Monday, July 16, 2012

Motherlode's Questionable Content

Over the past year, I've been disillusioned with the New York Times parenting blog Motherlode.  I'm unhappy with the steady stream of guest posters and I don't like the tabloid-y headlines and teasers meant to provoke.  For example, today’s sidebar reads: “Should You Leave a Loved, But Unprofessional, Daycare?; Why We Should Watch More TV with Our Children; Parents of Picky Eaters, It’s Not Your Fault; Our Spoiled, Rotten Children.” I don’t need to feel provoked by every headline, yet I want to read about parenting news and issues. I've been feeling like Motherlode is just yanking my chain in an effort to get me riled up so they’d get more page hits.

I thought the last straw for me and Motherlode was a month ago, when lead blogger KJ Dell’Antonia tweeted about an article in the Times, “Professional Photographers in the Delivery Room (yuck.)”  I know not everyone has had the positive birth experiences that I’ve had, but I started to wonder why I was reading a parenting blog curated by someone who seemed grossed out by birth.  Yet I didn’t delete the blog from my google reader or Twitter feed.  Amidst all the chain-yanking, there were posts on car safety and the Penn State sex abuse scandal, which are things I want to read about. I didn’t want to miss important news just because the style of the lead blogger (or whoever is writing headlines and making decisions about content) rubbed me the wrong way.  

However, an essay posted on Motherlode yesterday truly is the last straw. I was shocked to see the headline “Breastfeeding and Sex: Is Latching On a Turn Off?” in my twitter feed.  Talk about tabloid-y!  The teaser for the post by James Braly said, “Extended breast-feeding impacts the whole family. And I would argue that the impact on the father - and his sex life - is not good.”  Wow!  Who is this guy?  A pediatrician? A psychologist?  An average dad?  I’d have to read to see. It sounded bad, but maybe this was just one of those teasers meant to make me read, and the post itself would not be inflammatory.  Well, it was actually WORSE than I expected.
James Braly writes:

I know, most women think their breasts are theirs. I’ve been hearing this since I was a toddler being cautioned, “Don’t touch!” But most guys just want to touch. Most girls, thank God, eventually make some guys lucky. One thing leads to another. And here we are, discussing the consequences of a touch too much: children. So to everyone chanting “My Body! My Choice!” I say, “Your Body! Our Nookie!” We are in this together, women and children, men — and breasts. 
So any conclusions about extended breast-feeding must consider the impact on the whole family. And I would argue, based both on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, that the impact on the man in the family, eventually, is negative...

He describes his wife feeding their five year old son, then describes being repulsed by it:

As their mother’s husband, however, I was dry-heaving — and bile is not an aphrodisiac.
Lest you think sex is a private matter, I would argue that the decline of a couple’s sex life can have significant social consequences. A man’s loss of appetite for his companion can undermine his partnership, his family and ultimately the society of families...
To those of you who believe breast-feeding a child who can blow out all five of his birthday candles is a totally natural behavior to be regulated only by the mother without considering the effects on the father, I would ask, should sex, a totally natural behavior, be regulated only by the father without considering the effects on the mother? For what man in a committed relationship has not considered having sex with someone other than his breast-feeding partner? Someone he knows or — if he’s a sports star or a politician — a waitress at the diner or a videographer who tells him he’s hot. Considering such liaisons is biology for most men. Considering breast-feeding a toddler may be biology for increasing numbers of women.
But a family man who wants to keep his family knows to say no. The positive effects of a sexual encounter on an otherwise monogamous man are outweighed by the negative effects on his companion, and consequently on them. Similarly, the positive effects of extended breast-feeding should be considered in light of the negative effects on the marriage. In other words, sex and its consequences are a family affair.

And then he offers advice.  Oh, brother. 

So to all nursing moms, except perhaps those who used a lab technician, I say that the foundation of the parent-child bond is the parent-parent bond. Unlike the baby chicken or the fertilized egg conundrum, partnership precedes parenthood. That’s how you got into this position to begin with: by attracting a man who liked what he saw, and wanted to see more of what even the scientists researching extended breast-feeding call mammaries, not Mommaries.

I immediately tweeted and facebooked to friends, who confirmed that it was ok if I used the words “garbage” or “trash” to describe the essay.  I always like to check that my reactions aren’t overreactions.  My sister added, “Seriously, what does that line about the lab technician mean? If it means women who used sperm donors, I think it's HIGHLY offensive. And pretty stupid to assume that all women who use sperm donors aren't in a marriage.”  Yes, and it’s one of the many reasons I question why Motherlode published the piece.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about why it’s an offensive piece; I can’t spend my time defending the value of breastfeeding your child until he or she is done needing to breastfeed. It’s a messed up world when children and mothers get made fun of for doing what their biology and psychology ask them to do.  I think it’s actually very, very sick. It’s poison that I don’t want to have to come across when I expect to be reading reputable parenting information.  

