As the 1987 film “The Princess Bride” nears its satisfying conclusion, a distraught Princess Buttercup, thinking her Westley is lost to her, picks up a dagger and presses it to her chest. As she contemplates life without her Westley, Westley, reclining nearby, admonishes her with, “There’s a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours.”
Lately, headlines have been hyper-focused on female anatomy. Due to the leak of Justice Alito’s draft addressing Dobbs, a challenge to Roe, and the ongoing shortage of baby formula, political rhetoric is a storm of phrases like, “My body, my choice!” amidst catty remarks directing concerned mothers to “Try breastfeeding!” as if the mother of a formula-fed six-month-old infant can flip a switch and the milk will flow.
The bigger picture, if you step away from the barrage of headlines and the rhetorical storm that typifies American politics, is not popular with some today but nonetheless beautiful: the female body is a work of art meant not only to be admired but treated reverentially as the vessel via which Creator God chose to perpetuate His most-cherished creation, His image-bearer, man.
There is a lot of conjecture about what our daughters deserve. This discussion has never been far removed from American political discourse since Roe was decided in 1973. What our daughters deserve today is what they deserved in 1973, and that is a culture that inundates them with realistic messages about their bodies.
The female body is a powerful thing. Anyone in advertising knows this. The mere sight of Bathsheba coupled with David’s failure to walk away and control his thoughts changed the course not only of King David’s life but the lives of countless others. Young women are shown early and often how to harness their sexuality, but too few are told to guard their body and their heart. Too few are told the truth about the physical and emotional toll of casual sex.
Our daughters deserve a mother and a father in their home and a host of adults in their life who tell them and show them women are to be treated with respect. Women who do not treat themselves with respect do not demand others do so; women have been told for decades they can and should have casual sex and they can and should fear no consequences, even and especially if a child is a consequence. Countering this damaging rhetoric is incredibly difficult for the increasingly rare parent who is swimming against the cultural tide.
Our daughters deserve to be treated authentically; they should not become fodder for political spats. In an attempt to deflect blame for the formula shortage away from the Biden administration, some are suddenly proponents of breastfeeding, but in their cheerleading, they reveal their ignorance not only about how the female body and the intricacies of lactating work, but about how our society is structured.
A nursing infant requires a present mother, or a mother willing and able to pump her milk for hours a day. So suddenly the party of universal daycare is championing breastfeeding. A nursing infant needs a present mother and thus a father who can support his family, but this is not possible for many families in Biden’s economy.
This formula shortage highlights how far we have veered from what I believe God intends. It is plain in the way He created us: man and woman commit, create children she nurtures (literally with her body) while he protects and provides for his family. This is not always possible, but it is ideal, and yet it is discouraged in a thousand ways.
We are a culture that encourages casual sex, abortion on demand, and universal daycare, but the moment a formula shortage might be blamed on the Biden’s incompetent Food and Drug administration, many on the left join their local La Leche league.
I too think breastfeeding is wonderful. I nursed my children. I encourage any mother who asks me to try breastfeeding. It is tremendously beneficial for both mother and child, but it is physically challenging for many women, and many women never attempt it or abandon it quickly at least in part because at every turn they are met not with support but societal resistance.
If we celebrated and supported breastfeeding with half the fervor with which we celebrate breasts, more women would breastfeed, and research suggests this would result in an overall healthier population and strengthened emotional bonds between mothers and their children.
I teach British literature to high school students, so I do not teach Nathanael Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” but Hester Prynne has been on my mind lately. Even after the birth of her illegitimate daughter, Pearl, Hester is not defined as a mother. Her identity must be wrapped up in her adultery; her Puritan neighbors demand this.
Hawthorne would likely write an altogether different novel today. We can acknowledge Hester’s sin, but it does not have to define her. She carries her daughter; she gives Pearl life. The Puritans would not know on whom to pin a scarlet “A” today, nor would they find adultery to be the most shocking aspect of modern society.
Somewhere between the pendulum swing from Puritanical scarlet “A’s” and today’s abortion-on-demand culture is the answer: we must be honest with women about the reasons to protect their heart and their body. We should discourage casual sex and stop pretending aborting a child is just another birth control option, no different than using a condom.
We should also celebrate motherhood, even motherhood that results from the behavior of which we do not approve, understanding the many miracles that happen every time a child is conceived and nurtured first in his mother’s womb and then sustained at her breasts. Abortion and the subsequent devaluation of motherhood is the scarlet “A” that is crippling our daughters.