Sexual Politics of Milk


  • Barbara Formis



feminism, performativity, knowledge, breast-feeding, cannibalism


In this paper, I set out on a feminist philosophical investigation of the Ancient Greek approach to food and its contemporary avatars. Focusing on milk, the aim of the investigation is to unsettle and overcome the classical dualisms and cultural stereotypes that frame European thinking about food. Using a methodology inspired by somaesthetics, two qualities of eating food and drinking milk immediately emerge: non-visual embodiment and performativity. The first section of the paper develops the idea of non-visual embodiment through an analysis of food as animating energy rather than inert matter. In the second part of the paper, called “Milk as a performative and sexual metaphor for knowledge”, the analysis is orientated towards breast-feeding as a dual relation between two vulnerable beings. The sexual and political aspects of breast-feeding are examined via Aristotle’s and Plato’s writings as well as Socrates’ idea of knowledge as maieutics. The third and final section of the paper, entitled “The self, virility and cannibalism”, focuses on the links between meat-eating and masculine power. This link is anchored to ancient cannibalistic figures and mythological stories that identify meat-eating with ritual sacrifices. The phallocentric aspect of meat-eating has recently been analysed by Derrida through his idea of “eating well” which addresses the question of the indiscernability of activity and passivity in the process of eating.