Guest Post from Suzanne of The Fearless Formula Feeder- Mean People Suck.

I’m happy to share this guest post from Suzanne Barston the a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP.  Suzanne writes over at the Fearless Formula Feeder, a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents.  I asked to cross post her article because I thought it was well written and offered a perspective that should touch all of our humanity about how we treat others in the name of a cause.  My friendship with Suzanne has been growing and I deeply respect her, the work she does, and her heart because while it may seem at first glance that she and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum, we are, in fact, more similar than we are different.  I highly encourage my readers to quietly spend some time on her website and Facebook page listening and learning.  To genuinely support you have to first listen to what those needing support actually need and don’t assume you know better than they.  This article was originally published here.  ~Jessica

by Suzanne Barston

Back in the 90’s, before the age of memes, bumper stickers were the best of sending the world (or at least the person stuck behind you in traffic) a message about your political leanings, philosophy, or the status of your child’s “Good Citizenship” in school. People got seriously creative with these little strips of adhesive, but there was one that seemed to be strike a chord with the folks I typically associated with. The Birkenstocks-wearing, Ani-DiFranco-listening, liberal-arts-major types. The message that seemed to be stuck to the back of everyone’s used Volvo was this:

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Mean People Suck.

Catchy, isn’t it?

But what I’ve realized in my late thirties is that mean people do more than just “suck”. The screw things up for the rest of us, in serious, systemic ways. They are the cops who brutalize minor offenders based on the color of their skin; the politicians who refuse to see the human side of their voting record, the instigators of road rage. And in the parenting world, they are the women who perpetuate the mommy wars (such a stupid and patronizing term, for a stupid and patronizing problem).

The thing is, mommy “wars” may be stupid, but their effect is far-reaching and profound. They make us believe we need to take sides, choose a team, thus dividing us and making it ridiculously easy to conquer us. And by conquering us, I mean keeping us from fighting collectively for better family leave, better maternal health care, better resources and options for our children and ourselves. We’re so busy trying to prove we’re an Alpha Female, conveniently forgetting that alpha males are generally assholes.

Speaking of Alpha Females, there’s a woman who has built up an impressive following on the Internet who I’ve tried to avoid giving airtime for the past year or so, after a few run-ins that made it clear her only motivation in life is to fight. I’ve tried thinking about her in a new-agey way, considering what made her the way she is, and trying to feel sympathy for her anger and vitriol rather than letting her make me act in turn. But when Jessica from the Leaky Boob – a woman I admire greatly and am proud to consider a friend – reached out to me about this Alpha person’s latest assault, I agreed to speak up.

I agreed to speak up because my friendship with Jessica is based on everything that this other person is trying her damndest to destroy. Jessica runs one of the most respected and beloved communities for breastfeeding women. I run a modest but pretty vocal community of people who take issue with the current state of breastfeeding promotion (as well as people who are totally cool with breastfeeding promotion, but ended up using formula for whatever reason and are willing to put up with the constant drama and debate because they have few other communities where they feel safe asking questions about formula feeding). We’re part of an informal community of breastfeeding advocates (and me, although I do consider myself a breastfeeding advocate, albeit a strange hybrid of one) where we discuss ways to better serve all mothers and provide REAL support and education. It’s actually really awesome to see how women can work together to find solutions even when they come from opposite ends of the parenting spectrum.

The Alpha individual operates on the premise that working relationships (and friendships) like this cannot – or should not – exist. Her page and blog are consistently dedicated to making fun of those who haven’t lived up to her own personal standards. Her work wouldn’t be worth mentioning at all, except for the fact that she has gotten the seal of approval from several notable breastfeeding researchers and advocates, including James Akre, who writes regular (and strikingly misogynist) guest posts for her blog. The woman knows how to get page views and Facebook likes. You have to admire her for that.

But in the immortal words of Stan Lee (and as I keep telling my Marvel comic-obsessed son), with great power comes great responsibility. And when someone with a fair share of public attention does something incredibly harmful, not only to a movement (those invested in creating a more supportive environment among mothers) but more importantly to an individual, that is an abuse of power, and seriously irresponsible.

Here are the facts: The blogger in question stole a photo of a woman in an emotional moment and used it to promote her recurring message that formula feeding parents are lazy and un-invested in their children. The photo was of a woman hooked up to wires, looking at least semi-unconscious, with a baby being held up to her breast. The blogger superimposed the word “obsessed” on the photo, meant in a “positive” way, as in, yes; this woman was obsessed with breastfeeding, which was a good thing because it meant she was properly dedicated. Unlike the rest of you nitwits.

The thing is, that was the antithesis of what this photo meant to the mom featured in it. This was, for her, a memory of something she went through with her child. I don’t know if that memory was positive or negative or something in between, as most postpartum memories are when something goes awry. It’s not my business to know. It’s hers. She didn’t intend for her image to be used this way. We don’t know the backstory behind the image, which I’m sure is human and flawed and beautiful and complicated.

