Milk from a Stone


4 February 2019

In late October an exciting email arrived in my inbox. “NEWS STORY” it read. “A REVOLUTIONARY new concept enabling male breastfeeding has this week been crowned the winner of the world’s first Meaning-Centred Design Awards.” That’s weird, I thought to myself, what the heck is meaning-centred design?

To try to understand this, I went to the Meaning-Centred Design Awards website, where I’m afraid I only grew more confused. The awards, it announced, had been created to “celebrate the best brands, organisations, services, apps and products which have managed their own meaning or that of the category/sector they live in”. It just didn’t feel any clearer. What even is managing one’s own meaning? Could I be managing my own meaning right now, without realising it? Confused and alienated, I decided to read up on male breastfeeding instead, hoping for a dose of sanity.

Titled Chestfeeding for Dads, the project is the work of Central Saint Martins graduate Marie-Claire Springham and it’s absolutely delightful. Springham’s proposal is for a hormone kit that expectant fathers could, in principle, take in order to stimulate the development of milk-producing glands and, ultimately, breast milk. Complete with a pump and compression vest, Springham’s kit comes with an NHSstyle pamphlet: “Chestfeeding your Baby: what every dad needs to know.”

Springham hasn’t done any medical testing, but there is some kind of internal coherence and research basis to her idea. The internet, however, disagreed. “Wtf is happening to this world??? I wish humans would stop playing god. We are creating freaks,” wrote one commenter on an article detailing the project on The Sun newspaper’s website. “This is UTTERLY sick. Its going too far utterly RIDICULOUS NO NO NO NO NO this is pathetic [sic],” proffered another. No word on whether these commenters find the contraceptive pill repugnant. Perhaps it’s only when the male body is subject to hormonal alteration that the practice becomes “UTTERLY sick”.

Springham’s project never presented itself as anything other than a concept, but nonetheless attracted extraordinary anger – as if she were somehow already down at the YMCA, forcibly injecting hormones into every man-tit in sight. Its point, however, seems to be that it couldn’t currently go ahead, even if the science were in place – its implementation would mean adopting a different set of social paradigms. As absurd a title as “meaning-centred design” may be, if it encourages discussion about what this change might entail – and prevents existing models petrifying into reactionary bile – it is something worth promoting.