’s hard work all the better, which is why I think that poorer women who end up hiring nannies actually tend to be much fairer to the nannies, rather than someone who thinks she is automatically entitled to help of every kind.

  17. bleh
    bleh September 13, 2008 at 6:18 pm |

    I don’t know the research on breast milk either, but I do know that medicine is very influenced by the larger culture – including gender bias-, and the guilt factor is *huge* for new moms. Even if breast milk is better for babies, we never ask what is better for mothers or whole families. We never even suggest that a mother’s mental health (getting her body back to being hers) might be as important or gasp more important than getting baby to gain extra pounds in the first month (or whatever it is this time to force women to sacrifice their bodies).

    /threadjack

  18. Ephraim
    Ephraim September 13, 2008 at 6:40 pm |

    Don’t we have to ask why a woman feeding her own baby is totally uncompensated labor, but a woman feeding someone else’s baby is compensated labor? If there were paid maternity leave for a full year, this kind of exploitation would be pretty moot, no?

  19. danicaanddan
    danicaanddan September 13, 2008 at 6:52 pm |

    I don’t think paid maternity leave is the way to go ephraim. Paid -shareable- parental leave fits the bill more I think. A year of it though is only a pipedream. Interesting to see what effects extended parental leave is having though in the much more progressive nordic states and in the UK.

  20. Zahra
    Zahra September 13, 2008 at 7:02 pm |

    This is absolutely fascinating to me–a viewpoint certainly not addressed in the mainstream very often, if ever. It’s incredibly important to understand the historical implications, and their interwoven-ness with race and class.

    Somewhat related is the notion of not-quite-wet-nurses–that is, women who are friends and happen to both/all have nursing children and who are willing to nurse a child that is not theirs if the mother of the child is busy or away, etc. I think this is one facet of wet nursing that avoids much of the historically racist/classist problems inherent with hiring out/forcing wet nursing.

  21. sara no h.
    sara no h. September 13, 2008 at 7:04 pm |

    I’m not certain I have the experience/education to comment informatively on this matter, but this did stand out to me:

    Historically the wet nurse was known to reserve her milk for pay, while her own child was forced to live on a substandard substitute.

    I’m not sure why this would be the case; I’ve been told time and again that milk is produced strictly on a supply-and-demand schedule, and that the more the child sucks, the more milk is produced (which is why mothers of twins aren’t at risk of underfeeding one or the other). I’m not disputing historical fact, I’m just wondering whether this would continue to be an issue with “modern” wet nurses.

  22. peco
    peco September 13, 2008 at 7:35 pm |

    A choice made within constrained circumstances is not a freely made choice.

    How non-constrained do the circumstances have to be to be for a choice to be freely made? I might have to choose between the highest-paying job I can find (which isn’t very good, so the choice is made within constrained circumstances) and a slightly lower-paying job. I can definitely choose the worse job, so it’s a free choice even though the circumstances are constrained (if you have to choose between two equally bad things you have a free choice). Do I have a free choice between the best job and no job? It depends on how much money I have; if I have no money I have to get a job, and if I have an enormous amount of money I don’t ever have to find one. The choice between a job and no job isn’t free when I have no money and it is when I have a lot, but how much money would I need to have to make the choice free?

    “If I were a poor man who didn’t have a job and a rich man wanted to hire me to lift bricks, I would have to work for him. It doesn’t reduce me to a pair of roving arms for hire, though, and even if it did, it doesn’t mean that the rich man shouldn’t have hired me–lifting bricks is better than not having any money.”

    “If I were a poor woman who didn’t have a job and a rich woman wanted to hire me as a wet nurse, I would have to work for her. It doesn’t reduce me to a pair of roving tits for hire, though, and even if it did, it doesn’t mean that the rich woman shouldn’t have hired me–being a wet nurse is better than not having any money.”

    Historically the wet nurse was known to reserve her milk for pay, while her own child was forced to live on a substandard substitute.

    Yes this is bad, but the wet nurse isn’t being harmed by this, so it technically doesn’t harm stop women from achieving equality (especially if the child is male). Many men have wives who cook, clean, etc., so if women hired people to do the same thing, wouldn’t that help women overall?

  23. octogalore
    octogalore September 13, 2008 at 7:41 pm |

    Danicaanddan — I agree. There should be a solution that doesn’t require the childfree to subsidize or effectively have lesser benefits.

    Uccelina — re “I’m frankly skeptical that formula is ever equivalent in nutritive value to breastmilk,” I’ve been told by two pediatricians that without the specific family immunity issue, appropriately fortified and mixed formula is equivalent. Problem is, there is privilege involved here. The formula tends to coagulate on the bottom of the container, making solid formula very difficult to mix. The liquid kind can be prohibitively expensive, however. Also, as exholt says, some formulae are not ideal for allergies. Nutramigen, which takes care of that, is ridiculously expensive.

    But hustling women into breastfeeding where it’s not chosen is problematic for privilege reasons too, since often lower-income women are in jobs which are not conducive to easy, discreet breastfeeding. So it’s really not an option.

    Therefore, the breast-feeding pressures are sexist and also racist, as they do not take into account reasons why the statistics are as they are or try to propose solutions for this.

  24. octogalore
    octogalore September 13, 2008 at 7:50 pm |

    Renee, question for you — do you see a parallel to the sex work issue? Certain kinds of sex work attract more women of color due to lack of options and financial need. This seems like a similar situation, if indeed wet nurses tend to be WOC. I tend to agree that people who employ lower-income women, WOC or otherwise, for activities many would not otherwise choose to do without poverty being a factor, are wrong to do so, in both the sex work and the wet nursing examples, even if one can argue that at some level the employees are not coerced. Do you feel this is the case for the sex work example as well as the wet nurse example?

    If so, what would you suggest as a mechanism for preventing this? Education to the consumer population to prevail on folks’ consciences, or some kind of ban?

  25. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 13, 2008 at 8:00 pm |

    Renee: what I said was that it involved the specific exploitation of WOC, I did not say black women

    In Scotland in the 18th century, in France in the 14th century, you think wet-nursing involved the specific exploitation of WOC? In China in the 19th century, when Han Chinese women hired or bought other Han Chinese women to be wet nurses, is the key issue the exploitation of WOC or the class/slavery/sexism issue

    I will admit that there is a class element in countries that are historically white wherein the bodies exploited are poor white women.

    Going to correct your original post away from your American-centric claim that “For those that aren’t aware, historically it has been white women paying, or forcing WOC to act as wet nurses for their children”? Historically, globally, this is about wealth and privilege, not directly about race. Americans on the Internet have the privilege of interpreting the rest of the world, the rest of history, and – as a Brit – I am well aware that Americans don’t care for having their privilege pointed out or their privileged assumptions corrected. Are you going to keep your privilege, or correct your mistake?

    You’re also ignoring the historical point that, in times where women simply didn’t control the kind of money that would have let them decide to hire (or buy) a wetnurse, it was ultimately a man’s decision who fed his children and how they were fed. Even today, you get men who don’t like it when the woman he is having sex with is breastfeeding – and from contemporary anecdotes, it suggests that for a “woman of privilege” it was no more her choice to breastfeed or not than it was to have sex with her husband or not.

    Juan: You need to reread and rethink a bit. It was/is not just Black women but Women of Colour. Black, Native, Chicana, etc. used by white women as wet nurses.

    You need to re-read and re-think a bit: lose your American privilege. Try to think globally, historically, about countries in which “white women” never existed, but wet-nursing still did: or in which “Native women” are white women: in which there were no – or virtually none – Women of Colour, or Black, Chicana: Americans, your country is not the whole world.

  26. peco
    peco September 13, 2008 at 8:22 pm |

    A choice made within constrained circumstances is not a freely made choice.

    How non-constrained do the circumstances have to be to be for a choice to be freely made? I might have to choose between the highest-paying job I can find (which isn’t very good, so the choice is made within constrained circumstances) and a slightly lower-paying job. I can definitely choose the worse job, so it’s a free choice even though the circumstances are constrained (if you have to choose between two equally bad things you have a free choice). Do I have a free choice between the best job and no job? It depends on how much money I have; if I have no money I have to get a job, and if I have an enormous amount of money I don’t ever have to find one. The choice between a job and no job isn’t free when I have no money and it is when I have a lot, but how much money would I need to have to make the choice free?

    Also:

    “If I were a poor man who didn’t have a job and a rich man wanted to hire me to lift bricks, I would have to work for him. It doesn’t reduce me to a pair of roving arms for hire, though, and even if it did, it doesn’t mean that the rich man shouldn’t have hired me–lifting bricks is better than not having any money.”

    “If I were a poor woman who didn’t have a job and a rich woman wanted to hire me as a wet nurse, I would have to work for her. It doesn’t reduce me to a pair of roving tits for hire, though, and even if it did, it doesn’t mean that the rich woman shouldn’t have hired me–being a wet nurse is better than not having any money.”

  27. peco
    peco September 13, 2008 at 8:25 pm |

    If so, what would you suggest as a mechanism for preventing this? Education to the consumer population to prevail on folks’ consciences, or some kind of ban?

