At least her identity as wannabe historian is transparent. A lot of the ‘evidence’ in this monographic rant is courtesy circa 1930. Come on, even the title of this book is lazy and out of date. No one is asking that question anymore Wolf, get with the program! Is Breast Best? No! Breast is normal. Alternatives to the breast are deviations from the norm. Look at it this way, ‘Breast is Best’ is like saying drinking a glass of water through your mouth is best, over funnelling it into your belly button. A normal physiological act cannot be ‘best’ - it’s just freekin’ normal. Jeeez.
I flick the face of anyone that claims this book is unbiased. Its fatal flaw lies in the unfortunate fact that its entire foundation is built upon two faulty assumptions: 1. That there exists a “Total Motherhood” zeitgeist; and 2. That Western culture is pedantically risk-adverse. I’ll roll up my sleeves and tackle each in turn:
1. The Total Motherhood Strawman
Wolf builds a house of straw only so that she can huff and puff and blow it all down, (sorry I couldn’t resist).
“The significance of breastfeeding in America has its roots in long-held assumptions about femininity and masculinity”
Emm, what assumptions would that be? That women lactate and men generally don’t? That’s not an assumption, that’s fact. Quick! Someone call the sexism police! God’s being unethical!
Alas, we can’t blame Wolf for crying feminism. The trouble with a woman’s studies academic writing a book about breastfeeding is that her frame of reference is not necessarily a good match for the subject matter. Wolf paints the whole topic with a sociological brush, when by its very nature, breastfeeding is, of course, physiological. The fact that women lactate is not a patriarchal conspiracy. Yet Wolf describes the advent of (man-made) formula as a feminist triumph, welcoming it with open arms and wet panties, and describing it as:
“Evidence of our conquest of nature and mastery over our body”.
Next, we can see deeper evidence of Wolf's flawed reasoning when we look at the core of her Total Motherhood facade. This, we are told, is an anal preoccupation with risk:
2. Our Supposed ‘Risk-Adverse’ Culture
For her second strawman, Wolf bases her analysis on American society and speaks of a “risk culture” which:
“drives many people to build their life around reducing all conceivable risks. What they eat, how they raise their children, and which cars they drive”.
“Efforts to control the future, and specifically to prevent negative events from taking place, serve as an organizing principle”.
written about this dude previously) studied this phenomenon for several decades and found that the USA and UK were “uncertainty accepting”, “comfortable in ambiguous situations” and willing to take risk. Turns out, our countries have “a larger degree of acceptance for new ideas, innovative products and a willingness to try something new or different, whether it pertains to technology, business practices, or foodstuffs” (Hofstede 2014). This is the polar opposite of what Wolf is basing her entire book upon.
She further stuffs her strawman by denouncing breastfeeding studies, drawing a phony distinction between “what children need (formula) and what might enhance their physical, intellectual, and emotional development (breastfeeding). Yet breastfeeding doesn’t ‘enhance’ anything. It’s merely the biological benchmark for normal physiological functioning. Again, the way this debate is framed by Wolf is remarkably off-course. It views breastfeeding as an optional extra - and one which is not worth the effort.
In a nutshell, this book is Wolf’s attempt to use her idiosyncratic faux concepts to frame women's infant feeding choices, the very thing she disparages others for doing. At a pinch, I award it one star for effort.