After the birth of their daughter, Hector Cruz wanted to help his wife, but without a functioning set of mammary glands he was at a loss. Cruz decided to create a campaign to empower fathers and end the stigma around breastfeeding. The campaign is a series of images that show men pretending to breastfeed with the caption, "If I could, I would."
The sentiment, while nice, offers no real solutions. I'm at a loss as to how pictures of shirtless men is going to inspire companies to make it easier for nursing mothers to pump at work, or even start offering real maternity leaves instead of the legally mandated FMLA. None of this is going to help nursing women have access to better healthcare and better resources like lactation consultants and support groups.
The pictures are going viral, but once the dust settles, the same problems will remain. I hate to sound cynical, but it seems that our Western society thinks you can solve almost any problem with a glossy ad campaign. The nebulous idea of "raising awareness" is some how code for fixing deep, endemic social problems.
The Fourth Trimester Body Project that aims to normalize our view of the bodies of mothers, stretch marks, lumpy breasts and all, is a similar campaign. And while, it too is a noble endeavor, it does absolutely nothing besides going viral and getting onto morning talk shows.
We are a real country with real problems. And a lot of those problems involve not adequately supporting women and mothers with affordable heath care, paid maternity leave, easy access to birth control and affordable childcare. None of which can be solved with an ad campaign featuring shirtless men holding babies. Shirtless men holding babies aren't the problem. Fully-clothed men and women, holding access to sustainable reform, that is the real problem. Also, when has society ever balked at a picture of a shirtless man? It's the women who nurse, even fully covered, that make things really awkward.
We all know that if men really could breastfeed, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Six-month-paid maternity leave would be standard at most companies. No one would delete breastfeeding photos off of Facebook, and people who asked a man to "cover up" while breastfeeding could face a fine up to $2,000 or jail time for discrimination. But they can't, so here we are.
Real support and real change would mean that men don't suddenly walk away from me when I whip out the nursing cover. And I don't know how this is supposed to even remotely empower men to be better fathers. Where are the practical take aways? When our children were newborn, my husband would change the baby and bring them to bed, during the late-night feedings, that and naps were the best way he could have ever supported me. Taking his shirt off for a picture, while a nice gesture, gets us no where. This ad campaign isn't going to empower the single mother to pump at her minimum wage job. It's not even going to help my husband understand precisely why I want to cry when my 8-month-old baby wakes up in the middle of the night, hungry.
So sure, the pictures and the sentiment are nice. But let's stop thinking that glossy ad campaigns could ever really be anything more than just nice pictures. Real change isn't instigated by ads, real change comes when we stop engaging in red herrings and engage in the real issues that face real moms.
-By Lyz Lenz