I asked the question originally because I'm a grad student in history, and I've been working on a paper about working women, day care, & breastfeeding, and I have been completely astonished to discover that a lot of the AP stuff is NOT considered feminist, depending on who you ask. There are 2 kinds of feminist (more or less)--equality feminists, and "difference" feminists. This divide has existed pretty much since the 19th century, only earlier the difference feminists were sometimes called "maternalists."
Basically, equality feminists want legislation etc which eliminates all the socially-constructed differences between men & women, and not legislation which encourages the differences--for instance, protective legislation for women workers in the 1920s was OPPOSED by feminists, because by saying, for instance, women shouldn't work at night meant that many women couldn't make any money at all. They also opposed "women's pensions," payments for women to allow them to stay home, because they would reinforce the idea that women should stay home and not work--that stereotype was the major issue that was keeping women from making any headway in the working world. (The payments were so low that many women worked anyway though.)
Connected to protective legislation was the sex typing of jobs, much of it done ostensibly to 'protect' women from workplace hazards (most of them moral hazards, not physical). This was a really bad thing b/c it stuck women in very low-paying exploitive work.
These days, a lot of the arguments are actually pretty similar. Long maternity leaves, for instance, have been construed as a problem because they reinforce the idea that women's place is at home, not at work. This is where it gets extended to a bizarre extreme to me, though some say a solution is to have long paternity leaves too (even though men rarely use them when they are available). Another one is that breastfeeding reinforces gender stereotypes and prevents women from working outside the home, or even leaving it for very long.
Equality feminists seem to find the whole 'taking care of my children IS a career' idea to be self-delusion, basically, and work which just perpetuates patriarchy. Being a SAHM is what the men in power WANT you to do--no structural or legal change will result from that.
Difference feminists/maternalists are more like Mothering types. Women should have equal rights, opportunity and so on, but they agree that there is something different (and good) about being female, and that good thing should be encouraged. Much of that good thing happens around mothering.
The breastfeeding issue is what really trips up equality feminists, and, to be blunt, I think mothering in general does too. Many of the major women's labor histories barely mention mothering at ALL--as if all those women simply made their kids vanish when they went to work. No one even looked at the history of day care here until a couple of years ago (one is a very good book by Sonya Michel called Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights). And mainstream feminism & women's historians (outside of medical history) seem to have avoided breastfeeding until really recently. There's a bit of work on La Leche League--how in the 1950s it was a radical critique of scientific mothering, advocate of natural childbirth etc, but in the 1970s it was reactionary for insisting women should stay home with their small children.
What's been blowing my mind about all this is that I definitely consider myself a feminist, but I was also adamant about staying home with my baby as long as possible. I'm a single mom so I could only do it full-time for 6 months, but I've had a very flexible schedule & a very cooperative ex and so my son is only going into part-time day care now, when he's almost 2. And breastfeeding for me has been an extremely empowering experience--it just strikes me as totally bizarre that it could somehow be construed as nonfeminist. But maybe some of that comes from women feeling pressured to breastfeed by authority figures, or wanting to be free of biological contraints. Also, formula feeding is supposed to make parenting more egalitarian.
The issue which is the most problematic to me is that women who breastfeed in the US are white, middle- & upper-class women, who can both afford to stay home or have excellent day care, who have access to breastfedding support like this web site, & who are more likely to go through with pumping at work because they have more control over their working environments. Working class and black women are much less likely to nurse, partly because they work in situations where they can't pump easily (in a factory, say) and because they need someone else to care for their kids from an early age--and it's just easier with formula. These women are also really tired of being told what to do by middle-class white women (we also have a very long history of this here--high-minded social workers, etc.) and being told to breastfeed is sometimes just another part of this.
Anyway, the reason I asked is because I thought most women here would be feminist but wanted see how you all would put it. The idea that raising your kids ideologically is your contribution to society is a really old idea, by the way--in the 1770s raising up little republicans (small R) for the new independent nation was actively promoted, for instance. In fact, education for women was first encouraged because it would help women raise their sons to be more equipped to deal with commerce & politics, NOT because it would improve women's opportunities outside the home.
It's all really complicated once you look at it, as you can see. There's also a pretty new book out called The Paradox of Natural Motherhood, by Chris Bobel, a sociological study of people just like you and me--crunchy, natural-foods, bake-your-own bread types. The conclusion is that these women are well-educated and definitely consider themselves feminists, but yet they do not really engage with the world outside the home. That's the paradox. It's very weird to see yourself being analyzed this way.
FeministFatale sums up the problem in her post, I think--women are supposed to mother, women even want to mother, and we are all told it's the most important thing etc etc--yet if you're 'only' a mother you get very few rewards beyond the emotional, AND your status as mother rather than wage-earner can be used against you in surprising ways. (See Anne Crittenden's book, The Price of Motherhood. You will start screaming.) This is not the case in other industrial democracies, big surprise. We just don't put our money where our mouths are here, and that's why American equality feminists aren't into sentimentalizing motherhood. What has it gotten us, really?
Okay, my dissertation is finished!!