Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breastfeeding in public is a feminist issue!

"Don't see the need for this sorry. It's just vulgar show boating:I have a BABY, look! Aren't I worthy! Well, news flash, we have toilets and not so public areas where you can still do what is natural, please use them! And by the way, I am very much a feminist."

That was a response to picture that I made into a meme. This one:

 Before I really dive into this I want to say that I posted this picture freely onto a Feminist page on facebook. The administrator of the page mentioned a desire to post a breastfeeding picture, but was hesitant because of the way facebook has handled photos like this in the past. I felt comfortable enough with the group of men and women on that page to share this and by far the response was overwhelmingly positive. I would say in that large community of wonderful feminist women and men, the idea that breastfeeding is a feminist issue is widely accepted.  However, a thread of contempt within the feminist community and debate on whether or not this is acceptable remains.

The idea that breastfeeding or reproductive rights beyond abortion, has no place in the public discourse of feminism and equality boggles my mind. I know that there is an idea that breastfeeding is anti-feminist and that too boggles my mind.

So let's start with the belief that this is vulgar. In our vernacular there are various definitions of vulgar. Given the context of the picture and the comment made I assume she meant either of the basic definitions, those being: lewdly or profanely indecent or morally crude, undeveloped, or unregenerate : gross.

Having nursed four babies in my life time I've known and dealt with many people who strongly believe that breastfeeding is vulgar. There are those who proclaim breastfeeding is  "just fine with we me as long as I don't have to see it", but once it's done in public, it again becomes lewd and vulgar. The question then is what makes the act of feeding your child in public profane, indecent, and morally crude? Is the fact that the child has his or her mouth attached to the breast? Is it the fact that a part of the breast is exposed? A strong argument could be made that the mere idea of using the word vulgar as a description of public breastfeeding is itself rooted not in feminism but misogyny. After all, the issue time and time again goes back to the belief that breasts are sexual organs. There is also the point that our Puritan roots as a culture dictated that not only women should be covered from neck to ankle, but that it's the woman's responsibility how a man reacts to seeing her skin. Not his. These are the beliefs from our cultural roots that controlled our bodies, took away our choices, and dictated our worth. Today it rears it's ugly head again by telling women they are morally bankrupt for daring to show skin while feeding their child as nature intended and as our wonderful bodies allow us to. We are again being told to cover our bodies and that the shame of our bodies is a virtue rather than a socially constructed hindrance. Keep in mind hindrance is putting it nicely. 

Now how about this sentiment:  "It's just vulgar show boating:I have a BABY, look! Aren't I worthy!"? Of course I already addressed the "vulgar" part, but I have to say the "show boating" really got me thinking. I laughed at it first, but that is usually my reaction to something I find utterly ridiculous. Then it got me to thinking. What does she mean? Is she inferring that I'm showing off and think I'm special because I had a baby and I breastfed it? Does she not understand the overall purpose of the The Big Latch on? The event I was participating in when this picture was taken?  I will admit, there are many moments when I look back on my pregnancies, labors, and births and feel pretty fucking proud of myself for doing it not only once but four times.  But I don't expect anyone else to understand that or value it in the very personal and spiritual way I do. I certainly don't breastfed in public because of those reasons.  I breastfed in public because my child is hungry, fussy, or tired and because I'll be damned if someone tells me I can't. Simple as that.

So, I read that sentence a few times and I was reminded of something a woman who claimed to be feminist said to me. She was very adamant that "breeders give feminism a bad name". Especially those like me who act like "having the ability to get knocked up and suffer through pregnancy and natural birth makes you special."  Remembering that frightful conversation help me to come to the conclusion that maybe that sentence was a jab at my worth and my ability to call myself a feminist. To that I say breastfeeding is very much a feminist issue. If I choose to feed my child with milk my body produces for him or her and I choose to do this by allowing that child to nurse from my breast, how does it not become a feminist issue when someone says I can't or shouldn't do it because of how it makes them feel, or because their own set of morals. How is that any different from telling a woman how she should dress, speak, act, or think? How is that different from telling a woman who she should vote for (or if she even has the right to vote at all), or when she can have sex and with who?  How is it different than forcing her to keep an unwanted pregnancy, be violated medically, or dictating what her overall worth is in this world? How does limiting bodily choices for a breastfeeding mother differ from limited the bodily choices for a woman without child? All because of some other persons prescribed set of moral standards and expectations?

In closing, I'd like to hear from others. How can a person call themselves a feminist and have such a negative attitude, no not just negative, judgmental attitude towards public breastfeeding? How does that work?  How can you believe that public breastfeeding and feminism are mutually exclusive?  Or what is your argument to say that it isn't? What do you think? 

 PS - I know I didn't address the toilet comment, but only because it's been said and addressed ad nauseam and because it's unbelievably ignorant. 