    I don’t see how either of these would help people who don’t have other options. I don’t see anything wrong with being a paid wet nurse either–it’s just like being hired to lift bricks or to dig holes.

  28. Lauredhel
    Lauredhel September 13, 2008 at 9:38 pm |

    I’m searching Hoyden to find where I’ve advocated paid professionalised wet-nursing, and I can’t find anywhere. Can you point to it, please?

    I have spoken in favour of the facilitation (or at least not suppression and vilification) of volunteer cross-nursing, either within families or among friends/community, and in favour of volunteer milk donation; these two particularly in disaster situations. I have written at length decrying the current trend toward the commodification and patenting of breastmilk and breastmilk components. I also strongly support the rights of all mothers to be financially independent while mothering, with excellent welfare systems (something we’re closer to than some societies) and mandatorily-available paid maternity leave (which we don’t yet have – it’s a big political issue here right now.)

    (As an aside, please bear in mind also that we’re writing in the Australian context, and the terms “wet-nursing” and “cross-nursing” don’t carry the same resonances here. As far as I know there has been no widespread history of farming out nursing infants to enslaved and/or poor women. (I’m prepared to be corrected on that if someone has better info.))

  29. hypatia
    hypatia September 13, 2008 at 10:11 pm |

    Octagalore,

    I have spent years investigating the issues of the pro-breastfeeding movement and classism and racism involved. Still breastmilk, however it is obtained, is still better for the infant. Breastmilk adjusts itself depending on how often and much the infant feeds and there is study after study showing that infants cannot absorb nutrients as well from formula as they can breastmilk. Plus we now have the problem of many soy based infant formulas, which are now being linked to hyperthyroidism and hormone issues in children.

  30. shah8
    shah8 September 13, 2008 at 10:16 pm |

    What is the role of breast pumps in all this? I’m not sure why people would not consider pumping and storing breast milk? I’ve read about it, but I sure don’t know anything about it.

  31. Bagel-san
    Bagel-san September 13, 2008 at 10:26 pm |

    I agree that “white women paying, or forcing WOC to act as wet nurses for their children” sounds problematic (though the forcing is a lot more clearly coercive than the paying, which I’m still undecided about.) But I’d ask that you be careful to blame both the white women *and MEN* that do this. I’m sure white mothers often aren’t making these decisions in a void, without any input from their husbands/the baby’s father.

    If anything, the women might be *less* to blame, if they are under pressure to provide for their children physically as well as work outside the home, while the men aren’t expected to produce milk either themselves or to provide a surrogate source of milk. If the father dumps all the milk-related responsibilities on the mother and still expects a financial contribution (or they can’t afford a stay-at-home parent) then the woman’s decision to hire outside help is not necessarily un-coerced itself.

  32. Andy
    Andy September 13, 2008 at 11:15 pm |

    @ shah8:
    It really depends. Some women have the time and a place to pump at work and their milk supply doesn’t decrease, so it’s not a big deal.
    However, there are problems for many women like no (clean) place to pump, not enough break time to do so (15 minutes on a nice electric one, every two hours for the first few months), and milk supply frequently decreases over time because a pump is not as effective in getting all the milk out. Not to mention that at many lower-paying jobs, the work environment is simply not conducive to it (meatpacking?). It can also increase co-worker resentment, e.g. “She gets to take sooo many breaks…” or “She barely gets anything done!” regardless of whether these things are true or not.

    It was already mentioned that there are some real problems in the pro-breastfeeding movement with racism, classism, and sexism. Personally, I shy away from the hardliners, the “breastfeed at any cost” crowd. I think that the decision to breastfeed has come to represent choosing between different parenting ethos, and this trend is disturbing in that it tends to make mountains of molehills and villainize those who chose differently (the words “child abuse” get thrown around a lot). It also produces conversations that ignore many of the bigger issues facing parents, and ignore most of the issues facing parents who aren’t white, middle-class, heteronormative, etc.

  33. sophonisba
    sophonisba September 13, 2008 at 11:15 pm |

    This point is not valid because it does not take into account the degree to which white women have historically had no problem using WOC for various forms of labor.

    It is certainly exploitative and racist, for all the reasons you have listed. Surely you will acknowledge, though, that it is significantly less exploitative for a white woman to pay a woman of color fair wages to nurse a child than it is for a white man to expect that same white woman (generally his wife) to nurse that same child free of charge, as an unpaid duty. Yes? No?

    Because really, a lot of what you’re saying boils down to “how dare white women act like men, only not quite as bad?” When some lucky women have unearned privilege that allows them to buy their way out of the unpleasant female labor that has been traditionally laid at their feet, it always inspires more furious outrage than when men do the same thing. It’s as though female-owned privilege is always less licit, more suspect. And it’s not that it isn’t full of ugliness and bigoted power differentials; it is, just like prostitution is. It’s that framing it as a white woman thing, and thus a woman thing per se, is really ugly in itself. When a rich woman has someone else do her breastfeeding, she’s doing no more and no less than the father of her child does. Every non-formula-using father of every child, in fact.

  34. eyu
    eyu September 13, 2008 at 11:55 pm |

    @sophonisba:
    Because really, a lot of what you’re saying boils down to “how dare white women act like men, only not quite as bad?” When some lucky women have unearned privilege that allows them to buy their way out of the unpleasant female labor that has been traditionally laid at their feet, it always inspires more furious outrage than when men do the same thing. It’s as though female-owned privilege is always less licit, more suspect. And it’s not that it isn’t full of ugliness and bigoted power differentials; it is, just like prostitution is. It’s that framing it as a white woman thing, and thus a woman thing per se, is really ugly in itself. When a rich woman has someone else do her breastfeeding, she’s doing no more and no less than the father of her child does. Every non-formula-using father of every child, in fact.

    It’s probably a little bit better since the person doing the breastfeeding gets paid…

  35. Katie
    Katie September 14, 2008 at 12:05 am |

    well, actually, sophonisba, oftentimes white men expected white women to do no such thing. BOTH of them probably expected women of color to do the work. your argument seems to be designed to help white women avoid any possible stain to their collective character.

    “to pay a woman of color fair wages” – and in your hypothetical, they get fair wages all of a sudden, too?

    “framing it as a white woman thing, and thus as a woman thing per se” – no, no – do you see what you’re doing? you’re eliding “white woman” and “woman” without a second thought. this is not about WOMAN. this is about the historic relationship that often existed between wealthier white women and poorer women of color. white women do not equal ALL women, which renee knows DAMN WELL.

    check your privilege.

  36. peco
    peco September 14, 2008 at 12:17 am |

    For a family to function with even one member working a high powered career a support staff is needed. It is not possible to work 60 plus hours a week and do the the laundry, keep the house clean, nurse and be successful in the working sphere, without having someone in the household to do the maintenance work. This is why traditionally it has always been understood that when a man is in a high pressure “flannel suit” job he needed a wife. A wife was as necessary to his success, as his education. Even though the labour performed by women was socially discounted as recent as the 1800’s, a man could not even secure a business loan unless he was lawfully wed. It was determined that a man would work harder if he had a family to support, without recognizing the ways in which the wife “he supported” made his labour possible. Today the same sort of situation exists, except now women are looking for their “own wives” as they increasingly embark upon careers that demand a more total commitment.

    The advancement of some women on the backs of others is not progress, it is simply the perpetuation of past crimes.

    I still don’t see how this makes the women who are hired worse off (instead of making women in general worse off, or changing what women are seen as to something worse). The women who are hired obviously think it’s better than not having a job/not changing jobs/etc…

  37. peco
    peco September 14, 2008 at 12:27 am |

    @Katie
    Even if they aren’t fair wages, they’re better wages than the woman of color could get from another job, so hiring the woman is better than not hiring her. Unless you can give her even more money, there’s nothing wrong with the white woman giving others better wages than what they currently have. I like Renee’s ideas (socialized daycare, paid maternity leave), but if they don’t actually happen white women should continue hiring wet nurses.

  38. alexandra
    alexandra September 14, 2008 at 1:00 am |

    It is certainly exploitative and racist, for all the reasons you have listed. Surely you will acknowledge, though, that it is significantly less exploitative for a white woman to pay a woman of color fair wages to nurse a child than it is for a white man to expect that same white woman (generally his wife) to nurse that same child free of charge, as an unpaid duty. Yes? No?

    My eyebrows just about climbed up off my forehead. Seriously?

    Whether or not white men have been unfairly expecting the mothers of their children to do the work of mothering uncompensated, nevertheless mothers produce breastmilk because biologically that’s supposed to be the infant’s primary source of food for the first few months of its life. There’s nothing unfair about women feeding their infants with their own breastmilk. The fact that rich (white) women have historically had the power to buy the milk of poor women of color, at the expense of the children of those poor women of color, is FUCKED UP.

  39. peco
    peco September 14, 2008 at 1:33 am |

    @alexandra:

    Whether or not white men have been unfairly expecting the mothers of their children to do the work of mothering uncompensated, nevertheless mothers produce breastmilk because biologically that’s supposed to be the infant’s primary source of food for the first few months of its life. There’s nothing unfair about women feeding their infants with their own breastmilk.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_fallacy (I agree that there’s nothing unfair about it.)

