Bodies get in the way: breastfeeding and gender equality in Swedish handbooks for new parents

Helena Wahlström Henriksson, Christine Rubertsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article offers an analysis of three popular Swedish handbooks for new parents, written by authors in the “media class.” In these texts breastfeeding as a gendered, embodied practice collides with the Swedish ideal of gender-equal parenting. The analysis explores the various ways that gendered bodies, gendered (parental) rights, and gender equality figure in the handbooks, drawing upon feminist studies of bodies and embodiment, and of breastfeeding in particular. It contextualizes the primary texts in terms of the Swedish ideal of gender-equal parenting, and in terms of current breastfeeding practices in Sweden. In the handbooks, the “breastfeeding imperative” is resisted because it is irrelevant and constraining for women, but also because it alienates fathers from infant feeding. Breastfeeding is ultimately rejected for reasons grounded in differences between gendered parental bodies, and particular understandings of gender-equal parenting. We contend that the books’ suggestion that breastfeeding be rejected in the name of parental gender equality, while it may cause women to feel physically free, also supports fathers’ rights discourses and in fact serves to (once more) marginalize women’s bodies, straight and queer.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNORA - Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021 Mar 17

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Gender Studies


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