There is No Breastfeeding “War” Between Women: Formula Food and the Lobby to Disempower Women

Formula Food and the Lobby to Disempower Women

Social media is sometimes the space from where I draw ideas for my writing–especially conversations that transpire that tend towards the controversial. And so it went yesterday when I was “treated” to yet another faux-feminist piece in The Independent, which typical of many newspapers today, bases stories entirely as reportage of social media posts.  I posted the link to the piece entitled, “‘Mums should know they have choices’: Woman who regrets breastfeeding writes honest post about its downsides” and I wrote several posts about how there is a plethora of these articles on women’s ostensible regrets about breastfeeding accompanied by media hype surrounding the alleged “bottle wars” and the “war over breastfeeding” where women are somehow “pressured into breastfeeding,” with zero evidence that supports an overbearing societal pressure for women to breastfeed. (Nor is there any “war” or even an Alexis vs. Crystal cat fight in the mix.)  If anything, I underscored to the discussants in this thread, how I view that the antithesis is true: that there has been a historical push from the formula food industry since the 1950s onwards to nudge women from breastfeeding and get them onto bottle/formula feeding.

The reactions to my post elicited agreement and upset, to include a personal narrative of a woman who suffered the pressures of a mother-in-law to breastfeed, another who had to stop breastfeeding because her body “couldn’t make any more milk,” to other women who brought up the fact that they were pressured into bottle feeding from not one person but an entire system.  Then the usual dynamic of some women feeling “judged” occurred with  one woman writing, “So don’t judge women who won’t or can’t breastfeed.”  I noted how this sort of dynamic lays the groundwork for the falsehood underlying the above Independent article: that there is a conspiracy against women and among women regarding this faux debate: to bottle feed or breastfeed.  Instead I argue that we need a more holistic and complete historical understanding of the larger framework of what has taken place.  I have observed that women are actually not embattled with each other but instead are taken in by the larger capitalist undertow which has convinced them that “other women”—not capitalism—are the problem.

There are two primary postulates with which to begin here: first, that some women claim that they feel pressured into breastfeeding or shamed for not breastfeeding; and second, that there there is no active pressuring of women from industry and society to breastfeed but instead there has been a relatively recent, woman-centric pushback to formula feeding in the form of breastfeeding awareness groups and publications on this subject. In response to the latter, it is tenable that one of the possible outcomes of the heightened awareness of breastfeeding that has taken foothold in the U.S. since roughly 2000, could be that some women who, for reasons of necessity or desire, do not or cannot breastfeed, end up feeling excluded from being part of the breastfeeding conversation.  But does this fact of their not breastfeeding or the conterminous efforts to educate women about breastfeeding equal a pressuring to breastfeed?   I would argue no. And the reason for this comes from the larger historical contextualisation of the multi-billion dollar formula food industry against which women are finally and successfully pushing back.

It is important to note here that the revolt against decades of the formula food industry’s abusive practices has been no easy task.  It took organising and years of moving the ground under this industry’s “feet” while getting the word out through grassroots means to educate woman about the basics of breastfeeding rights.  That women should be able to breastfeed without controversy has been the struggle over the past sixty years, not the inverse.  And it took many decades of heightened awareness about breastfeeding which does not amount to the condemnation of those women who do not or cannot breastfeed.  In other words, the guilt that women feel about not breastfeeding is simply not substantiated by a larger scale industrial and media sponsorship which sets out to shame women for bottle feeding.  That some women have negative in-laws or unhelpful friends is not up for debate here.  What is at the crux of this discussion, however, is that the formula milk industry has had such a stranglehold over women for so long that the recent revolution of breastfeeding cannot be vulgarly cast as a demonisation of the bottle feeding mothers.

Anyone would be hard-pressed to show that the fact women who breastfeed and discuss this practice does not amount to an exclusion or a pressuring of women who bottle feed.  This is a false equivalence.  The reality is that in this current era where women are working more hours outside and inside the house, the need for support in the first months of a child’s life is crucial to these mothers for whom sitting down to feed their child can be both a physically exhausting and mind-numbingly boring experience. It can be many other things as well, but the collectivity of women who discuss this process of breastfeeding has come at the price of decades of women being misinformed about breastfeeding, being sold lies for their pocket change, and having lost children to this industry.  It is only after years of pushing back against the industrialisation of our bodies and the multi-layered, several-decade ideological onslaught from a very wealthy industry that women are finally able to discuss their breastfeeding practices.

