I've had a lot of interesting conversations over the past few days about shame, guilt, and social change. Without going into excruciating detail, I heard a lot of people say that calls for formula marketing to be restricted makes formula feeding moms feel shamed because if formula marketing needs to be restricted, then that means that formula is bad, which means that formula feeding moms are doing something wrong.
Some people believe that if you feel shame or guilt that it is your own fault because no one can make you feel guilty except you. While I do think a lot of guilt comes from within, I also know that societal norms and expectations are contributors to feelings of guilt and shame.
We want the world to change. We need the world to change. That means, sometimes, criticizing the way that things are done now and advocating for a better way of doing them. Is that possible though, without making people feel guilt and shame?
- If we advocate for more support for breastfeeding mothers, does that equate to shaming every mother who used formula?
- If we advocate for more midwives and other conditions that will increase the natural birth rate, does that equate to shaming every mother who had a c-section?
- If we advocate for easier and more affordable access to healthy foods, does that equate to shaming every person who ever indulges in junk food or fast food?
- If we advocate for improved public transportation, does that equate to shaming people who drive their cars to work?
- If we say that chocolate bars should not be available for purchase in schools, does that amount to shaming every parent who every put a piece of chocolate in their child's lunch?
- If we advocate for an end to wars, does that equate to shaming everyone who has ever served in the armed forces?
- If we advocate for better treatment of animals, does that equate to shaming everyone who ever ate factory farmed meat?
- If we advocate for improved educational opportunities, does that equate to shaming everyone who didn't graduate from high school?
- If we advocate for better maternity leave, does that equate to judging every woman who went back to work?
- If we advocate for better prevention of teen pregnancy, does that equate to shaming everyone who did get pregnant as a teenager?
We live in an imperfect world. We all make choices, on a daily basis, with imperfect information and in imperfect conditions. Every single day, I make choices that I wish I didn't have to make. Every single day, I try to make better choices. It is a balancing act between progress and reality. No one is perfect. No one should be expected to be perfect. No one needs to feel guilt or shame for being imperfect.
Ultimately, at the end of a conversation that I was finding very frustrating, one in which I raised many of the examples that I listed above, I concluded:
Because, really, any time we argue for better societal conditions, it means that we are saying HOW MUCH WE ALL SUCK. Let's judge ourselves.
Is that really the world we want to live in? One where we are afraid to advocate for change because it makes us feel guilt and shame?
Ultimately, on the breastfeeding issue, I think the problem at the moment is that there is too much pressure to breastfeed and not enough support for breastfeeding. Moms are told that they must breastfeed. More than 90% of moms in Canada initiate breastfeeding (either because they wanted to or because they felt forced into it). But most of them do not meet their own breastfeeding goals. I think there are enough messages out there telling moms how important it is to breastfeed. Perhaps even too many. However, there is too little real breastfeeding support. Women who want to breastfeed are still undermined every day by the many societal barriers to breastfeeding or the "booby traps".
But how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we can ask the world to change without making the people who live in that world feel shame?
Image credit: ToastyKen on flickr