My friend Becky has a bone to pick with me. It’s actually quite a meaty one:
‘So…..Do you think only Middle Class women can breast-feed then?’
She is referencing a comment in my last post, that Tiddler should have preferred my boob to the bottle like a ‘good middle-class baby.’ I instantly reassure her that of course I don’t think that and try to articulate something containing the word ‘ironic’ to do with social yummy-mummy pressure. But if I’m honest, she has me there. I can tell she has me because my mouth is working but no sound is coming out.
What made me say it I wonder? Why do I associate breastfeeding with being Middle-Class?
You’d think it would be the other way around. With powder costing eight pounds a tub and breast-milk free, one would expect it to be society’s peasants who were rucking up their primark jumpers while the poshos wasted their excessive incomes on Cow n Gate formula. Once upon a time this was indeed the case but Primark wasn’t invented then. Was it new scientific findings or the spread of NCT classes that got the Middle Classes back into breast feeding? Princess Diana’s high-profile example must have helped.
My friend Gemma said: ‘but we’re all Middle Class now. Nobody’s actually Working Class any more. Do you know anyone who works with their hands?’
I pointed out that most of the people in our neighbourhood are builders or plumbers but she said builders are mostly self-employed and far too rich to qualify. So I asked the cleaner at work: who are the working classes these days?
“I’m Workin’ Class” she said, drawing herself up. “Nearly everyone around ‘ere’s workin’ class. All them who does the work!” Builders included.
I wish I was as proud of my class but I’m actually quite the opposite. You see, I grew up knowing that the working classes are strong, honest, hardworking ‘real’ people (my Dad told me so) and have always let it be known as loudly as possible that I started my life in a South Yorkshire mining village. But Dad was never a miner: my brother and I might have been the first generation to go to University, but our parents were both profressionals. I might have been able to make ‘luv’ and ‘mardy’ sound authentic in a sentence (as in, ‘yer rate mardy, luv’) but as a child Mum would have corrected me for lesser offences than ‘I was sat’ for ‘I was sitting.’ I have about as much claim to being working class as a tomato has to being a vegetable.
You will notice I was assuming there that class is down to occupation and dialect, but I can also walk through the streets of Hillsborough and label people as ‘working’ or ‘middle’ tribe without knowing what they do for a living or even hearing them speak. The ones I class as ‘working’ are more likely to wear football shirts, baseball caps, skinheads or Nike trainers; to be obese; to shout or spit or smoke; to walk staffordshire bull terriers with leather harnesses; to sport fake tans or tatoos; to have their extended families around them because they live close by; to be drinking at their ‘local’ or be leaving a betting shop. Gemma might think I am parodying here but Gemma’s from the Cotswolds and has never been to Hillsborough.
Middle Class people look a bit like me, but posher. The Mummies are more likely to use baby slings; to boast about not watching much television; to utter phrases like ‘I can see you’re feeling frustrated’ to their children and….. to breastfeed their babies.
I’m sorry but I believe this last one to be true. When Toddler was much Tiddlier and I tried out the babygroups at the local SureStart centre, I was always the oldest by some margin and definitely had the voice most like the Queen’s. Then one of the staff suggested I went to the “breastfeeding cafe.” I didn’t know what happened in a breastfeeding cafe and was worried that my baby would embarrass me by not being hungry, but it turned out to be just another babygroup, exclusively to encourage breastfeeding and with a daft name.
At this group of course, the ladies were my own age or older. I was not saying ‘I’m thinking about reusable nappies’ to a roomful of blank faces: I was one of the few who didn’t already use them. People cited research to back up their ideas about childrearing. Conversation wasn’t about ‘jobs’ but ‘careers’. I felt at home there.
So the reason I associate breastfeeding with the middle classes is that, from where I was standing, it appeared to be true. In fact, all the stereotypes I’ve banded about here are founded on truth….
…and yet they are not fundamentally true at all. Anyone can get tattoos; people who work with their hands can be rich and talk posh and I’ve just been talking to a vet with her own business, an orange tan and a South Yorkshire accent. There are plenty of people these days who can’t answer the question ‘what class are you?’ although they can all identify the sort of people who are the same as them. And all classes of people breastfeed; I, middle class, use bottles.
Becky said ‘some people think breastfeeding is just for posh people’ and once I get over the shock of being called ‘posh,’ I find that sad. Are people really so influenced by such stereotypes that they don’t even consider having a go?
Well, as an aggressively non-judgemental soul I hate to perpetuate such pigeon-holey stereotypes. So, for the record, let me just say:
I thought that Tiddler ought to prefer my boob to the bottle like a good baby. His class is irrelevant to this. OK?