Diana Garvin

Breastfeeding in Political Propaganda from Fascism to Neo-Fascism

This talk examines Fascist breastfeeding propaganda in the broader context of changing professional norms in the field of obstetric health care. Specifically, it describes how the regime worked to discredit female medical aides and authorities on breastfeeding in order to create a space for male medics to open new, state-affiliated clinics for Taylorist breastfeeding. At stake in this analysis is the specifically Fascist nature of the industrialization of maternal health care in modem Italy: propaganda broke the social bonds between female patients and female health-care providers, creating a system of government control over women’s bodies that remains largely in place and unexamined in contemporary clinics. Addressing mothers directly from A’le madri in 1931 to #allemadri in 2017, far-right groups reinvent a singular trope for new times, reducing all of Fascist motherhood to the act of breastfeeding.  The legacies of authoritarian breastfeeding propaganda as a key means to increase the national population include not only overt examples like Forza Nuova’s poster but also covert examples like the Ministry of Health’s infant- rather than mother-centric model of breastfeeding campaigns like “Mamma Che Latte” (Mama, what great milk, or Wow, what milk!), an initiative paired with the #FertilityDay campaign and its panic inducing slogan “La bellezza non ha l’eta. La fertilita si” (Beauty has no age limits. Fertility does). While Fascism’s original pronatalist goals ultimately failed, the means that the regime used to achieve this goal persist. Today, we see the reduction of motherhood to breastfeeding in far-right posters from Forza Nuova and campaigns by Casa Pound. Contemporary far-right groups have not simply continued to apply the old Fascist ideologies of maternity. Rather, the Italian political system, as a hulking bureaucratic assemblage, provides cover for both the Right and the Left. Public celebration of breastfeeding mothers, coupled with subsequent legislative repression of their reproductive rights, seems to be one of the very few arenas where Italian politicians agree. Such a system is intrinsically generative of dictatorial approaches to fertility.