  



13 comments:

  1. Unfortunately there are soooo many things behind these comments that have NOTHING to do with feeding your child the way both of you were created to. Okay--speaking to you as a "breeder" means one of our lesbian sisters has her own issues of value and feeling that you are lording your heterosexual (? cause heteros are not the only ones who have babies)"superiority" over her. It is ignorant and horribly limiting to a feminist cause to assume that only "no-breeders" can be fiery feminists. That makes her a bigot in her own right. The whole wave of "breast is best" is true and has been true since antiquity, however there seems to always be the need to judge others who do not use a certain method in any vein. I would that all the sisters I know breastfeed, but it isn't for everyone and we live in a society of choice. So it is there choice and I'm sorry that there is such a burden of guilt on some women that makes them feel that a breastfeeding woman is looking down her nose as a superior being for doing what comes naturally. Mamas, women in general, are so hard on ourselves that we hold court in our own heads against ourselves based on whatever values/actions we feel we should be espousing. Both of those women need to go check themselves and see why they are turning their own insecurity and self-doubt outward on you. I'm a proud (and grateful) breastfeeding mama of two (almost 3) babies. So when I see this picture all I see is a healthy mama and baby who are content providing and receiving love and nourishment. Where is the vulgarity in that?

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    1. Thank you for reading the post and for your great reply. You make some points that I wish I'd made when I wrote this. Especially about guilt and actions reflecting that.

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  3. Power to you and your baby! Makes my heart sing to see you proudly breastfeeding! Big love!

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    1. I quote Rebecca West from 1913 "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiment that differentiates me from a doormat". Some things have changed, many have not. As a woman who has described herself as a feminist for all of my 50 years, even when it was a dirty word, it is difficult to see this internal debate continuing. For me, feminism is about freedom to choose. Our jobs, our partners, the number of our children. The one constant was that we would be equal in every way with every other human, how we are treated, what we are paid, access to health care, support for our children and empowered to make the choices that are right for us without reference to anyone else. If you choose to be a mother, be the best mother you can, and breast is certainly best! Nature did not provide breasts to make your shirt look good, to create cleavage, or to give our partners something to play with. Please know that the narrow minded and judgmental are with us always, if common sense were common or could be mandated, they might be changed but don't hold your breath.

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply Vicki.

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  4. Fantastic post! So well-worded and exactly how I feel.

    I have successfully breastfed my three kids and just finished weaning my 18-month-old. But I had a horrible experience with public breastfeeding my second (who was only 5 days old at the time) at The Building Museum in Washington, DC. I posted here:

    http://www.crumbbums.com/?p=2353

    Thanks for saying what so many of us feel!

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    1. Thank you very much for reading and commenting Lauren. I will definitely read your account you posted when I get a chance! Thanks for sharing it!!!

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  5. When people discriminate against nursing in public, they are really discriminating against women who are breastfeeding in public. They are attempting to restrict a woman’s access to places based on an activity she is undertaking that is inherently female. The oversexualization of woman’s bodies, specifically their breasts, has created a great deal of hostility towards the act of breastfeeding itself. When we are not free to use our breasts in public, as they were meant to be as designed by nature, we are not free to be women. This is not to say that the definition of womanhood hinges solely on breastfeeding or childbearing, but it is within the scope of womanhood alone that we give birth and breastfeed. If we are not free to label our bodies, ourselves as we need or wish, who is free to do so? At the moment it seems society at large is answering for our own bodies. That is extremely anti-feminist. (more at my own post on nursing in public and feminism: http://www.nursinginpublic.com/breastfeeding-advocacy/why-nursing-in-public-is-a-womens-rights-issue/)

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    1. Thank you for sharing your post with me. I haven't read it yet, but fully intend to, especially after reading your comment. I'm very interested in reading other feminist thoughts on the subject of breastfeeding and advocacy!

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  6. Thanks for your brilliant post, of course I agree that breastfeeding is a feminist issue.

    Birth, becoming a mother, breastfeeding, these are all core feminist issues. Which is why I'm studying to become a midwife. The fact that women aren't always treated with respect as labouring women, as mothers, and as mothers who feed their children still amazes me. Women can do the most amazing thing, bring forth new life, it demands respect and awe. I'm not interested in those women who feel that they can define feminism as excluding mothers.

    Women have spent so much time being excluded in so many other places, we need to reclaim feminism for ourselves. As amazing, strong mothers with the right to make our own choices, around where and how we give birth, and how we feed our babies, and how we raise our children.

    How can such important choices not be at the top of the feminist agenda?

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  7. Get over yourselves. Peeing out of our vaginas is natural and a normal body function of a woman and non-sexual but do we squat wherever we feel like it or find an appropriate place?

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