My friend Therese sent me this article from Time Magazine about Salma Hayek, who they describe as a "beautifully busty actress" breastfeeding a "starving" child in Sierra Leone. Therese says she's not sure what taboos exist elsewhere in Africa concerning breast feeding so she will hold off her comments on that. What she does know is that in Ghana, many women have no problems breast feeding their children and she personally knows many women who have even breastfed children whose mothers could not breastfeed them because the mothers were 'dry' or died during child birth.
One of Therese's friends posted the article on her facebook and received the following comments:
Vongai, zimbabweanI am flabberwhelmed, confused...and everything else in between. I will likely make this my departure point at CIES because this eccentric act sits on the frontiers of ethics, culture, realism, women's choices, and Western notions of solutions to structural causes of Africa's material deprivation. Pheeew......talk about emotionally confusing these children...huh?
Epiphania, GHWhat a tiring and boring day it was when movie stars started to think that they were 3rd world philanthropists, hopping around adopting poor African and Asian children ad infinitum -despite the many ignored possibilities for adoption in their home countries. and now we are breastfeeding Africans into civilization. What an utter lot of racist rot and foolishness!!!
Shea, AmericanWHAT????!!! Okay - I don't know what Africa's (sweeping continental phrase) notions of breast-feeding and sex are, but how on Earth can anyone fault a woman (celebrity or not) of feeding a baby(African or not) breast milk??!!! I don't understand why this offends people! Who cares where it's taking place? Who cares if there were cameras? The fact is, that child, whose mother is dry, got some VERY necessary nutrition! I'm MORE offended and confused by the comments than by the original story.
Dela, GhanaianWell, that's the point, Shea. The context within which this child was given breast milk by a busty celebrity is utterly manufactured. It is the only way it would end up in TIME magazine and be sensationalized. If the mother had no milk, it is NOT Hayek's job to take out her breasts to feed the child. To nurse this "starving child" only conjures up images of Africa that, quite honestly, are mostly erroneous. Most African cultures have systems in place to take care of their own, way before Tinsel Town was created. Breast-feeding as far as many of us are concerned is NOT a taboo. Babies were being fed before Gerber and Nestle came along. So what happens to the baby now? Say the mother is STILL dry and Ms. Hayek is busy making a movie or feeding her own child.... what happens to those women who are lacking milk? Why are they lacking? These are some issues we need to address...Afterall, Hayek was not the only lactating mother around. No one asked why did others not feed the child.PerisI'm confused about whether the issue here is one of new moms being dry or one of new moms plainly refusing to bf (given taboo). Seems like the two are conflated in this story....which gets me to the point that the solutions for either would be so radically different.Also, can't speak for all of Africa, but it's news to me that brestfeeding is taboo in what in this story is painted as most of the continent. Quite the contrary in places with which I'm familiar; there's lots of stigma associated with not brestfeeding....But hey, I applaud Hayek for being champion for what is, very frankly, a non-existent cause.Dela, GhanaianExactly right, Peris. I was thinking about this conflation while I was supposed to be listening to a someone's presentation. The are two stories here: Breastfeeding as a so-called taboo that Hayek is trying to bring awarness to and (2) a mother not having milk to give her baby. In the latter case, we cannot tell whether that mother also does not breastfeed.
So yeah... I am still waiting on the Sierra Leonians on enlighten me on which part of their country has this taboo...I remember when my sister had her first child and was feeling a little uncomfortable taking her breast out to feed her 'starving child,' my mother and aunts just looked at her like: "what is WRONG with you? Your baby needs feeding. Clearly, you have spent too much time outside Ghana!" So yeah, the taboo is news to me too.
I'd be interested to know what you think about the story given what you know about breatfeeding in your own communities. I'll begin.
Esi Cleland, Ghanaian
What irks me about this article is that Sierra Leone is mentioned once at the beginning, and subsequently, the stigma (if it exists) is described as an African problem. I would be very surprised if this taboo is everywhere in Sierra Leone. My guess is that if even there is a stigma, it is probably in one small village somewhere in Sierra Leone. That's not to say that there is no need to educate the women there about the benefits of breastfeeding but the story has been blown way out of proportion. Traditionally, Ghanaian mothers are encouraged to drink lot of soup so that they will have milk for their children. I do not know of any taboos surrounding breastfeeding, and we don't need Salma Hayek to come and teach us something we've been doing for ages. Next thing we know, she'll be launching the "breastfeed a hungry child in Africa" campaign. As Therese suggested, maybe someone should write a rejoinder.