  40. kate
    kate September 14, 2008 at 1:36 am |

    For a family to function with even one member working a high powered career a support staff is needed. It is not possible to work 60 plus hours a week and do the the laundry, keep the house clean, nurse and be successful in the working sphere, without having someone in the household to do the maintenance work. This is why traditionally it has always been understood that when a man is in a high pressure “flannel suit” job he needed a wife. A wife was as necessary to his success, as his education.

    Hear Hear! Feminists don’t say this enough and it is a fact. The work required to keep a household in order so that someone else can be successful in the outside economy is still today completely over looked. The feminist movement bungled this important fact and as a result, women who enter careers, find themselves having to mirror the oppressive behaviors that once enslaved them and now must enslave another.

    The great “success” of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first have largely been borne on the silent bending backs of women.

  41. kate
    kate September 14, 2008 at 2:28 am |

    While the topic of racism in this practice of wet nurse is certainly on target, what troubles me most is that the underlying topic of privilege through class and economics is danced around.

    WOC and poor white women all routinely find themselves marginalized socially in this country (I can’t speak for other cultures fluently so I’ll avoid that which I do not know well).

    Natalie says: “I think that poorer women who end up hiring nannies actually tend to be much fairer to the nannies, rather than someone who thinks she is automatically entitled to help of every kind.”

    Real poverty as I understand it and have lived it does not allow the economic ability to hire anyone to care for one’s children without some kind of serious governmental help. The US government gives a pittance subsidy for those who qualify, to assist with childcare expenses. Many poor women use this subsidy but still struggle and that is only for institutionalized childcare. Such subsidy could never cover nanny-care as I understand it to be — home based private care. Many families, if they have no extended family to fall upon are left to fend for themselves and women often must enter into living arrangements with men in order to survive. Most often these men are not exactly the pick of the pack either, as men who are high earners typically have better choices that align more with their status, such as younger women or higher educated women with fewer or no dependents or their own financial means (usually property, education and career and other assets). So these women, by having to choose lower earning men or men with other less desirable traits (felons, addicts, lesser educated) causing them still to be hanging on the lower rungs.

    Just had to clarify, my idea of poverty doesn’t include funds to support hiring anyone as there’s barely enough to support the family unit itself.

    Tster says: “I was watching lawyer’s kids, but I felt like they were from the same class as me, and I’m kind of white (part Asian). I felt like they were farming out their dirty work, but I didn’t feel exploited per se. I felt like it was a crappy job (the kids were odious and badly behaved) but since I had more hope for my future job prospects, I felt like it wasn’t coercive.

    Exactly, you did not feel exploited because you did not identify with the exploited class, your comfort at the time was knowing your job was only temporary. Its entirely different to do such work knowing that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, knowing that in fact the time you spend serving others is time spent only to survive and there in fact exists no time to work toward one’s future. There is no light, just a long, dark, endless tunnel.

    Daycare subsidies that amounted to more than a pittance percentage of the lowest quality care available might alleviate some of the crises of child care that working women face, but it will not end it.

    The western model for economic survival depends on the model of a member of a family working outside fulltime for pay and another working at home for no pay supporting that outside worker’s efforts. The cooperative model of child rearing still does not cover the amount of work involved in running a household that enables another to offer all of their energy and personal resources for sale on the job market. As long as success relies on this model, nothing will change; someone will have to work for nothing or next to nothing while another holds the keys to acquiring the funds for survival.

    Presently without meaningful distribution of wealth through taxation and then redistribution through services funded by said taxation, the wealthy will hire out their home care and child care and those with limited options will opt to provide these services as a means to survive. And of course, wealth begets the ability to wait out for a “bargain” while hunger and the need to pay the rent next week waits for no one.

    Yes, WOC have historically been the last on the economic hierarchy and thus the most easily exploited, but lets not look past the elephant in the room: improper or completely lacking distribution of wealth among all people, no matter what color which causes exploitation of the many while benefiting the few.

  42. Chloe
    Chloe September 14, 2008 at 2:33 am |

    I have been saying for years that the powers that be should make it easier for mothers to take the first five years or so off from their careers to raise their children, and to return to those careers once the kids are more independent without significant penalties. (I suppose once in awhile it would be dads who stayed home, but realistically, I’m sure moms would be the majority) That every woman wants to automatically go back to work when the baby is two months old is a myth perpetuated by second-wave feminists who were looking for ANY reason to be welcomed into the historically male workforce, and in fact most working mothers say they wish they had more time with their children, but can’t afford to work less. This is a serious problem, and the government is doing nothing about it because it’s good for the Almighty Dollar.
    It also seriously bugs the hell out of me that there seems to be a return to the old pattern of white women hiring black women to take care of their children. I lived on the Upper West Side of New York City for a couple years, and this was ALL YOU SAW. It really bothered me, but I always tried to suppress those feelings, thinking that maybe they made me sexist and/or racist. Thanks for this post: it finally puts those complicated feelings into words. Anyway, I know that I want a career, and that is the main reason why I plan not to have children. I just don’t want to be involved with this bullshit.

    BTW I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic to check out two books: “Global Women” and “Home Alone America”.

  43. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 3:51 am |

    Renee: This point is not valid because it does not take into account the degree to which white women have historically had no problem using WOC for various forms of labor.

    While white men are entirely innocent of using WOC for various forms of labor? It sounds like you are saying that when a white household employs WOC to do the daily housework/childcare, it’s all – entirely – completely – the white woman’s responsibility, because the white man of the household has no responsibility for the housework.

  44. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 4:00 am |

    The fact that rich parents have historically had the power to buy the milk of poor women, at the expense of the children of those poor women, is FUCKED UP.

    The fact that in some countries the rich parents and the poor woman were both white: in some countries, the rich parents and the poor women were all people of color: in all post-colonization countries (including the US, which is what leads the Americans on this thread to speak of it as if it were the general rule), the exploitation of people of color was gendered so that the children of white women were nourished by women of color at the expense of their own children, is also FUCKED UP. But this is an instance where class came first and is the universal rule, and racial exploitation is the subset. It is America’s privilege on the Internet to define the rest of the world to us, which is why this subset is being presented as if it were the general rule: an example of unexamined privilege.

    And it is wrong to hold men innocent of their part in this exploitative relationship.

  45. katarina
    katarina September 14, 2008 at 8:15 am |

    Renee, Jesursislac is correct: it is complete nonsense that wet nurses are historically or typically WOC.

  46. katarina
    katarina September 14, 2008 at 8:16 am |

    Sorry, Jesurgislac, not Jesursislac

  47. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead September 14, 2008 at 9:11 am |

    My aunt lives in poverty, but I know she hired a nanny for her third child when she needed to hold down three jobs.

    Natalia, this is a relatively new phenomenon in the USA, and made possible by an influx of undocumented workers who can be paid well-below minimum wage, or simply given “room and board” as salary.

    When I was a kid, only rich people had nannies, and now, I know poor people who have them! It really blows my mind.

  48. DaisyDeadhead
    DaisyDeadhead September 14, 2008 at 9:29 am |

    Renee, Jesursislac is correct: it is complete nonsense that wet nurses are historically or typically WOC.

    I am 50 and I’ve never known any wet nurses…in my father’s racist family, wet-nursing was associated so strongly with black women, that the white women would not even do it for each other. It was a tainted “black” activity, like certain music, certain drugs, certain jobs such as “janitor.”

    They would even jokingly ask each other, will you nurse my baby? and they’d laughingly reply, I’m no n–.

    Seriously.

    So, for some of us, the connotation is very strong. Apologies for being US-centric.

    ( I’ve decided such things need to be spoken out loud, and if people think I am backward for coming from such a father, so be it.)

  49. Renee
    Renee September 14, 2008 at 9:32 am |

    @Jesurgislac
    Really to be honest I am just about out of patience with you and your continual desire to eliminate race as a factor in this issue…and you have the nerve to talk about privilege….in countries that were predominately white like Ireland and Scotland where you would find a small minority population it was class related. In countries that were colonized it was white women exploiting bodies of color. Think globally about the expanse of the British Empire and then tell me that it isn’t about race.

  50. katarina
    katarina September 14, 2008 at 10:22 am |

    Let me rephrase that: Renee, it’s nonsense that “historically, it has been white women paying, or forcing, WOC to act as wet nurses for their children”.
    Unless, that is, you regard history as beginning with the European colonisation of the Americas. Many Americans do seem to feel that way. If I read a US blog I usually just assume that the blogger is only addressing the US experience and doesn’t know or care much about the rest of the world.

    But if you’re going to talk about something that’s existed as long as wet nursing, and bandy words like “historically” about, and accuse whites of doing all the exploiting and none of the wet nursing, either you specifically mention that you’re only thinking of the Americas, or it’s obvious that you’re talking rubbish. Lying.
    Baby farming in Victorian England is the example that springs to my mind first, but jesurgislac gave other examples.
    Saying it’s a global phenomenon and using India as an example makes your first statement look even sillier. The British pillaging of India in no way negates the horrific Indian-on-Indian discrimination and exploitation that goes on there even today.

