Joan Wolf has been called many things in her lifetime. In the course of her research she's been labelled a “gender confused cow”, “in the same camp as holocaust deniers” and “yet another extreme feminist undermining real women and their bodies”.
When one talk show host was confronted about why they presumed she was a lesbian, they said: “Simple, because she expresses open disdain for traditional motherhood and has a women's studies PhD”.
But in her own words Ms Wolf explained: “My book does not argue that women should abandon heterosexuality, breastfeeding or motherhood.”
In fact her book, Is Breast Best? simply argues that the choices women make about breastfeeding today are hugely influenced by social pressures. Her PhD is also in political science.
Speaking at the University of Kent in Canterbury yesterday she explained: “In the absence of evidence that one or the other has great benefit or risk, either breast or bottle will make sense.”
The Texan Professor of Women and Gender studies went on to talk about how many bottle feeding mothers felt “consumed by guilt” and the ethical questions about “coercing people into breastfeeding”.
She added: “The insinuation that my research has been stimulated by selfish or nefarious intent stems from the fact that regardless of how mother's actually feed their babies, virtually everyone agrees that breastfeeding that is healthier than formula feeding.
“Even mothers who don't breast feed for one reason or another usually contend that their babies benefit in other ways that make up for the benefits that they've lost by bottle feeding.”
Despite the large amounts of research that has gone into the benefits of breastfeeding, Wolf remains unconvinced of its benefits.
Studies have in the past linked breastfeeding to reductions in breathing problems, social problems, obesity and even Leukaemia.
Yet Wolf claims that these studies have been patchy and that a great deal of research suggests the choice has little impact on infants in the developed world.
She said: “A culture in this research seems to have developed where as long as you acknowledge that you have not been able to account for certain variables you can just proceed as if you have.
“One study which doesn't quite stand up isn't made more credible by the fact there are millions of studies which don't quite stand up.
“By challenging the scientific evidence, I violated a code that even formula producers honour. A code according to which you can support choice in infant feeding, as long as you recognise that breastfeeding is superior.”
She added: “It's absurd; it's the equivalent of Nike saying it's bad to wear shoes but if you do decide to, wear ours.”
She also blamed the problem on a newly developed “risk culture”, where people, especially mothers, are expected to eliminate all risks to children at any cost to their own wellbeing.
“Women should not be made to feel guilty for not breastfeeding. Of the 75% who initiated breastfeeding how many would have never have even tried if the evidence for benefits was not so dramatically misrepresented? People should be able to make an informed choice.”
The next open lecture will be held on February 28 at the Medway Campus, with BBC Economic Editor Stephanie Flanders.