Category Archives: feminism

Bogus Science, Outright Lies, and the Social Control of Mothers

Laurie and Debbie say:


If you watch TV in Brazil, you will see a series of ads that

depict a baby suckling on an unhealthy food instead of a breast.

One ad features a baby nursing on a burger, the second has an baby feeding on a doughnut, and the third has an infant nursing from a cup of soda. “Your child is what you eat,” reads the campaign’s tagline in large cursive letters across the woman’s chest. “Your habits in the first thousand days of gestation can prevent your child from developing serious diseases,” it continues.

The ads, which are outright lies, are sponsored by the Sociedad de Pediatrica de Rio Grande del Sul, so a Brazilian mother may not realize she is being lied to, and threatened.

(Parenthetically, gestation is about 270 days. If it’s a mistranslation, and they mean the first 1,000 days of life, you would still have to breastfeed until the child was three for that number to be useful. But that’s a side issue.)

More important, only a few substances are known to cross the breast milk barrier, and they don’t include sugar and fat. According to Diana West of La Leche League, the body’s milk production is designed to be relatively consistent so that the nutrients in whatever food a mother consumes go first into the milk. If there is any nutritional deficit, it will be experienced by the mother. “She’s the one that gets robbed, not the milk,” said West.

So what are the pediatricians really doing? Let’s look at another example, this one from the U.S.


… almost all public health campaigns, whether sponsored by states, social movement organizations, public health institutes, or the associations of alcohol purveyors tell pregnant women not to drink alcohol during, before, or after pregnancy… at all… or else.

If you’ve heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, this sounds like reasonable advice … until you dig into the numbers.

… only about 5% of women give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS. This means that many mothers drink excessively, and many more drink somewhat (at least 16 percent of mothers drink during pregnancy), and yet many, many children born to these women show no diagnosable signs of FAS. Twin studies, further, have shown that sometimes one fraternal twin is diagnosed with FAS, but the other twin, who shared the same uterine environment, is fine.

So, drinking during pregnancy does not appear to be a sufficient cause of FAS, even if it is a necessary cause (by definition?)

The article on mothers and alcohol goes on to quote a 12-year-old (!) book by Elizabeth M. Armstrong, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility, which identifies a host of co-factors in fetal alcohol syndrome, including “poverty, malnutrition, high parity [i.e., having lots of children], and advanced maternal age.”

So, again, telling mothers that they must not drink at all during pregnancy is an outright lie. Even telling them that excessive drinking usually leads to FAS would be an outright lie.

What purpose do these lies serve?

First, like so many other things, they serve to control women. We know as feminists that when women gain power, huge efforts are immediately applied to curb that power. Just as acceptable sizes for women get smaller and smaller as women’s power gets bigger, acceptable behavior for women (in this case mothers) gets more and more constrained as more and more women take control of their lives (including their choice to have children).

Second, they prey upon the vulnerability of new mothers. Pregnant women and new mothers have long been known to be the most “compliant” population the medical profession sees. No one wants to feel like what’s wrong with her new baby is her fault, so if you tell her something she can do to prevent a possible problem, she’s very likely to take you seriously. (Isn’t “compliant” an interesting word in this context?)

Third, it continues the social trend to move “sin” away from harming others, acting violently, or other historical sinful acts and toward what we consume, what we eat and drink. It’s very convenient for the power structure if we worry more about what we put into our mouths than what they put into their pockets.

Finally, as we are learning to see everywhere, it takes the focus off the ways we as a society translate social problems into individual problems. It’s so much easier, and cheaper, and less demanding for us to tell pregnant women not to drink than for us to look at the issues of poverty and malnutrition. It’s so much more facile to tell nursing mothers not to eat fast food than it is to think about what food they have available, what choices are within their budget, and who is paying for the baby’s needs.

Shaming isn’t just cruel (though it is cruel); it’s also extremely convenient for the capitalists.

Let’s Have Some Links

Debbie says:

The last few times I’ve sat down to do links, I’ve ended up with themed posts, but this time I have a wider range.

You might think Serena Williams wouldn’t be expected to smile when she had just defeated her sister and close friend, but no. Anita Little at Sociological Images defends Williams.


… during a post-match press conference on Tuesday, a reporter had the gall to ask why she wasn’t smiling.

Williams looked down and gave an exasperated sigh before shelling out the best response an athlete has given in an interview since football player Marshawn Lynch’s “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” trademark phrase.

It’s 11:30. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t want to be here. I just want to be in bed right now and I have to wake up early to practice and I don’t want to answer any of these questions. And you keep asking me the same questions. It’s not really … you’re not making it super enjoyable.

no matter how insanely accomplished or famous you become, you will still be subjected to the innocuous-sounding but ever-so-pernicious “why don’t you smile?” interjection from those who feel entitled to make demands of women. Williams’ retort was her attempt at dismantling that sense of entitlement. For those who say the reporter’s question was a harmless jest, they should ask themselves if Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal would ever be expected to defend their stern or tired expressions.