  51. Renee
    Renee September 14, 2008 at 11:14 am |

    @Lauredhel…Sorry if the post was unclear I simply found the link for the article there and I didn’t want to throw it out there without saying where I found it. I am in no way claiming that you made a position on said article. I am sorry for the misunderstanding.

    @Jesurgislac…you know what fucking enough already. I have been about as nice as I am going to be about this. Stop obscuring race from the issue is that it is not an important factor. I did not claim that it was the only factor but it is an extremely relevant factor.

    Women of wealth have a history of exploiting poor women to aid in reproduction and child rearing.

    That is from the original post making clear the class aspect involved in wet nursing. Your desire to privilege race over class is a typical silencing tactic and I have fucking had it. Both play a role and I refuse to pretend for your convenience that race is irrelevant to the debate in countries that are not western. I don’t know how many times I need to discuss white women in Asia or Africa during the 1800’s and 1900’s during colonialism as specific examples of race oppression but oh no its not the white women is it?

  52. bleh
    bleh September 14, 2008 at 11:57 am |

    Alexandra – so biology means that women (of any race) are expected to give their very bodies and men can just say – oh biology made that happen instead of recognizing the very real work that breastfeeding is and the time it takes. While the racial aspects of wet nursing are troublesome, I agree that letting white men (or any men) off the hook – due to biology is just as sexist as (American) wet-nursing history is racist.

  53. roses
    roses September 14, 2008 at 12:44 pm |

    Surely you will acknowledge, though, that it is significantly less exploitative for a white woman to pay a woman of color fair wages to nurse a child than it is for a white man to expect that same white woman (generally his wife) to nurse that same child free of charge, as an unpaid duty. Yes? No?

    No, no I will surely not. Because in the case of the white woman, it’s her child too. She’s not just nursing as a duty to the child’s father, she’s also nursing because she believes it’s best for her baby or because she wants the intimacy and bonding that comes with nursing her baby. That’s completely different from a woman of colour nursing somebody else’s child.

  54. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 1:23 pm |

    katarina: Unless, that is, you regard history as beginning with the European colonisation of the Americas. Many Americans do seem to feel that way.

    Exactly. It is an example of American privilege. And, like anyone in a privileged position, Renee is getting mad at the person pointing out her exercise of privilege, and lying about what I am saying, rather than admitting it and dumping her privilege.

  55. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 1:25 pm |

    I said: “The fact is that in some countries the rich parents and the poor women were both white: in some countries, the rich parents and the poor women were all people of color: in all post-colonization countries (including the US, which is what leads the Americans on this thread to speak of it as if it were the general rule), the exploitation of people of color was gendered so that the children of white women were nourished by women of color at the expense of their own children.”

    Renee responded: “I am just about out of patience with you and your continual desire to eliminate race as a factor in this issue”

    Huh. Really?

  56. Rachel
    Rachel September 14, 2008 at 1:58 pm |

    It seems to me that there may also be another parallel here, with the in-home care-giving industry. I represented a group of in-home caregivers a few years ago, and they were not only all women but also I would say 95% women of color and immigrant women.

  57. yikes
    yikes September 14, 2008 at 2:11 pm |

    I worked for a producer a few years ago who had a double mastectomy two years before conceiving. Through Le Leche League, she was able to find human milk that had been expressed and packaged for sale. It was worth the expense to her for obvious nutritional reasons. What I found interesting is that the Milk Bank offered medical clearance records, but, little else about the women who donated milk.
    They protected their privacy, while taking safety precautions at the same time.

    As for wet nurses in Colonial North America- of course it was racist. The way it’s surfacing again, also racist and classist.
    Noting that this has been an issue of classism for thousands of years, pointing out that not all slaves were historically considered a different race (that cultural construct created to support capitalism) than the slave owners, does not dismiss racism.
    Additionally, lets not pretend that wealthy African American Women don’t hire Latina immigrants to raise their children. Has it gone as far as wet nurses? Not that I’ve heard of yet, but, I live in Los Angeles, not far from Baldwin Hills, so, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    All that said, my heart goes out to any women who are accepting the position. I can imagine (having experienced my own financial desperation) the level of financial despair many of them are experiencing at the time of that choice.

  58. yikes
    yikes September 14, 2008 at 2:24 pm |

    “For women to achieve equality we need to stop serving the needs of the wealthy and embrace communal ideas that would elevate us all. ”

    Wait…I’m confused by that statement.

    Am I supposed to feel bad about the time I worked as a maid? I found it to be an awful job, humiliating in fact, but it paid $20 an hour. I worked for an African American TV host and actor. He was nice and respected me, but, the work of cleaning someone else’s toilets and doing their laundry is just awful. He also had 3 assistants and a girlfriend (all African American) that all supported his career and home life.
    Working for him in that capacity got me through a tough time.
    Even then, I was as an activist. My awareness that there is still someone suffering more than I, motivated me to volunteer at a homeless “village” in downtown L.A. 2 days per month.

    It wasn’t a lot, but, it was better than nothing.
    The fact that I made money as a maid didn’t make me less communal in my actions or ideas.

    As the U.S. becomes more and more a country of 2 classes, of have and have nots, there will be more service jobs. From waitressing and house cleaning to the extremes that probably pay a lot better, like wet nursing, many of us are just barely getting by and are grateful for any work.

  59. peco
    peco September 14, 2008 at 2:53 pm |

    That is from the original post making clear the class aspect involved in wet nursing. Your desire to privilege race over class is a typical silencing tactic and I have fucking had it. Both play a role and I refuse to pretend for your convenience that race is irrelevant to the debate in countries that are not western. I don’t know how many times I need to discuss white women in Asia or Africa during the 1800’s and 1900’s during colonialism as specific examples of race oppression but oh no its not the white women is it?

    Are the white women hiring wet nurses *today* hiring women of color? Even if race played a big role 100 years ago it might not play as big of a role today.

  60. PoisonousLesbianRose
    PoisonousLesbianRose September 14, 2008 at 3:22 pm |

    Renee, I don’t see why you’re so pissed at Jesurgislac; s/he do mention race, but points out, repeatedly, that historically, globally, race was at the least just as large a factor as class was, not more, not less.
    Because if you use “historically” most of us probably don’t only think back to the 1700-early 1900 but further back, and “globally” involves the whole world… Japan before the “opening” by the US captain, for example?
    Jesurgislac uses (when talking about the historical/global angle) three versions of the wet-nursing exploitation; white-white, white-WoC, and WoC-WoC… all of which would obviously involve both class and race, but adjusted for the women/countries/ethnicities/societies/etc involved.

    I really don’t see what there is to be angry about, since if you use “historically, globally” and then only mention white-WoC wet-nursing exploitation? Then that is quite wrong…

  61. yikes
    yikes September 14, 2008 at 3:39 pm |

    Octagalore
    Please seek out information about the benefits of breast feeding for mother and child and of breast milk itself for the child.
    You have a lot to learn about how it affects brain chemistry, mood, immunity, etc. etc. etc.
    Formula does not compare.

    Renee
    the fact tha it took someone else pointing out the connection fo wet nurses and sex workers hints at a life of more privilege than i have had.
    when I was stripping, if someone had offered selling breast milk, and I was breast feeding at the time, I would have taken the money for it.
    Also,
    I’m so tired of reading comments about educating women. Are you doing anything in even one womans life that is helping her get the education she desires?
    I couldn’t find a group of women, or even one woman (just the opposite- I found discouraging women) to offer a hand up when I needed help in that dept.
    I’m self taught and earning a decent enough living for now. I know that in my industry, the connections I could have made in school, would make a substantial difference in the impact of my work on society as well as my bank account.

    If there is a post somewhere listing examples of women helping women with education, please link it.
    If you aren’t actively involved in it, I hope you and others will stop writing about it as a solution.

  62. octogalore
    octogalore September 14, 2008 at 3:45 pm |

    Thanks, Renee!

    I agree re education and job training.

    I see pros and cons with longer paid maternity leaves. It would help women from having to leave jobs. But it would also come out of the wages of other employees, some who may have chosen not to have children. This would then make wages for that company less competitive, and possibly create bias against hiring women of child-bearing age or with infants.

    Unless it is matched by an equal paternity leave, which would be even more economically challenging, it would also add incentives for men to pressure female spouses to take the leave and therefore widen the pay gap and promotion gap between male and female employees. Because most jobs, even where pay is guaranteed and lack of demotion is guaranteed, involve evolution of responsibilities and skills, women taking long leaves would lose out and possibly drop out, also increasing employer’s incentive not to hire women and increasing the economic power gap between men and women.

    I’m not saying the cons outweight the pros, but both need to be considered.

  63. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm |

    actually no I pissed because you continually refuse to acknowledge race even though I acknowledged class in both the thread and the original post.

    Then you’re pissed at me for something I haven’t done. In every single comment I’ve made on this thread, except the first one which simply questions the factual error you made in the 5th sentence of your original post, I’ve acknowledged the racist element in wetnursing in all post-colonialist countries. Why are you pissed at me for something I haven’t done? Don’t you even want to consider whether you are pissed at me because I am challenging a privileged, US-centric, worldview?

    And if you are not yourself American, Renee, why are you arguing that the only correct position to take on breast-feeding is one that doesn’t look outside post-colonial countries? Your “historically, globally” only makes sense if you are only thinking in terms of the colonial period and only of colonialised countries. Is the experience of women in countries pre-colonialisation or outside colonialisation just invisible to you?