First we need to address what are categorised as “wars” and likened to pond-dipping cat fights which are entirely manufactured by the media. Even on my wall came understanding and respectful discussions in the end.  I did not see anything akin to a war on the issue of women being able to discuss this so-called “debate.”  Indeed, I deem this discussion to be falsely posited by these very same industries which successfully get away with representing women as in-fighting vixens who cannot for one minute be left alone with another female.  Dare she enter the room wearing the exact same dress–stand back!  There is no debate between women but instead a very successful marketing and media strategy which has used women’s lives to sell some very expensive and sometimes dangerous products to the most disenfranchised women on the planet on the one hand, and on the other, which has resulted with western women taking to capitalist measures in order to counterpose the formula industry’s stranglehold on breastfeeding culture.

The history of commercial infant formula is long and colourful and the formula milk scandal around the world is well-documented with companies like Nestlé having become the focal point of this disaster for good reason.  In 1974, Nestlé was “accused of getting Third World mothers hooked on formula” through misleading promotional campaigns. Mike Muller details this in his piece, “The Baby Killer” (translated into German as “Nestlé kills babies”), wherein he documents the formula food industry’s concerted focus on converting breastfeeding mothers throughout the economically developing world to formula feeding. This conversion from breast to formula milk costs as many as 3,800 children a day according to Save the Children and the results were disastrous.  Because most mothers could not afford the formula they were advised to use,  they diluted the formula often using contaminated water.  In 1981 The New York Times Magazine reported the words of Halfdan Mahler, the then Director General of the World Health Organization who went on record stating that: “Evidence from developing countries indicates that infants breast-fed less than six months, or not at all, have a mortality rate 5 to 10 times higher in the second six months of life than those breast-fed six months or more.” Even this initial public relations disaster and ensuing boycott of Nestlé did not stop the exploitation of women and infants as the exposé continues: “In the world market, estimated to be as great as $2 billion wholesale, Swiss-based Nestlé commands a 50 percent share, while the American companies and dozens of other competitors divide the rest.” According to Forbes, as of May 2016, Nestlé commands annual sales over $92 billion. Its American competitor, Mead Johnson, which produces Enfamil, has 2016 annual profits of $2,401,700 with “about 70 percent of its business in international markets.”

The public attention given to Nestlé’s actions in the developing world gave rise to the “Four-Point Plan” by Baby Milk Action, a proposal which reaches across the aisle to Nestlé asking for compliance with the demands of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN):

1. Nestlé must state in writing that it accepts that the International Code and the subsequent, relevant World Health Assembly Resolutions are minimum requirements for every country.

2. Nestlé must state in writing that it will make the required changes to bring its baby food marketing policy and practice into line with the International Code and Resolutions (i.e. end its strategy of denial and deception).

3. Baby Milk Action will take the statements to the International Nestlé Boycott Committee and suggest that representatives meet with Nestlé to discuss its timetable for making the required changes.

4. If IBFAN monitoring finds no Nestlé violations for 18 months, the boycott will be called off.

Also, according to IBFAN, Nestlé has consistently use unethical methods to promote their infant formula to poor mothers in developing countries. Yet there are conflicting corporate and employment interests as Nestlé’s top twenty-nine brands have sales of over $1 billion a year, they have 447 factories throughout 194 countries, and they employ approximately 333,000 people.  Still, this action plan has been systemically denied by Nestlé year after year.  More recently, Muller has  presented an update to his 1974 research, “Nestlé baby milk scandal has grown up but not gone away,” where he notes the persistence of the same abuses he noted almost four decades earlier:

However, for Nestlé and the rest of the global food industry, the baby milk scandal has grown up rather than gone away. The industry today stands accused of harming the health of whole nations, not just their babies. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has committed his own money to a campaign against unhealthy food, comparing this to his fight against the tobacco industry. The WHO faces opposition to proposals from the NGO Global Action for Improved Nutrition to establish partnerships with industry. What started as skirmish in the nursery is turning into full-scale war on many fronts.

