As a woman of color, I think I speak for all of us when I say, THANK GOD NICK KRISTOF IS BACK. Kristof’s latest column, “A Free Miracle Food!” takes place in Mali, where Kristof just happened to come across a woman and child in need of saving:
Then we spotted a baby boy who was starving to death. The infant, only 3 weeks old, was wizened from severe malnutrition and had the empty, unresponsive face of a child shutting down everything else to keep his organs functioning.
The teenage mother, Seyda Allaye, said that she didn’t have much milk and that the baby wasn’t nursing well. She saw that he was dying and that morning had invested in cow’s milk in hopes of saving him.
Cow’s milk wouldn’t have saved the baby, but Kristof could! And save that baby he did. Kristof drove Allaye and child to a (male) doctor. “Dr. Traoré repositioned Seyda Allaye’s arm, helped the infant latch on to her breast, and the baby came alive…. The miracle food that could save so many lives is: breast milk.”
The rest of the column, in which Kristof waxes poetic on the wonders of the FREE MIRACLE FOOD that is breast milk, is pretty standard Kristof fare, including all of his favorite tricks. Kristof is our oh-so-modest hero who swoops in to save the day. Women of color are passive and uneducated and in need of Kristof or other men’s wisdom. Women of color are also generally nameless and faceless, while men like Dr. Amidou Traoré and public health expert Shawn Baker are afforded names and titles:
In a village in Mali, Erin and I watched a woman wash a baby — and then pour handfuls of bath water down his mouth. ‘It makes the baby strong,’ a midwife explained.
He also includes my personal favorite Kristof trick: the head-fake toward self-awareness that doesn’t actually mean anything:
Look, I realize that there’s something patronizing about a man griping about poor breast-feeding practices, and, in the West, the issue is linked to maternity leaves and other work practices. But, if we want to save hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe a step forward is to offer more support to moms in poor counties trying to nurse their babies.
Look Nick, I realize you think that saying you realize you’re being patronizing lets you off the hook for being patronizing, but it doesn’t. It really really really doesn’t. If you’re going to spend your time shaming women for not breastfeeding long enough and well enough, you might as well own your patriarchy and say, “I AM NICK KRISTOF AND I MANSPLAIN BREASTS.”
I don’t want to wade into an argument about the merits of breastfeeding, but I do want to pick a big fight with Kristof’s notion that breastfeeding is FREE — an assertion he repeats three times in an 800-word column.
I’ve tried to puzzle this out, and the best I can come up with is this: The only way you can say that breastfeeding is free, is if you think that women aren’t worth as much as men.
Breastfeeding takes time — lots and lots of time that a woman could use to do something else. It takes energy — significant amounts of energy, from what I can tell as a woman who’s never done it. Breast milk doesn’t fall from the sky like manna. (Now that would be a free miracle food, amirite?) It is produced by women and requires work by women to pass on to babies.
If men were told to do something for six months that took tremendous effort and time, men like Kristof would call that work. And work ain’t free. It is only when you start from a place where a woman’s time and energy aren’t worth as much as a man’s that you come to the conclusion that breastfeeding is free. Which of course, is the place where Kristof always resides: smack in the middle of patriarchy.
The devaluing of women’s work, whether it be breastfeeding, child care, teaching, nursing, or other forms of care work, is fundamental to our patriarchal society. (You should read Sarah Jaffe’s essay on the topic, “A Day Without Care,” for lots of brilliance.) And Nick Kristof is a white knight ready to sacrifice all to maintain that patriarchy.
Which I suppose brings me back to where I started: THANK GOD NICK KRISTOF IS BACK TO SAVE US WOMEN OF COLOR FROM OUR MISERABLE SELVES.
Oh and also, Fuck you, Grey Lady. Seriously, fuck you.