  64. octogalore
    octogalore September 14, 2008 at 3:53 pm |

    Yikes — the immunities are more apparent as a distinction when it’s a family member doing the BF. And again, I see no link to a study adjusting for improperly prepared formula.

    Re do women help other women re education? This group, of which I’m a member (http://www.suwn.org/inspirationStories.aspx) does a good job. Additionally, many universities such as my own have alums acting as educational council who reach out into underprivileged communities to help kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these schools gain access, by promoting the kids to the school and helping them with applying and preparing. If I write a good interview letter with the appropriate score, it doesn’t guarantee admittion, but it helps. I’ve been doing this just a short while so cannot take credit, but the woman who heads up the program in my area has a good record of getting kids from hugely underprivileged neightborhoods into my alma mater.

  65. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 3:53 pm |

    Octo: But it would also come out of the wages of other employees, some who may have chosen not to have children. This would then make wages for that company less competitive, and possibly create bias against hiring women of child-bearing age or with infants.

    That’s why it has to be mandatory: for companies under a certain size, it has to be paid for by the state: and it has to be illegal (and lawbreakers pursued and fired) to discriminate on hiring on the grounds of gender or having children. That’s how it works in countries which have it: it is (I do seem to be pointing out American privilege quite a lot in this thread) one of the ways in which Americans privilege their experience, and do not look at the experience of other countries which have long-term paid maternity leave.

  66. octogalore
    octogalore September 14, 2008 at 3:55 pm |

    That would be “admission,” sorry. And to clarify re score, I don’t mean SAT but the score that the interviewer gives the interviewee. For this program, SAT scores are looked at but not as harshly as they would be for applicants with more socioeconomic advantages, access to tutors and AP programs, etc. So while it’s not perfect, we do our best to try to make the playing field more level.

  67. Natalia
    Natalia September 14, 2008 at 4:07 pm |

    Kate, remember that scene in “Erin Brockovich”? When she has to leave her kids with a creepy-looking lady who didn’t seem all there? For a lot of people, it’s kind of like that. As for my aunt, she’s Ukrainian. And the level of poverty, for her, even in a relatively secure urban setting, is quite stark. But in a society where a lot of people do odd jobs to get by, sacrificing a certain chunk of your income so someone can watch your kid is certainly possible. And yes, as I found out later, my aunt did go hungry, a lot, as the result.

    Daisy, good point about immigration. Though I would also note that in the United States, a lot of people who are between jobs end up doing some forms of childcare or house cleaning. Someone in my immediate family did childcare, for a family way down on the lower scale of lower middle class.

    The role of credit and debt also play into this heavily. Many people get by on their credit cards in hard times. I know I’ve done it.

  68. oldlady
    oldlady September 14, 2008 at 4:24 pm |

    Marie Antoinette had wet nurses for her little Dauphin & Dauphine. The aristocracy of most European countries used wet nurses. It’s been around for centuries. Perhaps in tribal times, women nursed one another’s infants–I’ve seen other mammals who do that. The point is that the privileged demand what they want from the un- or underprivileged. As long as the world is so sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots, they can and will do that. The most hideous aspect of this is that it turns human beings into commodity producing machines–one’s eggs, one’s womb, one’s breast milk. Yes, just like one’s vagina. Or perhaps even someone else’s sperm. Serves the Capitalist society very well.

  69. tanglad
    tanglad September 14, 2008 at 5:00 pm |

    But it would also come out of the wages of other employees, some who may have chosen not to have children. This would then make wages for that company less competitive, and possibly create bias against hiring women of child-bearing age or with infants.

    To me, this bind that Octo points out illustrates how unfriendly the dominant corporatist economic system is for families. People, especially women, have to adjust their lives to the needs of corporations and not the other way around. Participating on a more level playing field with men in this type of economy encourages people here to commodify other more marginalized women — their caregiving labor, their wombs, and their breasts and milk.

  70. Renee
    Renee September 14, 2008 at 5:43 pm |

    @Yikes just because I did not see the sex trade worker connection does not mean I do not validate the position that sex trade workers are in. In fact I continually blog for justice for sex trade workers and anyone who has read my blog on a semi-regular basis would testify to that. In the real world I participate in activites to the best of my abilities that do not exploit women as well as volunteer my time when I am able. I also consider the time spent on the blogosphere talking about women and communities that seldom get real attention work that is in the benefit of women.

    @Jersurgalistic

    And if you are not yourself American, Renee, why are you arguing that the only correct position to take on breast-feeding is one that doesn’t look outside post-colonial countries?

    What so now that I declare that I am not American, you don’t believe me. Does everyone who has access to the internet have to live under your blessed stars and stripes? Let me tell you where my position comes from. It comes from being a first generation Canadian, who grew up hearing her third world relatives tell her about what life was like under colonization. It comes from a woman who has spent significant time in third world countries and by that I don’t mean the sandals resorts, speaking to the people and learning exactly how damaging colonization was and is to the present day. It is learning exactly how they feel about white people, and white western run governments. But sure the perspective that I take has to be American because you, with your myopic vision have declared it so. Stop fucking speaking for me and assigning where my opinions and values come from, it is rude and ignorant. The only reason I have not told you to take a flying fuck already is because it is not my blog. Only a person of privilege could assume they have the right to speak for another the way you continually presume to in my case. Further your continual denial of race speaks volumes about who and what you are.

  71. roses
    roses September 14, 2008 at 7:02 pm |

    Octagalore – in Canada parental leave comes from unemployment insurance. And can be taken by either the mother or the father (or they can divide it up between them).

  72. octogalore
    octogalore September 14, 2008 at 7:17 pm |

    Jesurgislac: so, you are saying small companies get unlimited funds for paid maternity leave? No limits as to how many employees can claim it? What about limits as to how long?

    Also, that solution — to the extent it exists in such simple terms, and to the extent the resulting corporate taxes aren’t backbreaking for small companies — doesn’t account for the male-female promotion and economic gap issues I raised.

  73. octogalore
    octogalore September 14, 2008 at 7:19 pm |

    roses: “Octagalore – in Canada parental leave comes from unemployment insurance. And can be taken by either the mother or the father (or they can divide it up between them).”

    Same questions as for Jesurgislac. Is this for an unlimited number of employees? And, do close to as many dads as moms take it?

  74. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 7:49 pm |

    octogalore; so, you are saying small companies get unlimited funds for paid maternity leave? No limits as to how many employees can claim it? What about limits as to how long?

    Any woman – whether full or part time – who is having a baby, can go on maternity leave any time in the ten weeks (I think) before her due date. She isn’t legally allowed to work for two weeks after the baby is born. She can decide to go back to work at any point in the next six months, and if she decides not to return to work, she doesn’t have to tell her employer which way she’s decided until a month before she is due to return to work.

    For the first 6 weeks, a woman who has had a baby is entitled (if she’s been working for the same employer for 26 weeks and earning >£90 (I think) a week) to get 90% of her pay: for the next 33 weeks, she may get significantly less – the maximum she’s legally entitled to is something like £120, but she may not get more than the 90% of her usual pay. (If she doesn’t qualify for this – if she hasn’t been working for her employer for long enough – she gets a different payment, directly from the state, but it’s the same amount of money.)

    Small employers then get to claim what they paid out back from the government: they can hire someone to substitute for the employee on maternity leave, on a short contract (that might, of course, turn into a longer one if the employee decides not to return to work). I have to admit I don’t precisely know where the limit falls on small to large, but I think there’s an upper limit beyond which employers can’t claim their maternity pay back from the government – it’s presumed that the temporary loss and replacement of one employee bears much more hardly on a small company than a large one.

    This is a relatively new system – a friend of mine didn’t qualify for maternity leave at the time she’d had her new baby, because back then you had to have worked for at least two years for your employer. That would have been 20 years ago, and she simply took her statutory two weeks sick leave, plus all her four weeks holiday in a lump following her baby’s birth, and in fact her last day at work was the day she went into hospital to deliver. So she got just six weeks off work. By the time her second baby was born, two years later, she did qualify for six months maternity leave.

    There are no limits on how many employees may claim it.

  75. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 7:54 pm |

    octogalore: Also, that solution — to the extent it exists in such simple terms, and to the extent the resulting corporate taxes aren’t backbreaking for small companies — doesn’t account for the male-female promotion and economic gap issues I raised.

    Well, I don’t know. The UK is very stingy about maternity leave and maternity pay, but better than the US, and the male-female pay gap isn’t quite as wide in the UK as in the US. In other countries with more generous systems of mandatory maternity leave, the male-female gap is often narrower. In the UK, companies that offer more generous maternity leave policies than the government requires, generally do better economically, because they are more likely to keep able employees who will work hard and be loyal – working mothers are generally recognised as *better*, more stable employees than other groups. I can’t point you at stats, but I recall several articles discussing this – that one of the workplace benefits that is really rewarding both to employer and employee is a guaranteed, lengthy period of maternity leave with right to return to work.