Muller’s investigation is damning as it demonstrates how Nestlé still targets pregnant women, mothers of babies, and young children as well as health workers to promote its products and boost its sales. Chronicling how Nestlé puts babies who need to be fed on formula at risk, Muller also shows how Nestlé refuses to put warning labels to indicate that powdered formula is not sterile and may contain harmful bacteria and how Nestlé does not give correct instructions on how to reduce certain risks, unless required by law (ie. in the UK where it markets the SMA® brand).  But even then the market investment is mind-numbing as Save the Children notes:

The UK baby food market is dominated by three companies – Heinz, SMA (Wyeth) and Nutricia (Numico).   Jointly they account for about 84 per cent of all retail sales of baby food in the UK.  It is a highly profitable business, totalling £329 million in sales in 2004/05 and set to grow by 20 per cent by 2010. It is estimated that it costs UK parents about £650 to bottle-feed a baby for one year. The three top UK baby milk manufacturers spent £7.6 million on marketing campaigns in the UK  in 2006/07.This is over ten times what the UK government spent on promoting breastfeeding in the same year.

Today there is a thriving Nestlé boycott thanks, in large part, to Muller’s original efforts in 1974 and that year after year by women’s groups also highlight this issue.  IBFAN’s boycott statement reads:

The boycott holds Nestlé to account and forces it to make changes, while also keeping the issue in the public eye (see Nestlé boycott successes). However, Nestlé continues systematic violations in those countries which have not yet brought in independently monitored and enforced legislation implementing the marketing requirements, which is another part of our strategy for protecting infant health and mothers’ rights.

Even though the formula milk lobby began sixty plus years ago, the effects are still devastating across the globe with breastfeeding rates continue to fall throughout East Asia and many African nations with Save the Children blaming the aggressive marketing strategies engaged by corporate interests in their report entitled “Superfood for Babies” (2013). In this report Save the Children UK writes that if every baby were breastfed in the first hour after birth, the lives of 830,000 babies would be saved annually. In other words, 11.6% of all deaths amongst children under five years old could be prevented by breastfeeding.  Giving hard information on the effects of the formula food lobby, this report states:

The region that is the biggest cause for concern is east Asia and the Pacific. UNICEF recently reviewed the declining rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the region and found that the overall rate, which in 2006 was 45% including China or 32% excluding China, had fallen

to 29% for the whole region in 2012. This region is the area where the baby food industry is targeting the greatest proportion of its resources.

This report is a damning piece of evidence as to how the 35 billion dollar industry is functioning to successfully deprive women of the ability to make informed decisions over the life of her child. Demonstrating how breastfeeding rates in East Asia and the Pacific had fallen from 45% in 2006 to 29% in 2012, this report also goes on to show what is happening in countries like the the UK:

In the UK, 81% of mothers initiate breastfeeding early (defined in this context as within the first 24 hours). This highlights a steady increase from 62% in 1990 and 76% in 2005. However, according to the 2010 survey, only 5% of babies were still breastfed at five months (up from 3% in 2005).

One need only to look at the World Health Organization (WHO) statics on breastfeeding by country.  While countries like the U.S.A. show a steady increase of exclusive breastfeeding at six months from 10.3% in 2003 to 16.3% in 2009, it is important to understand that internationally the formula food market is targeting women across the planet and settling in those regions where the resistance is less pervasive.

Today, in India there are over 14 million babies at risk “as baby food companies flout laws and continue promoting their products in the market” where middle-class women were targeted by illegal forms of advertisement. In an online survey conducted amongst the members of the Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers (BSIM), a 25,000 member Facebook group, more than 950 mothers who delivered in private hospitals responded. The survey reports that  “more than half were given artificial baby milk out of these two-third said it was given without their consent. Analysis of the survey also revealed that children were given formula without knowledge of women. Health workers often doubted their ability to produce milk and undermined their confidence in breastfeeding.”

Aside from Nestlé, other baby formula companies have likewise been called out such as Danone’s Aptamil brand which has been accused of misleading mothers with a marketing campaign which warned these women that “might not be providing enough breast milk.”  The company suggested mothers use powdered baby milk to make up for any shortfall from their own milk production. And in 2009, Numil, Danone’s infant nutrition brand in Turkey, engaged 577 paediatricians to measure the breast milk production of breastfeeding mothers of children aged six months using the scare tactics in its Turkish advertisements which read: “Your baby needs at least 500ml milk per day. If your breast milk is not enough, give Aptamil formula to support your baby’s immune system.”   Chair of the British Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s Nutrition Committee, Dr Colin Michie, called Danone’s campaign, “misleading….. There is not enough evidence to support its approach.