But bloggers like the Alpha person are not complicated. They are simple. They are mean. And mean people suck.

They suck the life out of images like this; make them fodder for a contrived mommy war. They suck the life out of breastfeeding advocacy efforts, because they perpetuate the myth of the “breastapo” by becoming a caricature of that concept.  They suck the joy out of parenting, by making it a competition. They suck the intelligence and nuance out of what could be a productive debate between people who genuinely care about maternal and child health. And they suck the energy out of bloggers like Jessica and myself, who resent that we feel forced into a corner and made to confront this type of bottom-feeding behavior, when we could be focusing our collective efforts on something more productive.

Alpha types will always exist, these parasites that feed on fear, loneliness and feelings of inferiority. But parasites can be stopped if their food source is cut off. That’s why we are asking both of our communities to stop engaging. Don’t be a food source. Don’t visit her site. Don’t comment on the Facebook page, even if it’s to fight back against the hate. Just don’t engage.

If you see people you respect at risk of an infestation, let them know the true nature of the beast. Speak up when respected advocates are partnering with her or linking to her work. Let those around you know that this type of behavior does not advocate breastfeeding; it advocates bullying, shaming and hate.

And if you see one of her memes, post one of your own. One from a time before the internet allowed the best and worst of humanity to be distributed worldwide: Mean People Suck. Because they do.

Mean-People-Breed-Bumper-Sticker-(5567)

 

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Tough Love Breastfeeding Support, AKA bullying, and the case of the stolen photo

by Jessica Martin-Weber

Sometimes tough love is necessary, sometimes people getting in your face, calling you names, and yelling at you totally works as motivation.  Usually motivation to punch them in the throat but hey it’s motivation.  Entire “reality” TV shows have been built on this premise: you can scream troubled teens onto the right path, personal trainers can belittle overweight individuals into exercise and healthy eating, and business moguels can rant apprentices into savvy executives.  In spite of all the studies that show that shaming doesn’t actually provide any kind of lasting intrinsic motivation, countless parents, self-help gurus, educators, and others in positions of influence and authority resort to shaming in a desperate attempt to inspire positive change.  Sometimes tough love really isn’t tough love, it’s a power trip down false-sense-of-superiority lane.

Even those purporting to support families.  Birth, breastfeeding, and, ironically, gentle parenting advocates, far too often resort to shaming other parents.  Because that makes sense, something negative is going to have a lasting, positive impact.  Undermining parents’ confidence surely is going to result in change for the better, right?

Wrong.

It may get your website page views, it may increase your “talking about” numbers on Facebook, it may even get people pinning your content on Pinterest.  But helping people?  Not likely.  Inspiring them to do something different?  Maybe but that may just be to ignore any information or support because it all starts to feel like an attack.  I’m not talking about guilt here (though wishing guilt on people is just nasty) but rather intentionally belittling, mocking, and dismissing others in order to induce shame and build a false sense of superiority.  Guilt is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that what they did was wrong, shame is one’s own feeling and sense of grief over their personal ability of perceived wrongdoing (sometimes legit, other times not) so believing that who they are is wrong. Shaming is intentionally trying to make someone not only feel guilt but to internalize it as believing that somehow they are bad/lazy/stupid/unloving/pathetic/unloveable/worthless as a result.  Ultimately, shaming comes from a desire to see someone feel bad about themselves.

It’s disgusting.  And it doesn’t work to motivate people to change their actions.  It isn’t education, it isn’t support, it is really nothing more than abuse.

I’ve shared before that I’m not really passionate about breastfeeding.  I mean, I am, but I’m not actually passionate about breastfeeding.  What I am passionate about is people and personally, I don’t see how you can actually be passionate about breastfeeding but not be passionate about people.  To do so would mean that you care less about people than you do about being heard as right.  Do you know what happens with that kind of passion?  It hurts people and detracts from the message you are trying to promote.  That kind of passion becomes easy to dismiss at best, damaging at worst.

The Leaky Boob isn’t about that kind of passion.  The information, images, stories, and interactions we share are meant to inspire and encourage people. While we can’t control nor are we responsible for the emotions of others, we don’t intentionally try to manipulate others’ feelings.  Underlying everything at TLB is respect and the belief that with genuine support and information, women are perfectly capable as mothers to make the best decisions for their families based on the information and resources available to them in their individual circumstances.  We don’t assume to know what that looks like for anyone.

So it was with horror that we discovered an image of one of our own volunteer admins originally shared on The Leaky Boob Facebook page and then on theleakyboob.com had been turned into a vehicle intended to shame, belittle, and attack certain mothers.  An image that was shared to inspire and encourage, to give someone the platform to share their own personal story and breastfeeding journey, had been used as a vile expression of superiority intended to hurt others.  Words were applied to this image communicating the very opposite of what TLB and Serena, the woman pictured, stand for as a community.  Without permission, Serena’s image was used to spread a message she in no way condones aligning her with those that would bully others.

