The gender politics of sucking up

The best ever campaign poster to promote breastfeeding depicted a woman in corporate suit with infant suckling at her breast. Sometimes It’s Okay to Suck Up to the Boss, read the tagline. Twenty years ago, the campaign conveyed a clever, layered message for the times when few workplaces recognized the needs of new mothers. Of course all that has changed. LOL.  

Today’s breastfeeding controversy is not about where it’s done but what it’s called. Early this year, a U.K hospital revisited terms used in its ‘perinatal service’ to better include trans and nonbinary patients. Most notably, breastfeeding could now be called chest feeding. The new lingo didn’t go down well with many women. Admittedly, the rationale for the new term can be difficult to follow. A trans male or cis male (with the rare ability to produce breast milk) is still producing it from breasts. Men have breasts. That’s why they can get breast cancer. Why are some parents iffy about using the term breastfeeding? Said one tweet: “Using the word “chest feeding” isn’t logical in any sense (apart from being another “win” in the erasure of women perhaps).”

The hospital says its “additive approach” uses gender-neutral language alongside the language of womanhood.”  Breast feeders can continue to call themselves breast feeders. But when in a parenting group or La Leche League meeting, they are encouraged to use inclusive language, and never assume gender identify by appearance alone. Neither should they be surprised if, at such a meeting, after stating pronoun preference, they are asked to declare themselves as either a BF or a CF.