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Contribution to Book
Intimate Citizenship and the Right to Care: the case of breastfeeding
Intimate Citizenships: Gender, Sexualities, Politics (2009)
  • Lisa Smyth, Queen's University Belfast

Infant feeding policies raise issues concerning women’s citizenship in specific cultural contexts. Building on recent feminist work on the social and political, as distinct from the biological value of breastfeeding for women (e.g., Hausman 2004; Wolf 2006), this paper argues that the often narrow educational approach to breastfeeding from health promotion agencies tends to assume a fixity of cultural norms, which construct women’s breasts in primarily sexual terms. Focusing on health promotion work in the field of infant feeding in Northern Ireland, Smyth argues that an individualized and moralistic policy approach has had the effect of privatizing the practice of breastfeeding. This has taken place in the absence of broader policies, which call into question, or seek to challenge, assumed cultural norms concerning women’s bodies, sexuality and maternal identities. Situating breastfeeding in the context of debates concerning care ethics and rights (e.g., Sevenhuijsen 1998), this essay argues that breastfeeding can promote women’s autonomy if it is perceived as a form of care-giving, which is best regarded as a reproductive right. The possibility that women might practice breastfeeding in a range of social spaces has the potential to undo notions of cultural fixity, as a range of “breasted experiences” (Young 2005) become available. The lack of state recognition for a right to breastfeed on grounds of assumed cultural norms raises larger questions of women's equality and social inclusion.

Publication Date
February 18, 2009
Elzbieta H. Oleksy
Citation Information
Lisa Smyth. "Intimate Citizenship and the Right to Care: the case of breastfeeding" LondonIntimate Citizenships: Gender, Sexualities, Politics (2009)
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