Recently I read the following story on What’s it like to be a woman in philosophy.
The poster says her partner thought the mother/daughter relationship is not a topic of meaningful or worthy philosophical investigation. She writes “It feels like I have to defend why the female experience is worthy of philosophical analysis. It feels like I am not taken seriously the moment I talk about what I want to talk about. It feels like I need to transform my thoughts into useless philosophical jargon. It feels like my relationship has tension now, because his words hurt my self-perception. It makes me second-guess my recent applications to graduate programs. It feels like I am not a philosopher–like my thoughts, feminine, worthless–will be forever excluded from the realm of the “lofty, the existential, the philosophical”.”
I am sure that this perspective is not unique, that somehow topics about mother-daughter relationships, motherhood, and other female topics are not deemed worthy of philosophical investigation. Yet what recent philosophical essay has received so much mainstream attention than Laurie Paul’s paper on deciding to have a child? And there are many other examples. One of my personal favorate examples is Rebecca Kukla's paper on ethics and advocacy in breastfeeding campaigns. Given the solid scientific evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding, and the tremendous pressure women experience to breastfeed (even while still pregnant), this is surely an important topic, philosophically speaking and otherwise.
When looking for images online (keyword: breastfeeding), I did not see a single image of a woman sitting in front of a laptop or reading while breastfeeding, even though I imagine I'm not the exception! There are no images of women pumping at work either. By spreading the image of woman in bedroom in negligee, looking down on the infant, an unrealistic image of breastfeeding is perpetuated, which discourages rather than encourages the practice, especially in women who are lower-class or non-white.
In sum, Kukla argues “I have tried to show that contemporary American culture asks women to breastfeed, and holds them morally accountable for doing so, but also asks them to do so in a space an with a body to which many American women simply don’t have access” (Kukla, 2006, 177). We don't need to educate women any more than we are already doing about the benefits of breastfeeding - it's good to know the benefits, but it is not the case that merely knowing the benefits, by itself, will much further increase breastfeeding rates. Rather, we need to opt for policies that facilitate it (e.g., paid maternity leave), and provide a more realistic and diverse picture (women of various sizes, and non-white as well, older and younger, in a normal family background, pumping at work etc). The article surely made breastfeeding look less daunting and less exceptional in my eyes, and it made a real-world difference for me. I’d be grateful to see other examples in the comments.