Double Bind Tying Breastfeeding Women to a Liminal Position : Discourses about Public Breastfeeding in the Swedish Media Debate 1980-2016

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för kulturantropologi och etnologi

Abstract: This thesis investigates cultural associations and values connected to women in Swedish society, with regard to action space, autonomy and social position. This is done through a discourse analysis of the media debate about public breastfeeding between the years 1980-2016, especially putting focus on the female body, motherhood, and women's access to public space. Main theories are Sara Ahmed’s various works on feelings and public comfort, as well as theories about taboo, mainly Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas. In line with early feminist anthropology on women’s subordinated position, this study finds liminality between opposing binaries to be important for the discourse, placing breastfeeding women in a position of taboo and inconvenience. In the discourses I studied, the two most important binaries are the nature-culture dichotomy, and the separation between private and public space. The discourses concerning public breastfeeding are also connected to notions of Swedish Exceptionalism and gender equality, mostly in contrast to beliefs about prudish influences from the U.S. In the thesis is discussed how the media debate about public breastfeeding seems to have intensified from the 1990s onwards, which correlates with increased neoliberalization of the Swedish welfare system, causing changes in women’s life circumstances. In the concluding chapter is brought forth how public breastfeeding is a focal point for several contradictory expectations on breastfeeding women, placing them in a double bind and making women responsible for everyone else’s comfort. It is also illuminated how the binary oppositions mainly contribute to disadvantaging categorizations of women, as well as how neoliberal reforms seem to have a damaging effect on gender equality in Sweden. 

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