Earlier today, The Inquisitrposted a current health piece about babies starting solid foods too early, and new American Association of Pediatrics guidance on the issue of when to start solid foods -- but an interesting side note to the piece was how national media chose to frame it, as "mothers start solid food too early."
The immediate assumption mothers and mothers only bear the weight of a decision to start solid food is not as shocking as it is just simply rage inducing -- in an era in which most moms hold down a job outside parenting, the most effective thing we can do to ease the relatively uneven burden between parents is not assume that mothers are the go-to for things like feeding unless a breast is required to do so.
Yet all the articles about babies starting solids too early (with the notable exception of the New York Times) read like a freaking laundry commercial. The assumption that women are solely responsible for parenting and homemaking becomes incredibly frustrating when the pressure of doing so as a given is applied to an already busy mom who herself has a full-time job... and we really don't need the national media reinforcing so casually this ridiculous stereotype that feeding a baby is a mom's job.
Even the Times only escaped in the headline -- the body of their coverage read:
"... the survey suggests that mothers are not aware of the recommendations or find them difficult to follow."
Later in the article the terminology switched to "parents," but the insinuation was there. Who else takes kids to the pediatrician, after all? And really, how can moms remember these complicated guidelines when we have to get to work on fulfilling our spring decor Pinterest goals? It's just too much.
Other outlets were even worse. "Most Mothers Give Infants Solid Food Too Early," Yahoo bleated. The piece went on to say:
"Mothers may turn to a variety of sources for information on when to start their infants on solid foods, and these sources may provide conflicting advice, the researchers said... 'Pediatricians and other health care providers need to provide clear and accurate guidance' to women about when to start solid foods... some women may start their infant on solid foods sooner because they think that their babies' crying indicates they are still hungry... interpretation of these cries (with the help of a doctor) may prevent some women from starting solid foods too early."
Throughout, the assumption pops up again and again that not only is a baby's solid food regimen a woman's sole responsibility, but that she and she alone is in charge of obtaining advice and guidance. She'll be the only one looking at hunger cues because honey, the game is on. And we all know only women really stress out about a baby that refuses to be soothed -- the buck stops with mommy, right?
NBC's Linda Carroll didn't fall prey to casual sexism in the headline, but paragraph one?
"Most mothers may be starting their infants on solid foods months sooner than specialists recommend, mistakenly believing their children are old enough to graduate from breast milk or formula – but many say they're simply following doctors' orders, according to a study published today."
USAToday's Michelle Healy titled her piece "Many moms start babies on solid foods too soon," starting out of the gate:
"Many mothers introduce solid food to their infants earlier than medical experts recommend, especially babies who are formula-fed... Forty percent of mothers start feeding their babies solid food before the recommended minimum age of 4 months old, says a new study."
Men apparently were not held accountable in this study. Which actually sucks a lot -- because on the ground, this isn't the case a lot of the time. My own husband was naturally inclined to be hands on with our kids, changing diapers and feeding and fetching when it was a nursing only activity.
But other women would pipe up when they heard he'd given them a bath or changed a diaper, subtly sanctioning my failure as a wife in "letting" my husband have to do hard work. It was stressful, because it plants a seed of inadequacy on both sides.
It shouldn't and doesn't only cheese off women either -- many fathers I know have been as involved and active in baby matters including feeding from day one. And it annoys them when their partners are defaulted to as the sole dispenser of food, care and general needs, the contribution many hands-on dads make ignored, as if they're not capable or interested in stuff like what their kids eat or when. It insults every parent.
(Case in point aside -- today, in March of 2013, Jif is still insisting choosy moms choose Jif, because men don't ever shop.)
And the issue isn't harmless, because this assumption women are on the hook alone for these tasks adds to the other stuff like gender pay gap in making our lives that much harder, and that much more there to subsidize men's enjoyment of the stuff we work as hard to earn.
It should be noted that the data was collected from women -- but that doesn't mean that women are starting babies on solids too early, it still means families and parents are making this decision. And furthering the idea this is women's work is doing parents of all genders a disservice.