With this history in mind, it is crucial to understand the turnaround of breastfeeding rates is country-specific and notably it is the United States that has lead the turnaround of nutrition habits for infants. There are, however, mitigating factors in this turnaround that bear mentioning:

A more plausible explanation of the resurgence of breastfeeding in all major segments of society is the pervasive influence of the natural childbirth movement of the 1960s and 1970s, with its effects on the standard management of childbirth. In addition, the increase of breast-feeding among low income women may be attributable in part to programmatic changes in the provision of supplemental food through the WIC program and targeting of breastfeeding promotion efforts to the specific concerns of these women.

Similarly, within this shift of breastfeeding habits in the early 21st century, there is also critique of some of the social movements that drove this change. For instance, La Leche League’s roots as it originated through the workings of seven Catholic women in an Illinois living room with a mixture of feminist and scientific discourse, one can hardly blame the ideological underpinnings for this vehicle which fought back so early in the formula lobby’s successful demise of American breastfeeding.  By La Leche League’s first meeting in October 1956 breastfeeding initiation rates in the United States had plummeted since the end of the Second World War. Their mandate, nonetheless, was clear: “to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

While there are studies which show that bottle food is no worse than breast milk, there are other many other—even very recent—studies which actually show that breast milk is better.  And should women not be able to raise these questions without being reduced to being bitchy, jealous, or judgmental of other women?  It is as if the very rhetoric around this issue is framed in an uber-sexist manner such that women cannot possibly sit down and have informed discussions on this topic.

For instance, in a TRTV interview on “Real Talk” with midwives, Michelle Peixinho and Mary Lou Singleton, the fact of oxytocin receptors comes up:  “There [are] more oxytocin receptors in your body in the moment after you give birth than any other time in your entire life. It’s the same for the new-born baby. And the reason is because in that moment that bond needs to take place. This is nature, what we’re talking about, a natural process.”  Sounds hippy? Well, it just might be, but it’s also scientifically sound.  Oxytocin is also released to the nursing mother and, according to Sarah J. Buckley, functions to promote “labor efficiency, and prelabor epinephrine-norepinephrine receptor upregulation optimizes fetal adaptations to labor hypoxia and newborn transitions via the fetal catecholamine surge” and helps to return her uterus to its pre-pregnancy state.  Also, in a 2014 study of women who planned and then went on to breastfeed, it was shown that breastfeeding resulted in these women being 50 percent less likely to become depressed than mothers who had not planned to breastfeed as oxytocin “reduces stress by centrally activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes calm, connection, healing, and growth; and by reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which reduces fear, stress, and stress hormones, and increases sociability.”  Buckley’s report on oxytocin also discusses the positive effects of oxytocin in breastmilk:

Elevated newborn oxytocin levels at birth may have calming and analgesic effects that assist with the baby’s postpartum transition, and promote breastfeeding initiation. Maternal-newborn interactions – including through skin-to-skin contact, vocalizations, and maternal odor – may further beneficially elevate newborn oxytocin, reduce stress, and stabilize newborn physiology. Physiologic hormonal experiences in the newborn period may optimally program hormonal systems longer term by epigenetic mechanisms, as found in animal studies.

As well as numerous studies which show how oxytocin could also be used to treat autism, it is important to underscore that showing positive links between breastmilk and human development should be discussed without the fear that these facts are in any way diminishing those women who choose not to or who cannot breastfeed.

On the other side of this “debate” are articles which examine the “overselling” of breastfeeding which although is correct in indicating that “American mothers breast-feed just as much, and often for much longer, than women in many other Western countries,” elide the contentious problem at the core: that this recent trend of American women breastfeeding came about only recently and after concerted efforts by grassroots movements such as La Leche League to gain some ground in this discussion.  It is also notable that breastfeeding lobbies around the world vary greatly from country to country. Take for instance the news this week that almost seventy percent of women in England start breastfeeding after giving birth,  “but less than half are still doing so two months later, according to NHS and Public Health England (PHE) data.”  The Guardian goes on to detail why how a survey commissioned by PHE shows that these low breastfeeding rates are due to: “fears about breastfeeding among women included that it could be painful (74%), prevent them taking medication (71%) and be embarrassing in front of strangers (63%).”  Clearly that culture of encouragement which is far more firmly in place in countries like the United States is sorely lacking in the UK.