This message is not approved TAP serena

I’m not going to lie, I am incensed.  For my friend, for my community, and for those hurt by this image, I am outraged. Disgusted.

Mean people suck.  My friend Suzie at the Fearless Formula Feeder breaks it down beautifully.

The person that perverted this image stole Serena’s photo and manipulated it in order to send a shaming message to formula feeders.  In a statement to me Serena expressed that she felt violated and used.  Not only that, but as a woman that has both breastfed and formula fed, Serena’s own image was used to attack a group of women to which she belongs as well.

When I opened FB this morning to a message from a concerned friend with a link to this meme I was shocked. Shocked that MY photo, a photo of a tender moment, could be used in such a hateful, disparaging way. To see that it was posted 28 weeks ago only makes it worse. All this time MY photo has been circulating with such a hurtful message, a message that I would NEVER propagate. Belittling or negating someone else’s breastfeeding issues or choices is not beneficial for anyone. As mothers we all do what we believe is best for our children. Even though our opinions may differ due to choice or circumstance. I am not a breastfeeding martyr, I have used formula in conjunction with breastfeeding when needed. What was important was that I was able to mother my son in the way I wanted to, due to the SUPPORT I received. Support is something that was lacking in the making of this meme. I do not condone the use of my photo in this way.  ~Serena Tremblay

 

As far as we can tell, the image was originally posted to The Alpha Parent’s Pinterest board “Dear Formula Feeder,” don’t go check it out, it is a virtual collection of putrid hate filled shaming refuse.  Nobody needs to see that.  There has been no response to our two email attempts requesting the image be removed and destroyed (and never shared again) and so Serena has followed Pinterest guidelines to have the graphic removed.  We have tried to utilize respectful means and the proper channels to have this image removed and do believe that Pinterest will not allow the copyright violation to remain.  Still, simply having that image erased from Pinterest won’t be enough.  It has been seen and discussed in some circles, it’s message cutting and hurting and not helping anyone.  The Leaky Boob stands behind Serena that this graphic is not a message we condone.   The Leaky Boob, including Serena and all the volunteer admins hold to a very different set of values:

TLB creed

It is rare that I single anybody out for how they run their own website and social media presence.  I respect that there are different styles and a variety of people are attracted to those style distinctives.  I don’t have to get it or agree.  But this has gone too far.  Stealing an image and putting words to it that are directly opposed to the intent of the owner of the photo.  Standing against the oppression of others is part of my passion for people, so I have raised my voice to express concern and even outrage when I have seen supposed breastfeeding advocates resort to shaming in general and specifically with this same offender.  It is not the first time I have vocally opposed messages coming from The Alpha Parent and I agree with Amy West’s assessment of TAP’s “brand” of support.  This time though a line has been crossed and while I have long not tolerated any abusive messages in the name of “supporting breastfeeding” within The Leaky Boob community, now I am taking stand against any and all expressions of shaming in the name of breastfeeding advocacy outside of my own little space.

Why am I sharing this with you?  What can you do about it?  If you’re reading this and have made it this far you probably care at least a little about how babies are fed, the information moms receive, have an interest in parenting support, or at the very least watch online interactions with a passing interest.  To those ends then, consider how you are promoting shaming messages targeting others.  Here are some simple steps you can take to not contribute to the type of interactions that do nothing to make our world a better place.

  1. Don’t share or spread memes that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.  This isn’t just a breastfeeding/formula feeding issue.  This is a human issue.
  2. Before you use an image, be sure you have permission and don’t create memes and graphics that mock, belittle, or promote the shaming of anyone.
  3. Question every image you see and the message attached with it, particularly online.  Everything may not be what it seems.
  4. If you “like” or follow any personality that regularly engages in such messaging, unlike and unfollow them.  Take away their audience and don’t align yourself with the hate they are communicating.
  5. NEVER share materials, even if they seem supportive, from a source that you can not verify as free of mocking, belittling, or the promotion of shaming.  Many of the breastfeeding support and education sources I follow share materials from The Alpha Parent because some of her content, particularly her older stuff, is pretty decent.  Every time I see one of these resources share content from her I cringe, it’s like leading lambs to the slaughter.  I loved her “anatomy of the toddler brain” post from a while back but there is no way I’ll share that with my audience, it would be irresponsible of me to do so.  Share responsibly.
  6. Ignore them.  It is tempting to take a stand and engage in heated arguments with those that thrive on putting down others, particularly online, but truth be told, ignoring them is far more effective in shutting them up.  Don’t engage.
  7. Consistently share and interact with messages that promote true support and eventually the attraction of the fight will fade.  Offer supportive support and if you find you are tempted to go on the attack, ask yourself why and what insecurities could be motivating you to do so.

I won’t be linking to The Alpha Parent here but I do encourage you to look through your social media channels and remove The Alpha Parent from your playlist if she is there.  My intent is not to shame The Alpha Parent or cause her any harm and I hope that she finds her own happiness that doesn’t depend on a false sense of superiority.  I hope we all can.

 

 

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