Williams is being honored, along with eleven other inspiring women, in a huge sea change in the famous Pirelli calendar.

Usually known for featuring the most beautiful models of the day, the famed Pirelli calendar is taking 2016’s issue in a whole new direction by featuring some of the world’s most inspiring women – from artists to athletes and even to bloggers.

In a preview clip aired on the New York Magazine website, the likes of Serena Williams, Patti Smith and Yoko Ono are spotted posing for legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Perhaps Pirelli has been paying attention to Rosie Nelson, crusading inside the modeling industry for ditching the skin-and-bones look. Liz Dwyer at TakePart reports:

“When I walked into one of the UK’s biggest model agencies last year they told me I ticked all the boxes except one—I needed to lose weight. So I did,” wrote 23-year-old Rosie Nelson on the petition she launched. “Four months later I lost nearly [14 pounds and] 2 inches off my hips. When I returned to the same agency they told me to lose more weight, they wanted me ‘down to the bone.’”

“When I look in the mirror I see someone that is healthy and comfortable in their skin. That’s because I had the guts to carve out my own path and refuse to let people pressure me into losing more and more weight,” wrote Nelson. “But… the reminders are everywhere that we need a law to protect young girls, and boys, who are put under pressure to be dangerously thin.”

Being healthy and comfortable in your skin is something so many of us are looking for. Sydnee Thompson at Black Girl Dangerous reminds us that “Defining Your Gender As A Black Queer Femme Is Revolutionary“:

Growing up, I knew three things: One, I was a girl. Two, I didn’t like it. And three, there was nothing I could do about either of them.

But how could I trust my feelings? As a Black femme, I already had the deck stacked against me. No matter what we feel, society tells us from the beginning it doesn’t matter. We face misogynoir that deems us unworthy of femininity and womanhood by default while simultaneously being objectified and fetishized, not to mention femmephobia that forces us to adhere to standards of presentation and then punishes us for it.

From childhood, we’re objects for the consumption of others, lacking agency or inherent value. All of that baggage muddies the waters when you realize you’re different and start trying to figure out why. Is it the internalized oppression talking, something else, or both?

Read the rest: Thompson is a clear, powerful, angry writer.

Jennifer Swann at TakePart talks about advances in transgender health care–and one trans woman behind a lot of the positive change.

Though [Tommilynn] Travis now lives in California, one of 16 states that have banned health care discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, she has nonetheless faced insurance-related delays and outright denials for transition-related health care.

But Travis now knows that such denials can be illegal, and she is at the forefront of a movement to get all trans people access to health care and force health insurance companies to pay for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. …

All the hours Travis has spent “calling, fussing, trying to figure out who’s in charge, who’s holding things back—it’s going to pay off for all these other people who were too scared to say anything,” she says. She’s no longer alone in the fight for transgender health care, as she sometimes felt she was in New Mexico. Now she’s surrounded by a community of transgender men and women with urgent medical needs. “Rather than just be an advocate for myself,” she says, she now has “these 400, 500 other girls” to fight for. “It’s not just me. That’s the way I always try to look at it—as not just helping me but helping everybody where I can.”

And just in case you thought — as I kind of did — that you were versed in the complexities of gender, here’s an amazing gender variation story from Diane Kelly at Throb.

In an article for the BBC Magazine, Michael Mosely talks to families [in the Dominican Republic] with children that were brought up as girls because they lacked obvious testes or a penis at birth, but grew penises and had their testicles descend when they neared puberty. The local name for these children is “guevedoces”, or “penis at twelve.” But the change they go through isn’t magic–it’s an example of how multi-layered and complex human sexual development really is.

Here’s how it works.

The condition is the result of an enzyme deficiency. Guevedoces are genetically male, and have Y chromosomes in all of their cells. Their earliest sexual development is also normal: a gene on the Y chromosome turns the undeveloped gonads of the 7 week old embryo into testes, which soon start pumping out male hormones. Two of those hormones–testosterone and Mullerian-inhibiting substance–are critical for the development of the internal male reproductive system. …

When guevedoces are born, their external genitalia look female even though their internal reproductive structures are male. They’re raised as girls. But at puberty, the testes inside their abdomens start producing large amounts of testosterone. The effect is startling.

During puberty, testosterone makes the penis and testes grow into their larger adult form. The same thing happens to the guevedoces: but since their penis starts closer to the size of a clitoris, there’s a lot more growing to do.

I would have liked Kelly to acknowledge that there is no such thing as “the size of a clitoris,” (some are bigger than some penises). but basically I’m just fascinated by the story.

As always, I harvest my links from my usual reading around the web. Laurie found the Pirelli calendar story, and I thank Lizzy for pointing out the guevedoces story; I had already found it, but you never know — I might have missed it.