A friend of mine recently gave birth to her first baby girl and is still getting the hang of motherhood. I began to notice she breastfeeds only when no men (besides her husband or father are around) and when she can “comfortably” hide away in a small space. When I mentioned to her that there should be no shame in feeding and nourishing her child in front of anyone, she responded,
“society would rather she starves than look at my breasts.”
The more I thought about the implications of her words the more upset I became. Who would want a child to starve? Who would truly want to deny a child nourishment and comfort at the chest of his mother?
I visited a few online forums where the topic of breastfeeding in public was being debated and these are some of the comments I came across.
Betty: Not going to lie, even as a female I seriously don’t want to see anyone nursing. Can’t they just put in a nice little room in the malls, with some carpet and a few sofas for the mothers?
Mark: Breastfeeding in public is wrong, inappropriate and disgusting. Do that stuff in your house!
Alex: It is offensive when you’re just sitting in a matatu and some woman whips out her breast and just starts breastfeeding! I don’t want to see that!!!
Ciku: Yes, nursing is natural. You need to be tasteful though. I wouldn’t want my ten year old son gawking at it.
Wendy: Honestly, I don’t want to see either one in front of my face when i am trying to eat. I’m sorry, but as a non-child bearing woman with absolutely NO DESIRE to have children, I am tired of self righteous mother throwing their breasts in my face everywhere I turn.
And so on.
Humans, like all mammals, evolved to breastfeed their young. This is the single and sole purpose of breasts, from an evolutionary stance. That we have sexualised and objectified the female body to such a degree, that this NATURAL, NORMAL, and HEALTHY act of feeding infants has morphed into some shameful and exhibitionist act to be hidden from everyone, underscores misogyny and the sexualisation of women. Men are used to seeing women’s bodies only as sexual objects for consumption and we are passing on this sexualisation of breasts and the female body to the next generation, as well as reinforcing children & women’s subservient roles in society.
Banishing breastfeeding mothers to secluded and non-social places to feed their babies reinforces the following misogynistic ideas:
– That breasts are ‘dirty’ and sexual, and breastfeeding is thus dirty and sexual (rather than a normal part of the human body and life cycle)
– That breastfeeding babies and toddlers are somehow less important and that how they consume their food is not the same or is less ideal than full-grown human food consumption (rather than appropriate for their human development).
– That babies and their mothers are not equal members of the human race with the right to eat when and where they find themselves, even in public spaces.
Something is very wrong with society when women are harassed and shamed for doing something that women’s bodies do as a routine part of raising children. When a woman sits inside her local library, mall, hairdresser, restaurant, on public transport, and is asked to move on because she dares feed, comfort, settle her fussy baby, her rights are being violated simply because she happens to be female and happens to have been born with breasts that produce milk.
Breastfeeding is multitasking and makes life easier for both mother and child. Its healthy and unstructured. If it bothers you so much, look away. No-one is forcing you to look. Let nature be.
(Image courtesy of http://www.ellynreidphotography.com/)