Monday, February 2, 2015

Check your privilege- Why the Similac Ad is not ok

    *Throws her hat in the ring* I have tried really hard not to weigh in on the whole Similac Ad debacle. Most of the discussions seemed pretty futile and I would hate to be accused of contributing to the supposed "mommy wars" (more on that later) that the commercial pretends to address. But too many of the responses I am seeing by people, both to the ad itself and to the critics of the ad, are extremely problematic. Far be it from me to think I could add to the wealth of perspective and insight that is already out there on the topic, but I feel like I need to speak my truth on this one. Ahem...

      No one cares how you fed your baby. Maybe somewhere somehow there is some nosy person who cares, but why do YOU care? If you are comfortable with your decision, then why get upset over what someone else thinks? I can assure you- I do not care.

I don't care if you breastfed for 12 years, 2 years, or two days. I don't care if you didn't breastfeed at all. I don't care if you didn't because of a medical condition or because you were worried about how you would look in your bikini. All I care is that you had a choice in the matter and then did with your body how you saw fit. 
    So kindly get over yourself. It's not about you. It's not about your choice. It's not about choices at all. The things wrong with this ad have nothing to do with mothers. At all. Stop being self centered for two seconds and take a minute to look beyond your own knee jerk emotional response to this ad and any critiques around it. Step back for one goddamn second and actually LISTEN to what people are trying to say, because it has almost nothing to do with you. 

    The idea that somehow criticizing a formula company is attacking mothers or being judgmental is not only myopic, it's steeped in privilege. By the virtue of being able to access a computer to watch that ad, you are probably in place where using formula is a viable option. While there are and will always be risks and costs to using formula, it's a pretty safe bet that you can expect your infant to thrive while being exclusively formula fed. That is not the case for everyone and by dismissing this discussion as being one of preference and not one of health and access, you are completely ignoring a population of moms in the U.S. and a huge portion of moms world wide who have much more at stake in the conversation.
    There are women who cannot afford formula. There are women who cannot afford enough formula, so they water it down or cut it with other substances. There are woman who do not have a way to safely prepare the formula so as not to contaminate it with dangerous germs. There are children who live in less sanitary conditions or have less access to healthcare and are especially at risk without the protection of breastmilk. By acting like choosing formula over breastmilk is like choosing pancakes over waffles, you are completely overlooking all of the people less fortunate than yourself that have a much higher stake in this discussion. You are crying over your perceived "persecution" for you parenting choices because someone said something unkind to you on the internet. Woman across the world are crying over their sick and dying children. Take a seat.

     Now companies like Similac are not single handedly responsible for these situations, but they sure ain't helping. It's no secret that formula companies directly target mothers who intend to exclusively breastfeed. They offer "breastfeeding support", "free" samples, and heavy handed marketing. And you better believe it works, because they would not be shelling out the money if it didn't. In fact, take a second to think about why they shelled out the money for the commercial we are talking about. In other places, their influence is even more direct. It is not uncommon for formula reps in lower income countries to dress in white coats and wear stethoscopes while making house visits to talk about the "health benefits" of formula and leave samples. Formula companies are so intensive and so unethical in their marketing that the World Health Organization has an official Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Millions of children die every year because they are improperly fed, and Similac and other companies purposefully misinform mothers to make a profit.
     And it is not as if these practices don't have a cost, even here. The price of formula itself is astronomical for many families. All of those "free" samples that are given in the mail and through hospitals come at a price. And Similac is netting some impressive profits. It's not as if these companies are non-profit entities dedicated to feeding children. In fact, many of the improvements in formula over the years have been due to discussions such as these that highlight the many shortcomings of artificial infant feeding. Discussions that Similac would label as silly women bickering.

    But the ad in question ignores all of this. And what is worse, it disguises the issues by belittling parenting decisions and discussions and labeling them as petty, catty "mommy wars". It dismisses important conversations that we all need to be having for the benefit of breastfeeding and formula feeding mothers. And then acts like it is doing us a favor by lifting us all up. Should we all be kind to each other? Absolutely. Does that mean we have to agree on everything? Or that we can't have in depth discussions about the consequences of each others choices? Not at all.
   But that is not what Similac tells us. They are saying quite blatantly that we should be too self-absorbed to consider the wider implications of infant feeding. They are encouraging us to focus on what they tell us is personal judgement while at the same time sweeping their own accountability under the rug. And they are doing it all on the backs of the millions of children and women in the world who pay the toll- sometimes the ultimate toll- for this type of marketing and these types of products. And that is why, no matter how warm and fuzzy the message may seem, I cannot get excited about the Similac ad. I refuse to pretend that a company that profits billions at the expense of both formula feeding and breastfeeding mothers and their children really just wants us all to sing Kumbaya. I'm not buying it.