Kavin Senapathy (photo by Karl Withakay)

Don’t Blame Yourself: Exposing Deflection and Shame at CSICon

October 18, 2019

Did you know that it’s all your fault? For women, if they’re not living their best life, it’s because they’re buying unwholesome, unnatural products. Also, any hardships their children face are because they didn’t breastfeed them enough. Oh, and climate change? That’s also your fault because you took a plane to get to CSICon.

On the surface, there was not a lot of overlap between the special lunch presentation on climate change by climatologist Michael Mann and the two subsequent plenary sessions by Dr. Jen Gunter on the wellness industry and Kavin Senapathy on the myths about breastfeeding. 

Obviously, Gunter and Senapathy’s talks complemented each other especially well, as both tackled the way social pressure, pseudoscientific beliefs, and industry marketing prey upon women so that they feel guilty about the choices they make and push unfounded or even phony notions of “wellness” and “natural” mothering. 

Mann’s talk, meanwhile, was about catastrophic climate change. So, how does that relate exactly? Glad you asked.

Michael Mann

Mann hit hard on the fact that big industries, from fossil fuel to bottled beverages, have long been invested in redirecting attention away from their systemic role in climate change, and instead put the focus on individual consumers’ behavior. The problem isn’t a global system of burning fossil fuels and a resistance to systemic solutions, it’s you and your unwillingness to stop using plastic straws or buy eco-friendly window cleaner. 

That deflection then has the added benefit of dividing the community of climate activists so that they fight with each other over those plastic straws and window cleaners. All the while, the machinery of carbon emissions, and the policy that greases its gears, continues, less scrutinized. 

Now consider what Dr. Gunter had to say about the wellness industry, which she says is not filling in the gaps left by modern medicine, but capitalizing on them. Companies like Goop and other such enterprises are financially invested in medical conspiracy theories, because the less you trust real medicine, the more you’ll fall for their pseudoscience claptrap and purchase their products. 

Jen Gunter

And it is claptrap, and it is not empowering anyone to live their best life. But the marketing of these wellness products puts the onus on women to make up for what establishment medicine has failed to provide them. The irony is that these gaps in women’s medicine are stem from rather misogynistic roots, but the worst of the wellness industry is itself misogyny marketing itself as feminism. It’s shaming women into fixing what they didn’t break.

Similarly, Kavin Senapathy showed us how breastfeeding is pushed on mothers, even though the evidence shows that the positive outcomes seen in kids who were breastfed can’t actually be attributed to the breast milk itself. “What really matters is the circumstances into which a baby is born,” said Senapathy. 

Nonetheless, mothers are shamed over their inability or unwillingness to breastfeed, and are led to think that their choice or circumstance endangers or disadvantages their children. 

See how this all ties together? If you don’t give your kids enough breast milk, you’re failing them. If you don’t purchase a jade egg and buy natural-wholesome-pure wellness products, you’re failing yourself. If you use a plastic straw, you’re failing the planet. Never mind the actual powerful industries and policies that actually make the world go ‘round (or not). The problem must be with you.

Don’t buy it. Literally.