Of course this man is allowed his feelings and opinions about breastfeeding.... but I question the assessment of Dell’Antonia (or whoever made the decision) that it is worth readers’ time and energy to hear them.  Motherlode has now lost me as a reader because it’s not bringing me high quality content.  Not only are Braly’s comments to and about mothers terribly rude; his essay about breastfeeding opens with shaky facts about breastfeeding: “Extended breastfeeding, the current scientific thinking goes, offers significant health benefits for the child, and probably for the mother.”  Probably the mother?  Um, definitely the mother, in the form of reduced reproductive cancers, diabetes, and arthritis.  See this Kellymom article for benefits for mother and child. 

My issue is not as much with Braly as it is with Motherlode publishing his piece.  It’s one thing if Braly wants to say he is repulsed by his wife breastfeeding their child.  However, he ends with a message “to all nursing moms” - that’s me- to turn my “Mommaries” back into “mammaries” for my man- delivered via Motherlode.  That’s what I find appalling.  If I want breastfeeding advice from strangers or morons, I can find it anywhere; I don’t need it delivered by the parenting blog of the New York Times.

I finally googled the author of the bizarre essay.  It turns out the man is a comedian.  Now, wouldn’t it have been nice for Dell’Antonia to include a little intro that told us that?  So we know ahead of time that he’s someone looking for attention, rather than a sensible person that Motherlode felt offered its reader a valuable perspective?  

I didn’t notice a bio of the author on my first read. I now see a bio on the site, at the end of his tirade, and I’m wondering if it was added later or if I just missed it because I was so horrified by what I'd just read. His bio reads: James Braly is the creator of the monologue and forthcoming memoir “Life in a Marital Institution” and the first two-time winner of the Moth GrandSlam storytelling competition.

I could have guessed Braly was a writer, because I don’t know who else would want the publicity from something that makes them seem like such a selfish person, but knowing he’s a comedian definitely helps me as a reader understand why Motherlode might think it’s OK to print such a nasty piece.  I still don’t think it’s OK, but I can see why someone who doesn’t feel as passionately about breastfeeding as I do might think that type of humor is OK.  However, I don’t think it’s humor. It’s exactly how many people feel about women breastfeeding any child older than a baby: disgusted.  I find it incredibly strange that the NY Times parenting blog felt this man deserved a platform for his views.   

I know that Dell’Antonia does not necessarily share Braly's view.  As she tweeted to me after I started tweeting about boycotting Motherlode blog, “Really?  last week: mom pumping and working the UN conference. (link) this week, diff POV.  Room for discussion, no?” I tweeted back, “The pumping piece at least had some respectable info, as opposed to a displaced “king of the castle” bashing #bfing.”  What’s there to discuss?  Whether or not extended breastfeeding affects the sex life of a couple? If that’s the issue, I’m sure she could have presented a better guest poster on the topic. This guest poster took the discussion to all kinds of extreme and misogynistic places, essentially advising women to reconsider breastfeeding at all or risk turning off their man.  Surely that’s not the best way for Motherlode to get an intelligent discussion going. 

My sister pointed out that Dell'Antonia’s original tweet about the article said, “If extended #breastfeeding is a turn-off for dad, should he be able to say so? One dad's funny but honest take:”  I’m not sure what’s funny- the jab at moms who use sperm donors, the idea that a man should “say no” to breastfeeding a toddler, the mammaries being preferable to Mommaries joke? Maybe it just comes down to me and Dell’Antonia just not sharing a sense of humor.  Whatever the case, I’m not going to rely on her to feed me my parenting news.  

I unsubscribed from Motherlode blog on my Twitter feed (I’m @thefcmom).  Unfortunately, I had to unsubscribe from the entire NYTimes Style section on my google reader to avoid seeing Motherlode’s tabloid-y headlines in my feed.  I read the NY Times on my iPhone every day while nursing my baby to sleep, so I’ll just have to add visiting the Style page to that routine.  I think a few of the Motherlode headlines might be there, but at least I won’t register any page views.  I have read Motherlode for over 3 years and I'm sorry to stop, but I don't want the energy drain of content that is not chosen thoughtfully enough.  


Julie said...

I felt the same way as your sister - what the heck does that lab tech comment mean? Anyway, it was just a dumb piece. Wonder how his wife feels about it....

Jodie said...

I know I'm a little late on this, but wanted to say this is a great post/response. Such a ridiculous article, for humor or not. Unacceptable from NYT! I don't mean to state the obvious or reveal too much, but am I the only one who doesn't feel that breastfeeding has hindered my and my husband's, ahem, intimacy? Maybe this guy's wife is withholding sex for other reasons. Like he's an asshole. Pardon my rant, but thank you again for speaking up.

Jodie said...

I know I'm a little late on this, but wanted to say this is a great post/response. Such a ridiculous article, for humor or not. Unacceptable from NYT! I don't mean to state the obvious or reveal too much, but am I the only one who doesn't feel that breastfeeding has hindered my and my husband's, ahem, intimacy? Maybe this guy's wife is withholding sex for other reasons. Like he's an asshole. Pardon my rant, but thank you again for speaking up.