  76. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm |

    Renee: What so now that I declare that I am not American, you don’t believe me. Does everyone who has access to the internet have to live under your blessed stars and stripes? Let me tell you where my position comes from. It comes from being a first generation Canadian, who grew up hearing her third world relatives tell her about what life was like under colonization.

    So you are speaking from a North American, post-colonalization perspective, and insisting that the rest of us – with a different perspective – must bow down to yours.

    Which latter is the problem I have. Not that you are writing from your own perspective and from your own experience. But that you will not acknowledge that your North American post-colonialist perspective is not the world’s, and that history began rlier than the colonialist period. That is a privileged attitude to take – that insistence that poor women who, globally and historically, have been exploited by wealthy parents as wet nurses are invisible unless their experience matches your perspective. You wrote, very clearly and very angrily, in a recent post on Feministe, that you “point the finger” at people with privilege. But you won’t acknowledge your own.

    I also object to your making invisible the wealthy man’s part in hiring or buying a unprivileged woman to feed his children. Men are also responsible for using women at wet nurses – who feeds the baby, how the baby is fed, is not only the wealthy woman’s responsibility – in fact, in societies and at times when a woman did not own wealth in her own right, it’s hard to say how “wealthy” a woman married to a rich man could ever be said to be. I don’t want to make invisible the role of wealthy women in this.

    I certainly don’t want – though you repeatedly traduced me – to make invisible the racism in post-colonialist use by white parents of women of color as wet nurses and child care servants. What I objected to was your failure to acknowledge in your original post that “historically” applied only to a specific period of history, and specific parts of the world. A Han Chinese woman bought by a Han Chinese family in pre-Communist China to be wet nurse to the babies born to the privileged wives was being exploited as ruthlessly as she would have been had she been bought instead by a white couple. Wet nurses have existed for as long as there have been privileged classes, worldwide, for as far back as we have history: and all I ask is that you make clear in your original post what period you are referencing when you say “historically”, rather than sweep so many women into invisibility because their exploitation does not fit into the post-colonialist world of white parents buying the use of women of color.

  77. Lisa
    Lisa September 14, 2008 at 8:18 pm |

    With regards to paid parental leave in Canada: yes, it is unlimited. It is the same fund that pays people when they are unemployed for whatever reason. The only catch is that you can only claim it if you have worked a certain number of hours for the year leading up to the leave (I can’t remember how many – my guess is about 24 ish). It is a maximum of 55% of your regular salary, but is capped at about $1500/month, which isn’t really “enough”. As for the question of the male/female ratio: it is definitely more women who take leave, but men are equally entitled to it, or parents can split the year between two people, as long as it doesn’t overlap. We also have a lot of companies/educational institutions that will top people up on their maternity leaves, but this is restricted mainly to professional occupations…usually the top up is to 90-100% of the salary for 3-4 months of the year. However, these top-up policies don’t generally get applied to fathers as often as they do mothers.

  78. JPlum
    JPlum September 14, 2008 at 10:27 pm |

    I’m still trying to find the source that says that there are currently a huge number of white women paying WOC to be wet nurses. Or even that ANY white women are currently doing this. The post about the documentary doesn’t mention anything about this, and neither do the other articles I’ve read on the documentary-in fact, they made it seem like it was about friends nursing each others babies. Is there any evidence that there is a movement afoot of white women hiring WOC as wet nurses?

    And on the topic of paid child care and domestic work, which many here seem to think is only done by exploited WOC, and has never been done by anyone else, ever: I was raised by nannies/au pairs in Toronto in the 1970s. They were all from England, Scotland, and Ireland, with one from the US. So were all the nannies of my family’s friends. They were looking for a foreign adventure before settling down and going to university, or whatever. None of them had children. The current trend in Toronto for nannies from the Philippines, who have their own children, is a pretty recent thing. Canada has never really had the ‘mammy’ tradition/stereotype of the US.

  79. JPlum
    JPlum September 14, 2008 at 10:30 pm |

    Also-if you go to western Europe, you’ll find that the au pairs/nannies tend to be middle-class white girls from places like Canada. (Did I mention that our nannies were middle class girls, and thus the same class as my family?)

  80. roses
    roses September 14, 2008 at 11:52 pm |

    Same questions as for Jesurgislac. Is this for an unlimited number of employees? And, do close to as many dads as moms take it?

    Anybody who has paid into EI (employment insurance) for a certain amount of time in the past 52 weeks is eligible to take it. It comes directly from the government through EI, not through the company (the company just has to guarantee there will be an equivalent level job waiting for the employee when they return). It is a limited amount of time – 6 weeks maternity leave for the mother and 46 weeks parental time the two parents can divide between each other as they see fit. I have no idea how many fathers take it, but probably not nearly as many as mothers – I hope that will gradually change.

    And on the topic of paid child care and domestic work, which many here seem to think is only done by exploited WOC, and has never been done by anyone else, ever

    *eyeroll* yeah, that’s exactly what people are saying.

  81. Helen
    Helen September 15, 2008 at 12:16 am |

    Hear Hear! Feminists don’t say this enough and it is a fact. The work required to keep a household in order so that someone else can be successful in the outside economy is still today completely over looked. The feminist movement bungled this important fact and as a result, women who enter careers, find themselves having to mirror the oppressive behaviors that once enslaved them and now must enslave another.

    The great “success” of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first have largely been borne on the silent bending backs of women.

    You seem to be equating “feminists” with “upper class, high powered and uncaring”, just like the antifeminists do. Also, you’re doing the “the US is the only possible point of reference” thing here, too. As a fully employed mother of two in Australia I can assure you that I do the “second shift”. I cannot afford to have someone else do my domestic work and neither can most of my cohorts. It’s the people at the top who do that. We should be looking at the male partners in a relationship and why it is that partnered working women are still doing 80% of the work. Portaying working women as all CEO-types is just silly.

  82. alexandra
    alexandra September 15, 2008 at 12:20 am |

    Alexandra – so biology means that women (of any race) are expected to give their very bodies and men can just say – oh biology made that happen instead of recognizing the very real work that breastfeeding is and the time it takes. While the racial aspects of wet nursing are troublesome, I agree that letting white men (or any men) off the hook – due to biology is just as sexist as (American) wet-nursing history is racist.

    Did I say that? No, no I did not. In fact, I prefaced my statement by mentioning the unfairness of men expecting the mothers of their children to do the work of mothering uncompensated.

    I’d rather we all lived in a world where, if women wanted their children to have breastmilk, it would be possible for those women to breastfeed their children while going about their lives – whether as stay-at-home mothers or as working women.

  83. Helen
    Helen September 15, 2008 at 12:21 am |

    Sorry Renee, I did not see your post #77, so you are not american. However, as a working mum I can tell you that the upstairs-downstairs picture you present doesn’t exist here except in the very top stratum – except with regard to gender and the assignation of the house work.

  84. Renee
    Renee September 15, 2008 at 12:53 am |

    @Helen, actually you don’t get to tell me anything. I love the language people have employed not only on this thread, but all the others that I have authored regarding privilege. That may be your experience but it certainly is not mine, nor the experience of many women in our neo-colonial world. You will have to excuse me if I privilege the words of my grandmother or the other women and extended family I have, over the thoughts of someone I have never met on the internet.

  85. Bagel-san
    Bagel-san September 15, 2008 at 12:54 am |

    I’m still not seeing nanny work or paid breast-feeding as different from other service jobs, especially jobs in the sex industry as was mentioned earlier. Is there a potential for exploitation? Obviously. But more so than any other service job where POC and the poor are hired to serve upper or middle class (white or otherwise)? I’m not sure…

    And I’m definitely *not* trying to completely discount race here, or “excuse” white women; my initial complaint wasn’t that you implicate white women in oppressive behaviors, but that you *don’t* equally blame men.

  86. Bagel-san
    Bagel-san September 15, 2008 at 12:58 am |

    Also, purely out of curiosity, have you looked at the role of men of color in this system? Or are you treating them as uninvolved? (I only ask because the white women and WOC have been addressed, and somewhat the white men.)

  87. Steampunked
    Steampunked September 15, 2008 at 1:08 am |

    The definition of ‘white’ has also shifted, which may be causing confusion? The Irish were not considered ‘white’ for centuries, and they were certainly hired as wetnurses by English women. Perhaps it is impossible to separate class and race here, really, though I think it bears mentioning that discussing the Irish as an example of white privilege is a modern construction.

    While it seems utterly absurd now not to consider a group of largely (incredibly!) pale skinned people socially white, during previous eras they certainly weren’t thought of as such. I’m not really aware of other examples, since my own family comes in part from a history of extreme poverty in Ireland, but I know they filled service-based roles under abusive conditions and that a common role was that of wet nurse. For similar reasons, re retaining ‘figure’ and not being seen to do something ‘beneath one’ for the privileged person. The situation isn’t identical (how could it be for any minority group?) but it’s incorrect to position groups of people we now consider to be white as holding the same power historically they do now.

    Certainly, the positioning of any minority group in the position of providing such a personal service as a low paid job with (likely) an incredibly high risk factor (you’re caring for a very vulnerable member of a family, possibly even its focus) is a big warning sign for me. I have absolutely no doubts that it is a class and a racial issue either. It was a racial issue for my Irish forebears, and if it’s occurring now, it’s probably a racial issue again, if only because it’s another one of those ‘high-risk/low-return/seen as biologically icky’ jobs.

