Poorly worded press release perpetuates stereotypes, undermines message

Breastfeeding.

Quick! Are you thinking about sex?

Does that word make you uncomfortable? If you’re out in public, are you turned off (or on) by curve of a woman’s breast visibly moving under a child’s head? What about that sound? Could you eat in a restaurant with a child noisily slurping his or her own dinner behind you?

If you have strong feelings on the subject, you’re not alone. Many mothers deal with the social stigma attached to breastfeeding.

Either they’re terrible mothers because they’re not breastfeeding, or they’re good mothers because they are — but woe betide the ones who must do so in public.

It’s a minefield of judgmental statements from friends, neighbors and strangers, incessant commercials for formula and pressure to take a side in yet another debate over what women should and should not do with their bodies.

As exhausting as the topic is to read about, imagine being a new mother and finding yourself central to the debate.

One state lawmaker, Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, decided to weigh in on the subject by championing a resolution promoting breastfeeding and encouraging hospitals and birth-centers to implement a “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” program.

Unfortunately, after the Legislature passed the resolution, someone decided to send out a media release with the attention-grabbing headline “Smart and Sexy: Legislature encourages hospitals to promote breastfeeding.”

There it is again, sex. Using it to describe breastfeeding is a curious way to promote the practice. With the social stigma attached to all things sexual in public, we’re astonished that anyone would want to encourage breastfeeding — a practice that requires regular execution throughout the day — by using that description.

As political blogger Amanda Coyne pointed out in her response to the release, it’s unclear for whom breastfeeding is sexy.

“The baby? The mother? The viewer?” Coyne wrote.

The release, which garnered national attention this week, prompted apologies from two Republican lawmakers and has since been republished without the word sexy in the headline.

But, it’s too late. The damage has been done and the mixed messages, at the very least, undermine the original intent of the resolution — to promote happy and healthy baby through breastfeeding.

We’re betting that few new mothers want to engage in the practice of feeding their babies while also having to think about looking or feeling sexy.

It’s a shame that another well-intentioned resolution devolved into such a mess of social commentary and sadder still that the mothers in the center of the debate were objectified rather than supported.

We hope someone in the Legislature learned a lesson and that many of the mothers who could have been discouraged by the poorly-worded message were too busy with all-nighters and routine feedings to keep up with the barrage of media releases coming out of the Legislature this week.

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