Certainly there are problems plaguing the effective communication to and education of new mothers as to what options are best for them.  And there is a clear conflation of personal experience on the one hand, with Adele who tells of her trials of breastfeeding, and on the other, with professionals such as obstetrician, Amy Tuteur, who has made a career from calling into question women-centred practices such as natural childbirth, breastfeeding, and  attachment parenting.   While I agree with some of the critiques that Tuteur flatly directs towards some of the pressure women face today with the rise of “natural birth” (ie. women who are pressured to avoid hospital births and epidurals), I think that telling women to “push back” against breastfeeding is dangerous at best.  Sure, in countries with access to clean water, the option to bottle feed is not an unsafe choice.  But even in the United States there is ample proof to demonstrate that millions of Americans are drinking contaminated water which goes well beyond Flint, MI.  More importantly, Tuteur takes it as a fait accompli that breastmilk and formula are equally beneficial. But the truth of the matter is that the jury is out regarding the science behind this debate.  Tuteur also lays claim that public health does not benefit from this practice stating that “wide swings in breastfeeding rates in the 20th Century (from initiation rates over 70% down to 20% and back up above 75%) have had no impact on infant mortality rates, life expectancy or IQ.”  This latter claim, however, is not science since we know that correlation is not causation.  Aside from women who cannot physically breastfeed for whatever reason, Tuteur also fails to address the ease and timesaving practice of breastfeeding compared to quite onerous and time-consuming practice of bottle feeding, a fact which truly is indisputable.

While one can sympathise with anyone who cannot or does not wish to breastfeed, what is completely misrepresented by those skeptical of the recent push to encourage women to breastfeed around the planet is the belief that education of breastfeeding necessarily means “overselling” or that the intent is to “guilt” women into breastfeeding.  There is a vast difference between empowering women with the knowledge regarding the time and effort-saving advantages of breastfeeding, for instance, and the act of disseminating historical and present-day dangers of the industries which either attempt to disempower women from autonomous forms of feeding their child, or those which utilise the breastfeeding education movement within their own money-making lobby.

For instance, African American women are being targeted by the Medolac, an Oregon-based company, which is working with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to grow members who contribute to the Mothers Milk Cooperative, “the only milk bank owned and operated by nursing mothers.”  While The New York Times uses the language of empowerment “owned and operated by”, the reality is that black women in the US are being used as wet nurses to supplement a human milk bank.  There are approximately 1,000 members of Mothers Milk Cooperative who are being paid $1 per ounce for excess breast milk.  The milk is then sold to hospitals for preterm and sick infant care.  In 2015, the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association demanded answers from Medolac Laboratories regarding an initiative to enlist 2,000 more African-American mothers as breastmilk donors for a cooperative milk bank in an open letter signed by more than 400 individuals and organisations.

While there are valid critiques of companies like Medolac which profit from breast pumps to enable working mothers to return to the workforce, they are usually viewed as the David to the formula milk industry’s Goliath:

Yes, there is money to be made from breastfeeding, but Medela’s balance sheets, though they are growing, look positively anemic when compared to the billions of dollars generated annually by even less robust competitors such as Abbott, which makes Similac. There is, ultimately, no comparison between a successful company like Medela and Fortune 500 behemoths such as Abbott, Mead Johnson, and, especially, Nestlé.

Legal scholar, Linda C. Fentiman, rightly frames the perils of marketing of breastmilk and infant formula and she tells the history of how, despite the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) supporting breastfeeding as the preferred method of infant feeding, that individual paediatricians, unknowledgeable about breastfeeding, took their cues from the “detail men,” manufacturers’ representatives whose job it was to extol the virtues of their product.  While the ostensible “freedom” of bottle feeding appealed to women who had left the workforce, the effects of this shift meant that breastfeeding rates in the United States fell by 50% from 1946 to 1956.  By 1971 only 21% of Americans infants were breastfed upon discharge and 6% were breastfeeding at five to six months of their child’s life.  In response to this drop, arguments to build a new paradigm in the mother-child relationship which was referred to as “bonding.”  Breastfeeding rates increased gradually with yet another fierce decline occurring between 1984 and 1989 and then rising steadily in the United States to the present day.

