Can you picture what the world would look like if men could lactate and women could not? A co-ed group of California high school students did and the results were amazing.
School boys would brag about how far they could “fire” their breast milk, lactation would be weaponized in video games, and “Brad Titt” would star in such films as “Money Boob.” On a more serious note, “breastfeeding in public would be encouraged” and men “would bring their babies to their workplace and it wouldn’t be a distraction,” according to an essay by Madison Holland, Peter King, Zack Matar, and Jacob Rivera, 11th graders at Pioneer High School in San Jose, Calif.
The teens penned the essay (see the full text down below) for an assignment in their English class. Their teacher, Beth Stafford, asked her honors students to read feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s famous “If Men Could Menstruate” essay and write their own satirical pieces exploring other “what if” scenarios that would reverse gender norms.
“The goal was to see that ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ qualities have two innate meanings but that we give everything positive or negative connotation,” Stafford told me in an email. “When something flips from being female to male, so does the connotation from negative to positive.”
Stafford, who breastfeeds her 9-month-old son, said she was impressed with her 17-year-old students’ work.
“I thought it was hilarious and spot on!” she said. “I was surprised by how insightful they were and it made me feel like teenagers actually understand what I, as a working and breastfeeding mother, am going through.”
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time that Steinem’s 1978 Ms. Magazine essay inspired a breastfeeding sequel. Writer (and mother of two) Lyz Lenz published a similarly-themed “If Men Could Breastfeed” essay in late 2013, which was picked up by The Huffington Post the following year. Lenz’s essay also included a mix of predictions both serious and silly, from the widespread implementation of six-month breastfeeding-friendly paternity leaves to the Washington Monument being “shaped like a boob.”
I loved Lenz’s popular piece, but I’m even more impressed with the work of these teens. Think back to your adolescence — were the challenges facing breastfeeding women on your radar at all? They certainly weren’t for me. I’m sure part of what helped the kids was that, these days, there’s increased awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding as well as a constant stream of unfortunate news stories about women being harassed for publicly breastfeeding.
But breastfeeding awareness or not, these kids have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the power of gender roles and how women’s issues tend to play second fiddle to men’s (to put it mildly). As they get older, I hope the San Jose teens and their peers can use that understanding to create environments that make breastfeeding easier for anyone who wants to do it. If scientific advancements someday make breastfeeding by men a common practice, I know plenty of tired nursing moms who won’t object to sharing the duty … even if that means being dragged to see a “Brad Titt” movie or two.
Here’s the full text of the essay:
If men could lactate:
What would happen if suddenly men could lactate and women could not?
Lactating would become a competition between men of all ages and races. Men would compete to see how much breast milk they could hold and for how long. The more you can hold, the more masculine you are.
The media would treat the subject openly, such as Brad Titt starring in “Moneyboob.” Boys would brag about how far they could fire their breast milk during school, and breast milk would become a weapon in video games.
Some women would alter their breasts to carry breast milk, in order to feel equal to men. Men would boast about how many babies they could breast feed at once, and breastfeeding in public would be encouraged. Men would convince women that breast milk is more valuable than milk from animals.
Men would create slang such as “he’s a two-pump-man” and “he’s a pumping machine.” Babies would favor their fathers because of the lactosey goodness of their creamy breast milk.
Men would bring their babies to the workplace and it wouldn’t be a distraction.
A small group of men, the “A-T-O” or the “anti-titty-organization” would protest to ban breastfeeding in public.
Overall, if men could lactate, they would be praised for nurturing their children, even if it’s distracting to the public eye.