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If Fathers Could Breastfeed

Cis men nursing would be a different story


In the middle of a night, three weeks postpartum, when I was exhausted from nursing my newborn for the fourth time, I recalled a distant cousin, G, who spoke once about a game of power, a game I knew well as a brown woman—immigrant once, citizen now—in the United States. 

“Logic has nothing to do with oppression,” G said. “That whatever a "superior" group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever an "inferior" group has will be used to justify its plight.”*

As I adjusted the baby’s head on my arm and readjusted my ass over a donut pillow protecting me from my third-degree vaginal tear, I almost screamed: You telling me, G!

Quarantined long before quarantine became a global hashtag, I remembered a world of healthcare—lessons on breastfeeding I received at the hospital I gave birth in, bestselling books I was recommended on new parenting, and my lactation consultant’s tips on securing the right latch—normalizing the gender binary of my own household. Instead of questioning the system and looking at the parental world through a broader, realistic lens, I gave into an absurdist mindfuck—typical, many would say—of hormonal straight mothers in lockdown. I moved the baby from my left breast to the right one. I watched my husband sleep through yet another night since he’d to leave for work the following morning—I mean, the kind of work seen to deserve rest and payment. And then, appropriating a heteronormative oblivion of mainstream healthcare, I asked myself: what would happen if suddenly, magically, cis men as new fathers could breastfeed their baby, and mothers could not?  

Clearly, nursing would become a worthy, enviable masculine event. Men would brag about their breast’s capacity to produce milk and nurse effectively: how much and for how long. 

The World Health Organization would gently suggest—never urge—new dads to exclusively breastfeed their child for the first six months, given the obvious health benefits for both father and baby. Should new dads choose to nurse, paid paternity leave would become a legal right across the world for a minimum of six months. Those who return to work after paternity leave would receive paid hourly breaks to pump milk in addition to a lunch break for their first year as a father. Needless to say, no new father would be expected to stay as productive at work as in his pre-baby days; statistics would have long proven how nursing round the clock under heavy sleep deprivation equals the labor of three jobs.

Legal statutes would further protect new fathers including the well-endowed ones from being shamed over leaking or stained shirts. Companies selling tees with built-in wraparounds or throw-overs to coax fathers into covering their bust while nursing in public would be sued for their inhu-man-ity.

The “first world,” of course, would continue investing in infrastructure and businesses serving new fathers. In addition to free phone apps and helplines, every town would have Nursing Care centers at a driving distance, open 24/7, to help men cope with the life-altering biological and psychological experience of breastfeeding, especially those dealing with an understellar—never inadequate or low—production of milk. 

Language would be ceaselessly monitored to strip descriptions of male breasts or moobs of their fatphobic and other derogatory connotations. Legal penalties would be in place to police disempowering terms or sexist slurs when discussing hormonal changes in men’s bodies—goodbye postfeeding depression, emotional upheaval and moobswings; good riddance of paternal blues, even if blue will continue to dominate clothing for boys in stores across America. 

An isle at CVS, Walgreens and sister stores would exclusively stock nursing products for men: ointments for sore moobs and cracked nipples—organic, vegan, gluten free, lanolin free, edible ones in various flavors—and padded men’s bras of all sizes, starting with Grande to Deluxe D to the Real Trump Tower. Free pumping machines would be available at checkout to all nursing dads living in the United States, regardless of their legal status. 

In a global pandemic, federal stimulus packages would prioritize the continued manufacturing of tissue paper. Without the ability to adequately wipe themselves, how are nursing dads supposed to stay safe, sane and sanitized? Social media would cheer the lifesaving labor of frontline workers alongside those of new dads, calling other essential workers to assert themselves with hashtags: #IamEssential, #IamNursingDad.  

In global politics, breastfeeding would become another reason to rule out a woman’s candidacy for the Prime Minister or the President, along with trans, genderfluid, nonbinary and every other queer candidate who doesn’t identify as a cis man. How to entrust an entire nation to someone not known to nurture life with their sacred twin organs? 

In American presidential debates, the issue of sexual assault would take centerstage with those of abortion and same sex marriage. Conservatives would continue to take heterodomesticity literally, perceiving it as the only framework for sexual violence: they’d cite statistics to show the staggering rise of horny mothers prodding nursing dads for sex, and the sluttiest of them, demanding foreplays to relieve engorged moobs.

In academia, budget cuts in a post-Covid economy would terminate faculty positions and merge several departments—area, ethnic, postcolonial, women’s, queer and disability studies—and house all pundits playing the victim card into a single department called propaganda studies. Freudian PhDs reconceptualizing moob envy though would secure the largest number of tenure track positions, some making an undeniable case for the overdue birth of Men’s Studies.

Pop culture and the entertainment industry would eventually catch up with law, businesses, politics and pedants. Parents magazine would keep it real by featuring cover images of cis men groaning while nursing—not smiling blissfully—as their teething baby bites them. Playboy would promote body positivity by showcasing shirtless new dads with sagging moobs and belly flab accruing from post-nursing hunger—the new six pack, the woke sexy. 

To honor the legacy of movies like Superman, Batman, Spider Man and Iron Man, Hollywood would re-produce Rain Man, this time with a tall well-endowed superhero who can squirt moob milk and save people from any situation. Bollywood, on the other hand, would avoid heavy rains in any song featuring new dads wearing sheer white shirts, especially for the oversexed desi aunties seated in the back row. Esquire, in its annual list of books that all real men must read, would feature works by Hemingway, Flaubert, Baudelaire and Nabokov along with avantgarde novels centering happy marriages where husbands, after nursing four to six children, hook up their wives with their childless buddies so they can evade all offers for skin-to-skin and rest in penile peace. 

In short, cousin G was right on the bottom line, even if her views on gender were as contrived as mine: we would discover, yet again, how logic is in the eye of the logician. 

If cis men could breastfeed, the power justifications would go on and on—yet again.


*Referring to Gloria Steinem's essay "If Men Could Menstruate,” that was originally published in 1978 in Cosmopolitan.

About the author

Namrata Poddar writes fiction, nonfiction and serves as the Interviews Editor for Kweli where she curates a series on Race, Power, and Storytelling. Her work has appeared in Longreads, Literary Hub, Poets & Writers, The Los Angeles Times, The Kenyon Review, The Best Asian Short Stories anthology, Electric Literature, CounterPunch, VIDA Review, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, Border Less, was a finalist for Feminist Press's Louise Meriwether Prize, longlisted for C&R Press Fiction Book Award and semi-finalist for Black Lawrence Press's The Big Moose Prize, and is forthcoming from 7.13 Books. She holds a Ph.D. in French Studies from University of Pennsylvania, an MFA in Fiction from Bennington Writing Seminars and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures from UCLA. Website: http://www.namratapoddar.com/; Tweets: @poddar_namrata | Instagram: @writerpoddar

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