We need to talk about shaming.

Breast shaming. Formula shaming. C-section shaming. Mummy shaming.

IT’S NOT A THING.

Ok sure, if you Google it, it’s a thing. “Five Mommy-shaming trends that need to stop”. “Mum shamed for buying formula fights back”. And accusations of shaming are sure to get a Facebook thread hopping. But it’s time we called out ‘shaming’ for what it is: a muzzle.

In shame culture, feelings trump facts, and victim mentality rules. Making someone feel uncomfortable has become transgressive; the perception of hurt has been passed off as actual harm. The substitution of reaction for critical engagement fuels conflict and tribalism which is not only divisive, but a distraction from the people and institutions which are truly harming mothers and babies.

When it comes to birth and infant feeding, the question demands to be asked: whose interests are served by the framing of advocacy and information-sharing among women as an act of aggression? The answer, of course, is patriarchy. The status quo which demands that medicalised obstetric care maintain control over the pregnant and birthing bodies of women. Or that the global formula industry continues making billions of dollars in the face of 800,000 preventable child deaths annually. Or for economies to maximise worker productivity with minimal investment in childcare or paid parental leave. So-called mummy wars and shaming is the sleight of hand which keeps us focused on the wrong part of a very nasty trick, depleting our energy fighting among ourselves instead of working together against common enemies.

There is no excuse for treating each other with anything less than respect and kindness, even in disagreement. But allowing personal offence to serve as the boundary of discourse is stunningly solipsistic. And in a world where knowledge and power has long been withheld from women on the basis that we are too emotionally volatile or fragile to cope with their demands, it is dangerously regressive to allow honest discussion of the lives of women and children to be shut down on the basis that it somehow constitutes ‘shaming’.