Breast Milk Baby
Several news outlets have recently reported on the Breast Milk Baby doll, a European toy that’s coming to the U.S. where it’s being met with parental outrage. This $89 doll comes with a child size halter top with flowers indicating how to position the doll at the breast for feeding. When the doll is held up to one of the flowers it makes a suckling sound.
Those who dislike the doll say it sexualizes little girls and forces them to grow up too soon. Some have gone so far as to accuse the company that produced the doll of perversion and pedophilia.
Those who like the doll say it normalizes the healthy art of breastfeeding. Then they often employ a familiar rhetorical move. If it’s not okay to sell a doll that breastfeeds, they say, then it shouldn’t be okay to sell a doll with a bottle, since both are simply alternate ways of feeding a baby. This is roughly the same rhetorical move that breastfeeding advocates make when women are asked to nurse or pump milk in a bathroom. That line goes like this: If you wouldn’t eat your sandwich in a bathroom then why would you feed your baby there? It’s powerful rhetoric because nobody reasonable is going to say we should ban the sale of baby dolls and all take lunch on the toilet.
Now, I firmly advocate for breastfeeding, including breastfeeding in public and so-called extended breastfeeding both of which are topics that have also seen a lot of internet discussion recently. But I’m a little uncomfortable with the rhetoric that says breast milk is just food, because I think that simplifies a complex topic. Speaking this way points to an important truth, but it also obscures other truths “ that breastfeeding involves breasts which are reproductive organs (or at least sometimes they are) and that most adult Americans perceive breasts as having something to do with sex.
In fact, most breastfeeding advocates will point out that opposition to breastfeeding often has something to do with the hyper-sexualization of breasts. It can be disconcerting to see what you’ve always experienced as part of adult sexuality serving a rather different purpose. As Gabrielle Palmer writes in her book The Politics of Breastfeeding, “Using breasts for feeding a baby may be emotionally confusing if society and your own experience has emphasized their sexual and aesthetic functions.
My discomfort with this style of pro-breastfeeding rhetoric that I’ve seen supporting the doll doesn’t mean I’m offended by the existence of The Breast Milk Baby Doll. Most kids I know who have been around breastfeeding will try it out on a doll anyway. I might, however, be offended by a toy that costs $89 – but I don’t have to buy it.
What do you think? Is breastfeeding just food or does it have something to do with sex? And would you buy The Breast Milk Baby Doll?