What Fentiman’s work offers is a strength of structural analysis and the historical and social reasons for which women bottle feed (aside from medical necessity): poor maternity leave and then later workplace restrictions.  And indeed this is where all women need to focus their resources and energies across the planet. We must fight to maintain the best possibility for our newborns and the mother’s process of adapting to this new life, to include the best form of feeding her child given the many legal and cultural hurdle before us.  Fentiman addresses the lack of legal safeguards in the U.S.A., for instance, where women are not protected by law to breastfeed in public.  Such social and medical issues surrounding breastfeeding mirror similar legal and social battles which impact the female body, to include the difficulties women face in obtaining economic independence, the many countries where freedom of movement for grown women is not a given, and the ability to obtain a divorce.  It would seem that women’s bodies are under constant debate and negotiation no matter how much time transpires, no matter how much we would like to believe that human rights of all sorts are a trickle forward movement of progressive betterment and not this historical cha-cha-cha which moves back and forth between improvements and regressions.

In fact, some of the challenges facing women in the west necessitate that we look eastward for other models, such as those countries with extra-parental leave for breastfeeding or, as in the case of countries like China and Turkey, where women have the right to breastfeeding breaks during the workday.  Instead, the most surreal of legal events are occurring in the U.S.A. such as the Supreme Court ruling of 2015 on the case of a woman who was fired to for taking time to pump milk for her newborn during the day.  The Supreme Court declined to overturn the lower court’s decision to protect the insurance company which fired the breastfeeding mother because—wait for it—“some men can lactate.”

Women today are growing progressively aware that the challenges we face to our human rights are increasing, not decreasing.   Among the dwindling rights of women around the world are:  the decreased funding for family planning, restrictions to abortion access, the wrongful deaths of pregnant women, access to medical care and research that is not specifically aimed at male bodies.  Additionally, females are facing an uphill battle when it comes to having frank discussions about how best to feed their newborn.  While the history of infant feeding is a story that should be told in its technicolor breadth to include the baby food lobby, we cannot allow the media to hyperbolise this discussion of childhood nutrition, turning it into a blame game or a “war.” As Taylor Newman notes about the the education of breastfeeding in recent years, “It’s a movement, not a ‘war’.”

The larger issues we must confront together is the need for longer and better paid maternity leave for women so that breastfeeding can be a realistic option. Likewise, we need to create a formula milk label that is entirely not-for-profit and grass-roots inspired and which does not attempt to create an industry on women’s bodies through the fantastical spinning of untruths. The underlying factor of this debate is ultimately about allowing women to be empowered to choose what is best for their schedules and emotional needs while improving the material conditions of mothers who often are left with no choices, just last resorts.  For the many mothers who adopt or who are unable to breastfeed for any number of reasons, they deserve the best milk substitute without contributing to an industry that is disempowering women from breastfeeding in developing countries.

This faux “war” of how breastfeeding is represented in the media and popular culture functions very similarly to how Slavoj Žižek’s describes “the subject presumed to believe” in his Sublime Object of Ideology (1989):

Our hypothetical starting-point is that there is an abundance of toilet-paper on the market. But, suddenly and unexpectedly, a rumor starts going around that there is a shortage of toilet-paper. Because of this rumor, people frantically begin to buy it and, of course, the result is mat there is a real shortage of toilet-paper. At first sight, this seems to be the simple mechanism of what is called a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the effective way of how it functions is a little more complicated. The reasoning of each of the participants is the following: “I’m not naive and stupid. I know very well mat there is more than enough toilet-paper in the stores; but there are probably some naive and stupid people who believe these rumors, who are taking them seriously and who will act accordingly. They will frantically start to buy toilet-paper, and so in the end there will be a real shortage of it. So even if I know very well that there is enough of it, it would be a good idea to go and buy a lot of it!” The crucial point is that this other who is assumed to believe naively doesn’t have to exist in actuality. To produce his effects in the reality, it is enough that he is supposed by the others to exist. In a definite, closed multitude of subject, everybody can play this role for all the others. The effect will be exactly the same, i.e., the real shortage of toilet-paper. The one who will at the end remain without it will be precisely the one who will persist in the truth: the one who will say to himself, “I know that this is only a rumor and that there is enough toilet-paper,” and act upon it.

As generations of women have been inculcated into the industry of formula feeding across the planet, from being told that breastmilk was harmful to their babies to the paltry maternity leave that new mothers face, the reality of this “faux breast versus bottle war” is quickly dissolved when the facts are highlighted and women are given accurate information and allowed to exercise their agency based on their needs and abilities.  In reality, nobody is shaming anyone, unless discussing breastfeeding and the recent pushback by women against the formula food industry is to be considered an act of shaming. What is clear is that the revolt against market capitalism is crucial to all women of the planet who must unite against the forces that seek to merchandise both the barring of and access to our bodies.

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: