Encyclopedia of Reproductive Technologies

By Annette Burfoot | Go to book overview

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Infant Feeding

MARJORIE ALTERGOTT


Historical Context for Women's Emancipation
in Relation to Infant Feeding

High-quality artificial infant feeding (AIF) is a lifesaving technology for infants unable to breastfeed. However, its acceptance for conventional use is related to the devaluation of women's biological role. Manipulation of infant feeding can be a means of social control, serving to support economic gains for an elite group of capitalists and professionals, and to support women's subordination. The AIF industry is huge with worldwide sales estimated at $2 billion annually.

Historically, women passively accepted sanctioned changes in AIF. They, like the rest of the population, were convinced by the new medical science and its tangible benefits in their lives, particularly in regard to promises of less painful and safer childbearing. Women also recognized that new contraceptive technologies could provide them with more control over their lives and were deeply involved in the struggle for legalization of birth control. But women typically did not associate AIF with either a loss or a gain of social power, and as an issue, infant feeding was absent from early-twentieth-century women's movement agendas.

In addition to birth control, women demanded the right to vote and rights to employment and education. However, women did not generally seek radical changes in their domestic role, and infant feeding, whether breast or bottle, was accepted as their responsibility. Most of their new roles were an expansion of their work at home and in charity; they became nurses, social workers, and teachers, but not scientists. They did

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