The XX Factor

Why Is This Attractive Woman Breast-Feeding This Giant Child?

Newsweek ties women down with black silk scarves. Time does it with overgrown babies. This image of hot California mom (who looks a little like Kathryn Hahn) live-breast-feeding her almost 4-year-old will surely make Tina wish she’d thought of it first.* There are many aspects to its genius: The mom and son’s twin impassive expressions, with just the teeniest hint of So What? Fuck You. The mom’s blond highlights and skinny jeans, an urban packaging meant to prove once and for all that home schooling and breast-feeding a kid even though he’s old enough to make his own breakfast is not just for the yahoos who can’t afford milk. (Tina did this story on urban attachment freaks first, by the way, she just didn’t think of the image.) The image is the natural next step in the hot naked-mama photos that have become an obligatory part of a celebrity career path, (Claudia Schiffer,  Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson) and makes Angelina Jolie, who allowed herself to be photographed breast-feeding a mere infant, look like a wimp. Then there is the Game of Thrones aspect to the photo, which we have been debating over on Slate email chains. Bounty of milk, mother “love,” incest, it’s all lurking in there.

The mom is not a model but one Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old who lives in L.A. with her two sons and writes the blog I Am Not the Babysitter. Grumet assures us in this Q-and-A that she is not interested in judging anyone but her blog’s name alone is so obnoxious that I don’t care to delve further. I will just pull out a few choice sentences from the Q-and-A, so you get a sense of what demographic sandbox we are playing in:

“My husband is so great—he would bring the equipment in and actually do the pumping while I was asleep. It was a full family effort.”

“My mother breast-fed me until I was six years old until I self-weaned.”

I have rehearsed my objections to the breast-feeding cult at great length in the past, in my Atlantic story, “The Case Against Breast-Feeding,” and more broadly against attachment parenting in a recent Slate discussion of Elisabeth Badinter’s book, The Conflict.  There is the very basic objection that it is virtually impossible to do what the advocates say is best for your baby and have a job, which the vast majority of American mothers have these days. In the Time magazine story, which is largely a profile of attachment guru William Sears, he answers this objection by arguing that attachment parenting is perfect for working mothers because as soon as they get home they can instantly rebond with their babies by strapping them up in a sling and then sleeping with them the whole night. Voila! Instant maternal bliss!

But this leads to my second and more profound problem with it. Attachment parenting demands not just certain actions you take with your baby but also certain emotional states to accompany those actions. So, it’s not just enough to breast-feed but one has to experience “breast-feeding induced maternal nirvana.” And it’s not enough to snuggle—you have to snuggle enough to achieve a spiritual high. As Badinter has said, once women were just expected to tolerate their babies, Betty Draper style, but now they are expected to experience “jouissance,” loosely translated as “orgasm.” And this is what makes the movement truly oppressive.

Clarification: This post originally stated that the child on the Time cover is 4-years-old. In fact, he is currently 3, but according to a Q&A with mother Jamie Lynne Grumet, his birthday is in June.