  88. Chloe
    Chloe September 15, 2008 at 2:20 am |

    How much is wet-nursing really occurring? I haven’t found anything that mentions it, nor have I ever witnessed it. A wet nurse would have to be a woman who had herself given birth to a baby within the last year, and she would stop lactating after awhile, so it’s a very narrow window of opportunity. While I’ve known women who were too busy to breast feed or didn’t want to, they all chose to bottle feed their babies.

  89. JenLovesPonies
    JenLovesPonies September 15, 2008 at 9:27 am |

    I am curious what role, if any, male-only households play in this industry- either single fathers or gay couples.

  90. roses
    roses September 15, 2008 at 11:41 am |

    How much is wet-nursing really occurring?

    For whatever it’s worth – the Broadsheet article Renee linked to says: “reporter Kate Garraway interviewed mothers who use wet nurses”, but if you read the linked article about the documentary what it actually says is: “She meets a working mother who employs someone to feed her baby while she is at work, and groups of other women who breastfeed each other’s for free.” So it may be less a case of privileged women employing wet nurses and more a case of women helping each other out. Hard to say for sure though.

  91. angrygrrrl
    angrygrrrl September 15, 2008 at 12:22 pm |

    My unhusband and I work separate shifts, and have different days off to ensure that our children are always with a parent. This has been difficult but we do it because we do not believe in labor exploitation. People need to start thinking outside of the box.

    So the fact that I am a single mother who has to work 14-18 hours every day to survive and then give away 2/3 of my income to a stranger who watches after my kid, makes me an exploiter who can’t think outside the box?! Not everyone is lucky (privileged?) enough to have a partner to share parenting with. You write about privilege a lot but you don’t even notice when you’re exercising your own. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to working till 1 a.m., so I can keep on exploiting people some more. You know, it’s good to finally know how privileged I am, I feel much less hungry now.

  92. Renee
    Renee September 15, 2008 at 12:30 pm |

    @angry…if it doesn’t apply to you don’t make it about you. I said that is how we as a family manage daycare, nowhere did I imply that it is possible in all situations. I also mentioned a daycare exchange in which the women I work with have been running for over 10 years. Not all solutions fit all cases and nowhere did I imply my solutions can and could work for everyone but for those that are able there are ways to work around if we take the time to think about all of our options rather than going for the most convenient all of the time.

  93. yikes
    yikes September 15, 2008 at 12:38 pm |

    Octagalore
    re education
    I had a very long comment about my experience raising and educating a light brown, skinned son in L.A…..way too long for a comment.

    Can you elaborate on this “interview”?
    I’d like more info for myself
    and my 19 year old son.

    Meanwhile, I’ll check out the link you provided in your comment now. Thank you for that.

    re:formula
    If you contact La Leche League, they can offer a lot of info regarding the benefit of breast milk over formula, regardless of how you mix it. I understand and accept that some have to go the route of formula, but, it doesn’t compare to natural, human milk for infants.

  94. yikes
    yikes September 15, 2008 at 1:01 pm |

    Dear Canadians:

    When I hear about maternity leave, it sounds like some Utopian dream. I can’t even fathom it.
    I know that certain corporations offer that to their female employees, but, lets face it, most women in the states don’t work for employers that offer leave. If only some of your more common sense, good logic and reason, govt. programs could catch on in the states.

    and back to the wet nurses:
    The bottom line about wet nurses, maids, nannies and sex workers is that as long as there is poverty and poverty on the rise (like in the states) there will be women willing to take on such work. Various programs that help eliminate poverty, be it education, training, and or govt. programs can change that. What is the motivation for a wealthy person (of any color) to change the conditions that surround such activities? The more impoverished people there are, the cheaper and more common the above mentioned services are. It will cost less and less as the market becomes saturated.

    Perhaps my view is warped. I live in L.A. where a B list black actress spends $45,000 on her pet every year. I worked for her, trust me, she doesn’t give a shit about wet nurses, or any other crappy service gig, either do her peers. Her concern is, how much does it cost to basically enslave another person. How much does it cost to get on the A list.
    She is not alone. This is systemic of a capitalist society.
    The same system that invented race.

  95. Mhorag
    Mhorag September 15, 2008 at 1:09 pm |

    “The fact that rich parents have historically had the power to buy the milk of poor women, at the expense of the children of those poor women, is FUCKED UP.”

    I suppose I don’t have a dog in this fight, since I don’t have children and never had to make the choice to breastfeed or not. But I have read a lot of history, including women’s history. It was my understanding that most wet nurses didn’t themselves have to have a nursing child of their own (and frequently didn’t). Per Wikipedia, regular suckling on a woman’s breast can elicit the production of milk via a neural reflex through production of prolactin.[1] In speaking with my friends who have borne children and breastfed, they say that the sound of a hungry infant crying causes their breasts to tingle just as they did when their child cried. Thus, I’m assuming that as long as a woman has borne a child and breastfed at least briefly, she can produce milk whenever the suckling stimulus is presented (it can take several days to begin lactation, I understand). It is also my understanding that a woman will continue to produce milk as long as the suckling stimulus is presented several times a day. Thus a woman could continue nursing children other than her own after her own were weaned.

    So if a woman does not herself have a nursing child, and she wet nurses for pay which goes to feed her non-nursing children, how is that at the expense of her own children?

    It is also my understanding that upper-class women frequently did not breastfeed because it was assumed they were not *strong* enough to breastfeed their own children, that breastfeeding was a drain on their health, as opposed to mere vanity (although I’m sure that was involved as well). And considering the corseting that upper-class women indulged in from pre-pubescence onward, I would not be surprised if their breast tissue was damaged and they were unable to produce sufficient milk to feed their own children.

    It’s an interesting question …

  96. Ephraim
    Ephraim September 15, 2008 at 1:52 pm |

    It’s also true that some women (and a few men as well) can stimulate the onset of lactation without ever having been pregnant. I know a mother who breastfed both her adopted babies that way. If it’s possible that wet nurses can breastfeed for pay without sacraficing their own kids food needs, i don’t really see how it’s different than any other labor that exploits the body, be it harvesting fruit, hauling lumber, sex work, or house work.

  97. Lisa
    Lisa September 15, 2008 at 2:36 pm |

    “It’s also true that some women (and a few men as well) can stimulate the onset of lactation without ever having been pregnant. ”

    I guess it’s just like Ben Stiller said, you can milk anything with nipples! AHAHAHAHAHAHA….

  98. annalouise
    annalouise September 15, 2008 at 4:40 pm |

    I’ve been trying to think up a response to this excellent post but I keep having all these ideas come to me. So forgive the massive unfocused teal deer.

    1)I would be very hiesitant to recoment anyone get any information from La Leche league. They are a deeply misogynistic and homnophobic organization. That believes that only a two-parent, hetero family with a stay at home mother is a valid family.

    2)Whether or not large numbers of wet nurses are currently being employed. The idealogies of the wet nurse still havea huge effects on women today.
    a) women of the professional class, who are overwhemlingly white, still hold ont the sterotype that woc are good child care provfiders because they have “insitinctual” maternal natures. Which is prettym uch a fancy way of saying their thye are primitive. Despite utterly false assertions on this thread that childcare providers are au pairs from other developed countries, the vast, vast majority of nannies, baby nurses etc are woc from the developing world.
    b) there is still a stigma in communities of color around breatfeeing. I worked for seeral years at a high school for young mothers. The background of the students and of the surrounding neighborhoood was overwhelmingly african-american with roots in the rural US South. Whevert we as educators told these young women about the beneifts of breast feeding couldn’t erase the enormous stigma that their mothers and (especially) grandmothers had for it. It was , for their famlies, a degrading act that they were forced , through slavery or economic need to do.
    3) There’s this sick myth of the “perfect mother”, that only upper class and white, college educated women can truly fullfill. Therefore woc aren’t really mothers at all and can be recruited away from their own families to assist white professional women in the futile task of being “perfect” mothers.
    4) Thre is nothign wrong with non breast feeding a child. There is nothing about choosing not to breast feed that makes a woman a bad mother.

  99. annalouise
    annalouise September 15, 2008 at 4:43 pm |

    oh yeah, just a nit picking detail. Healthy, well nourished womn can provide almost an infinite supply of milk for several infants. Wet nurses are traditionally come from the ranks of impoverished peasant and facotry worker women. To this day there aren’t many rural women in the developing world who are actually well nourished and historically women did have to choose which baby was going to get enough food to live: their own, or the child they were paid to nurse.

  100. exholt
    exholt September 15, 2008 at 4:58 pm |

    A Han Chinese woman bought by a Han Chinese family in pre-Communist China to be wet nurse to the babies born to the privileged wives was being exploited as ruthlessly as she would have been had she been bought instead by a white couple.

    While the use of wet nurses was made invisible through the confiscation and persecution of those with “bad class backgrounds”….labels that may be of dubious applicability due to their use for political reasons by the CCP cadre elite……it would not surprise me that this practice still continued to some extent within the highest-levels of that elite.

