Really, Sesame Street? You haven’t had the opportunity to show breastfeeding on the show? In the past, like, TEN years? Is that the best response you could come up with?
“Sesame Street is a research-based educational program for preschoolers. Each new season is designed to teach a specific curriculum; this year’s curriculum is science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Sesame Street does not have a mandate against breastfeeding, and the show never made a switch to portray bottle-feeding only. We have depicted breastfeeding in the past, and would include it again in the future if it was a natural part of the storyline.” That’s an excerpt from the show’s response to a recent petition to bring breastfeeding back to Sesame Street.
Now, I kind of get where they’re coming from. The response is a move to defend the lack of breastfeeding on the show over the past several years. They’re pointing out that their agenda isn’t to promote breastfeeding, it's to educate preschoolers. And they seem to be claiming breastfeeding just isn’t on their radar.
I did a very unscientific study of the frequency of breastfeeding vs. nursing on Sesame Street, a la Youtube. With a quick search for “Sesame Street breastfeeding baby” I found four videos (not counting all the weird random stuff that for unknown reasons Youtube decided matched my search). Three were the clips from the 70s and 80s that have been making the rounds (Maria breastfeeds, Buffy breastfeeds Cody, and the original “You’re My Baby”). The fourth was one teaching how all mammals nurse – designated on the Sesame Street site as a “classic” video so obviously not from recent years. When I searched “Sesame Street bottle” most of the hits were about Bert and his bottle caps, with the exception of the “newer” “You’re My Baby.” It’s not like there were a gazillion old videos with boobs and a gazillion new ones with bottles. The sample size is pretty small. (Of course, this just reflects what’s on Youtube. I admittedly haven’t had time to comb the thousands of hours of Sesame Street footage, which surely has another bottle or breast in there somewhere.)
Part of me wants to point out that the show very easily could have thrown both a bottle and a boob into the “You’re My Baby” remake, but for some reason chose not to. Or that on the Sesame Street site there are roughly a bazillion video clips about "eating" and surely somewhere along the way was the opportunity to talk about how babies eat.
Maybe I’m naïve, but I’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt and believe the statement that they didn’t make a conscious switch to portray bottles instead. Just like the rest of our culture, Sesame Street reflects the time. “You’re My Baby” was probably remade when lots of moms were bottle feeding, maybe at the height of the formula craze. Like the rest of media, the norm shifted from depicting babies at the breast to depicting them at the bottle.
I love Sprout and PBS Kids. I think they do an amazing job of making kids shows that are both entertaining and educational. I love that they depict different cultures and also disabilities in their programming, and think they do a better job than most of creating positive role models for girls. (I love Cokie and Aviva from Wild Kratts…though it would be cool if once in a while they got to leave the Tortuga and wear the creature power suits they spend so much time engineering.) I never worry about what my kids are going to see if I let them pick a show from the PBS Kids or Sprout menu. In my limited knowledge of kid-media, PBS is the gold standard of kid-tv.
So, how awesome would it be if Sesame Street could have given a more, well, responsive response? Something like, “While Sesame Street at no point made a decision to depict bottle feeding over breastfeeding, we recognize that breastfeeding has not been shown in recent years. Given our commitment to the health and well-being of children and families, and the science showing how beneficial breastfeeding is to both infants and mothers, we will look for ways to incorporate breastfeeding into the show over the coming months.” Because no one was asking Sesame Street to defends its past – just to be a part of something positive going forward. Be a trend-setter, Street!
When I signed the Bring Breastfeeding Back to Sesame Street petition on Thursday I think it had something like 7,000 signatures with a target of 8,500. People keep signing and the target keeps getting raised – now shooting for 45,000 signatures! Hopefully Sesame Street will listen. How awesome would that be?!
To get in on the action, head on over and sign the petition.