American Breasts, The Culture War's Latest Battlefield

American Breasts, The Culture War’s Latest Battlefield

Feb 15, 2011

Right wing lawmakers and pundits are hitting back at the First Lady for Michelle Obama’s promotion of breastfeeding, thus giving us a glimpse at how low people will go for their ideological gain.

MichelleFlexing American Breasts, The Culture Wars Latest Battlefield

To mark the one year anniversary of the “Let’s Move” physical fitness campaign, Mrs. Obama today launched a new initiative to promote breastfeeding among America’s women, which science shows can reduce childhood obesity.

“What we’re learning now is that early intervention is key. Breastfeeding. Kids who are breastfed longer have a lower tendency to be obese,” said the First Lady today, just as the IRS has designated breast pumps and other accessories as tax deductible, and the a renewed push for a federal law ordering businesses to give nursing women private space for feeding, both developments that she endorses.

Rep. Michele Bachmann wasted no time in turning Mrs. Obama’s proclamation to her political advantage, telling Laura Ingraham, “I’ve given birth to five babies and I breastfed every single one. To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump. … That’s the new definition of a nanny state.” Haha. Yes, turning the health of America’s children into an ideological debate is hilarious.

As criticism mounts, the White House wants to make clear that the First Lady’s not telling women to breastfeed. She’s simply offering some facts. “[Mrs. Obama] is not telling women to breastfeed,” asserted senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, before addressing the economic realities involved in breastfeeding and the importance of offering women space at their offices.”

“One of the most common reasons mothers cite for discontinuing breastfeeding is returning to work and not having break time or a private space to express milk.”

In addition to containing economic and medical arguments, this controversy also carries with it a racial aspect, due largely to Mrs. Obama’s observation last year that breastfeeding remains a problem among black communities.

“We’re also working to promote breastfeeding, especially in the black community, where 40 per cent of our babies never get breastfed at all, even in the first weeks of life, and we know that babies that are breastfed are less likely to be obese as children,” she told the Congressional Black Caucus Conference last year.

Mrs. Obama’s color-coded comment has now provided a new angle for other critics, like Fox News pundit Sandy Rios, who today remarked, “We’re talking about a problem that is specifically in the black community, so for you to change federal law and IRS regulations and start forcing businesses to start make accommodations for nursing women at their own expense to promote it in the black community is the problem that I have with it.”

It won’t be long, I’m sure, before extreme conservatives begin painting this breastfeeding conversation as black versus white.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought the culture wars were fading into the background. Fiscal concerns were eclipsing social issues like abortion and marriage equality, libertarian politics appeared to be reshaping the Republican camp into a more inclusive party, and our nation seemed ready to put aside divisive issues and tackle economic concerns that impact all Americans, rather than just our political peers.

With the emboldened GOP reviving their old wedge issues, and now adding this breast feeding kerfuffle into the mix, I see I was wrong: the culture wars weren’t waning; right wing warriors were simply biding their time, waiting and watching for another moment to strike.

Now they’re coming back with more venom than ever before so that not even breast feeding, one of the most basic, human acts, is safe from partisan debates. It’s a sad day when a tit becomes political ammunition.

(As a related side note, I find it interesting that the right’s opposed to creating private space for women breastfeeding at work, yet erupts over lack of privacy in TSA screenings.)

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