    Considering Mao Zedong used the CCP song and dance troupe as his personal harem and that many elite CCP cadre families had personal cooks, servants, and nannies……wouldn’t surprise me if the practice of using wet nurses continued…though hidden from public view.

  101. uccellina
    uccellina September 15, 2008 at 5:39 pm |

    Annalouise,

    Your number 1: I am struggling not to threadjack here, but what on earth makes you think La Leche League is misogynist or homophobic??? They are a vital resource for women who are trying to breastfeed, and I would hate to see them described that way without some serious evidence.

    Your number 3: Nobody but nobody can fulfill the myth of the perfect mother. Not white, upper class women, not women of color, not stay at home mothers, not working moms, NOBODY. That’s why it’s a myth.

    Also, your last “nit picking detail” is very wrong. Not all healthy, well-nourished women can provide an infinite supply of milk to multiple infants. This healthy, well-nourished, mother of twins can attest to that.

  102. octogalore
    octogalore September 15, 2008 at 5:42 pm |

    Jesurgislac — thanks for the info! This seems a bit prohibitive and I think doesn’t answer the question of continuation and incentivizing the economic and power gap between genders, but it does have some good benefits.

    Yikes — I think you and I are close in geography. If yo’d like, email me at octogalore@gmail.com and I can tell you more about the educational council program. It’s specific to my undergrad, so it may or may not be approptiate depending on if he is interested in the technology area. But there may be similar programs at other schools too and I can help connect you to some people.

    Re La Leche, I believe you that this is what they put out. I don’t have anything personally at stake here; I have a four year old whom I breastfed for a few months, but I’ve long since closed up shop both in terms of BF and any future childbearing. In my admittedly anecdotal experience, however, annalouise’s comment rings true. LL is very traditional and biased towards BF. I have nothing against it, but most pediatricians do seem to say that without the family immunity, bonding with family, etc. benefits, new anti-allergy, DHA supplemented formula appropriately mixed is pretty darn near equivalent. And many blue collar jobs do not offer reasonable BF options anyway, so I see the aggressive BF advocates like LL to be anti-working woman and also somewhat classist.

  103. annalouise
    annalouise September 15, 2008 at 6:52 pm |

    In L a Lceche leagues book, “the womaly art of breast feeding” they state that the reason they use the words “husband and “wife” instead of more inclusive language is that they feel that the husband-wife model is ideal for all children. They also state that women who work outside the home are risking serious psychological damage to their children. This is why my midwife friends never recomend any la leche league resources to their patients.

  104. uccellina
    uccellina September 15, 2008 at 7:00 pm |

    I’m surprised to hear that, but I will say that I have NEVER encountered that attitude at a La Leche League meeting. I wouldn’t discount them as a resource.

  105. Luna
    Luna September 15, 2008 at 7:13 pm |

    Oh my god… And I thought the arguments in the LJ breastfeeding community were full of anger!

    So many things here. 1st – I’m a white, middle class, Canadian woman. Got lots of privilege here. I’ve often said, quite seriously, that if wet-nursing were legal (it is illegal to sell body fluids in Canada – at least, it was 3 years ago when I looked into it) that I’d be a great wet nurse. I *like* breastfeeding. It releases endorphins that make me feel like I’ve just had a great work out. I produce a TON of milk. It’s crazy. But I don’t do so well with pumps, so I can’t just pump it and donate it to the milk bank (which pasteurizes it anyway, ruining most of the good stuff). I do not see wet nursing as any more exploitative than any other work. That being said, I do recognise the history in this part of the world of exploiting WOC and other poor women (I believe the Irish women in Canada were rather exploited for their milk), and can understand the fear of going back to that place.

    Second, if the milk is there, it is quality milk. One baby will not go hungry or malnourished. However, the health of the mother may suffer, especially if she is malnourished. This is why it is especially important to make sure that any nursing mother has adequate nutrition. I think the US has WIC for this (and doesn’t do a great job of it!). Canada could use a program like that.

    Third, LLL is NOT misogynistic. Where that idea came from is beyond me.

    Fourth, breastmilk is best for baby. The WHO says that formula is the 4th best option. Not second. Fourth. First is breastmilk from mother, directly. Second is breastmilk from mother, pumped. Third, breastmilk from another woman, preferably a family member. Fourth, formula. Sure, it’s your right to feed your baby formula, and sometimes it’s the only option that works for all involved, but if you have the option between all natural food and artificial food, why choose the fake crap? It pisses me off when babies are fed formula because it’s inconvenient to breastfeed. It’s like how it pisses me off when people get McDonalds every other night because it’s inconvenient to cook, and then wonder why the kids aren’t healthy. NOTE that I am NOT talking about people with no options. NOT talking about people who are working 3 jobs and have no time for cooking.

    There’s more, I’m sure. Right now I’m all riled up. :)

  106. annalouise
    annalouise September 15, 2008 at 8:02 pm |

    Indiviual la leche league groups are going to vary and there are plenty of la leche groups that are welcoming to a wide variety of people and are good support groups.
    But the official national policies of La Leche league are misogynist and that misgyny and homophobia is found all over their print materials. There are , fortunatly, there are plenty of feminist and queer friendly breast feeding resources out there.

  107. foxdie
    foxdie September 15, 2008 at 8:34 pm |

    Wow, luna, it must really suck to get that worked up over shit that has nothing to do with you.

    I’m gonna breastfeed for like, oh, a month, tops. You know why? Just to spite you.

    Lol, no, really, it’s because I’m just a lazy bitch.

  108. Renee
    Renee September 15, 2008 at 9:05 pm |

    I won’t be back to comment on this thread after this. I just wanted to say that I am disgusted with the derailment of this thread. This could have been a wonderful conversation and instead it was reduced to semantics and bickering. I am sure it is easier to ignore the large issues at play here because it does not effect a large percentage of the population but it is a reality for some women and that should have given people pause to discuss this with the respect that it deserves. Enjoy your playground….threads like this are exactly why WOC increasingly don’t engage. When you silence the voices that try and continually make their experience all about you, it stifles growth. It seems that myopia is a constant friend for some.

  109. foxdie
    foxdie September 15, 2008 at 10:45 pm |

    Oooh! Oooh! I’m a WoC,(or maybe not, I’m only half) and I don’t feel silenced!

    But I’m not hyper sensitive….

  110. Barbara P
    Barbara P September 16, 2008 at 12:02 pm |

    For a thread that covers such trigger-topics as racism, classism, parenting, being childfree, capitalism and breastfeeding, it’s amazing that it got to the depth that it did.

    Just pointing out the positives here…

  111. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm |

    Renee: I just wanted to say that I am disgusted with the derailment of this thread.

    Well, you could have fixed your derailment here:

    “For those that aren’t aware, historically it has been white women paying, or forcing WOC to act as wet nurses for their children.”

    “For those that aren’t aware, in post-colonialist countries, historically it has been white parents paying, or forcing WOC to act as wet nurses for their children.”

    threads like this are exactly why WOC increasingly don’t engage.

    You chose not to, but instead to get “disgusted” at people pointing out the historical error you made and at people who kept pointing out that white men aren’t innocent in this.

    If that’s why you don’t engage, well: I am sorry. I got angry as well, and I apologize for that.

    But historical truth matters to me. So does arguing well. You made a factually incorrect statement – which wouldn’t have taken much to acknowledge and correct, especially if you wanted (as is your right) to focus on one specific area of history about wet nursing. And you never did want to admit that white men are at least equally responsible with white women for making use of the milk of WOC to feed their children – which makes it a bad argument.

    But the thread got messy, and I argued intemperately, and I am sorry for that. I apologize.

  112. Jill
    Jill September 16, 2008 at 5:26 pm |

    I see I’m a little late to the party, but I’m also embarrassed and irritated at how Renee is being treated. Her points are being intentionally twisted, and the thread has been de-railed multiple times, despite Renee’s requests that it stay on topic. Arguing in good faith is one thing, but that’s not what I’m seeing happening in this thread. It’s a little late to delete comments, since they’re all building on each other, but if this kind of behavior continues I’m going to start deleting. So please knock it off and be respectful.

  113. Imagynne
    Imagynne September 17, 2008 at 8:23 am |

    Alternatively, Jesurgislac, you could have just taken Renee’s point from where she was coming from, instead of making it all about your need to be right and force Renee to ADMIT you were right*.

    If that’s why you don’t engage, well: I am sorry.
    Why should you be sorry, J?–since Renee has decided to disengage, you win!

    *Please do not take this as me agreeing with you.

  114. Jesurgislac
    Jesurgislac September 17, 2008 at 9:01 am |

    Why should you be sorry, J?–since Renee has decided to disengage, you win!

    If a historical inaccuracy is perpetuated, we all lose.

    you could have just taken Renee’s point from where she was coming from

    Accepted American privilege as the default experience on the Internet, regardless of the actual facts? Yes, of course I could have done that. All non-Americans do that some of the time: some non-Americans do that all of the time.

  115. Some women are afraid of being mummy-tracked; others are afraid of being fired. — Hoyden About Town

    […] Womanist Musings: “Here Tits: The Wet Nurse and The Revival Of Mammy” (cross-posted at Feministe) […]

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