Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Breastfeeding in a Pornified Culture

"I just don't think it's proper for women to show their breasts out in public unless they're on the beach."

So said some middle-aged guy who happened upon a group of mothers taking part in a "nurse-in" in Lincoln Square Plaza last Friday in support of a fellow breastfeeding mom who was harassed (sadly, by another mom) earlier in the week.

On the one hand, this guy's comments are boorish, obnoxious, and stupid.

But on the other hand, I have to give him credit for being so up-front about his "issue" with nursing. I've heard not a few times from my beloved wife that people have told her they're "uncomfortable" with her nursing in public, but invariably the objectors fail to subsequently explain why, precisely, it disrupts their comfort level.

I'm of the opinion that nursing in public is often perceived to be indecent because it is (and has been for quite some time) done relatively rarely, due in no small part to the recommendations of a Herd of Indepdendent Thinkers who decided in the middle of the last century that the idea that babies should be fed formula somehow marked a crowning achievement for human civilization.

I say "relatively rarely" in reference to the portrayal of women's breasts as sexual, which is surely the norm in our pornified culture.

In essence, then, to the modern mind, whose perspective our boorish commenter articulates to a T, the "real" — i.e., the belief that women's breasts are primarily for nursing her children — has been replaced by the "counterfeit" — i.e., the belief that women's breasts are primarily, if not exclusively, sexual.

(As an aside: Much the same can be said of contraception and its impact on people's attitudes toward sex. To the modern mind, the "real"—i. e., the belief that openness to having a child is an essential component of sex—has been replaced by the "counterfeit"—i. e., the belief that contraceptive sex is the norm.)

It follows that those of us who believe the opposite—that the real is actually the counterfeit and vice versa—are often considered daft.

My sense is that were public nursing to be done ubiquitously, this wacky popular notion that it is indecent would wane.

[HT: R.M. Schultz via Carrie W.]


Rick said...

While there is nothing wrong with it, one needs to consider the maturity of the others as Paul taught that the one who is strong in the faith needs to put up with those who are weak. So, if others might be led into sin upon the sight of a mamary gland, then it won't hurt to cover it up.

Anonymous said...

Breasts have indeed been sexualized (thanks to Western culture) but I don't hold that as the reason for why I am against public breastfeeding. No one--men included--should be exposing themselves at all. It's none of my business to see another woman's breast. Most women do cover up when they're in public; however, I still hold that they shouldn't do it. Even in this situation, I feel that what I am seeing is something very personal and intimate. I feel like I'm the one doing wrong by noticing and I feel the mother should understand the intimacy involved and do it at home.

You say it is because of our over-sexualized culture that we blush when we see a woman breastfeeding. Here's another perspective: motherhood is a holy thing. A woman's entire body is holy. To see a mother holding her child is a wonderful thing. To see that woman breastfeeding her child is to violate the holy bond between mother and child by merely looking (I say motherhood is holy because it is an act that is the highest emulation of G-d--creating life).

One could even say that our over-sexualized culture has made us so insensitive that we don't even blink when we see the nursing mothers. However, to say that would imply that I am accusing people like you of being over-sexualized to a different degree. But you and I know that's wrong because it's not true. How can one say that in the opposite direction then?

But, if nursing mothers were the norm, we wouldn't blink then either. Are we oversexualized then?
I think people get upset because they are strangers. To suddenly see a nursing mother is a violation of personal space. It forces people to grapple with the intimacy--intimacy that they weren't expecting, especially from a complete stranger.

I don't think it's because we're a "pornified culture." I think it's because we're a society that has belittled modesty, have a "I have my rights!" attitude ("it's my body , I can do what I want" schtick), have no values or traditions geared toward holiness, and have no strategy for dealing with intimacy.


TheFeministBreeder said...

Thank you so much for your commentary on this. I appreciate this coming from a man, and a man of faith, at that. I hate to report that the WOMEN of FAITH that I know tend to look down on breastfeeding. My response? Jesus was breastfed - in public no less!

I don't understand how people can pervert the feeding of a child. It's disgusting. The people who rant on women breastfeeding in public should really look at themselves first, and wonder why they are sexualizing something that is non-sexual, beautiful, and motherly (not to mention much better for the baby's health.)

Anyway. Thanks again.

emjaybee said...

What I don't understand about Anonymous and Rick's comments is this idea that a woman breastfeeding is trespassing against them (or God?) somehow. It is so *very* easy not to look! And all the poetic language about "holy pure blah blah blah" doesn't hide the fact that you're telling women who are activity that takes many hours a day...that she has to stay indoors for the first year of her child's life to avoid offending your very vague (and certainly extra-Biblical) ideas of female purity. It is immoral to demand that women be forced to hide and imprision themselves because of some "immature believers", especially not to the detriment of they and their children's health. That's the logic of the Taliban.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous, as a nursing mother who has never really nursed in public (due to circumstance not necessarily choice) I find your response highly offensive. It is your opinion which of course you are entitled to but to say mothers have to feed their babies only at home so your wandering eyes don't catch sight of a breast is just absurd. I plan to nurse for a year and my child eats every two hours so does that mean I can never go anywhere for more than that amount of time? Should I just let my child scream and starve while in public so nobody would gaze upon the intimacy or holiness? Think about what you are saying. In MY opinion, your statements are ridiculous.

Leah said...

Good response. I also like to draw a parallel to another body part that is dual purpose - lips. Lips can be highly sexual. But since we also use them for eating and talking, we don't generally cover them up in public. (Unless we've decided to go the burqa route, which I doubt these people are suggesting) Breasts are dual purpose - sexual in a sexual situation, but also used for a baby's meal-time.

Cassaundra said...

How beautifully and truthfully said! I am not a Christian, but if every Christian was as true a follower of Christ as you really seem to be, the world would be a very different, and more peaceful place. Bright Blessings to you and your lucky family!

TopHat said...

I saw that you are Catholic- have you seen this? Another great Catholic take on breastfeeding.

The Dutchman said...

Dear Anonymous:

My advice to you is to say a Rosary while asking Our Lady of La Leche to give you guidance and discernment.

Yours For A Better World — Dutch

Matt said...

I'm proud to say my wife took part in a nurse-in at Rice Pool in Wheaton.

Here in Illinois it's actually against the law for anyone to forbid a woman to nurse her child in a public place, whether or not she is exposed in such a way as someone is offended. In fact, it's illegal to even ask them to move.

That's what someone did at the aforementioned pool, so my wife and a few other nursing mom's went to the pool, nursed, and were treated quite amicably.

That said, it should be noted, as John said in his post, that prior to the last 50 years or so when formula feeding has become the big push, nursing in public was the absolute norm for pretty much the entirety of human history.

As for violating some supposed mother/child private bond or hurting others' sensibilities, the Church has an icon that's been venerated for centuries that depicts the Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary nursing the Christ Child with her breast exposed.

That combined with John Paul II of blessed memory's exhortation that mothers nurse their children for at least two years makes clear that the Church is in clear support of extended and unfettered breastfeeding as the most natural and healthy thing for children and society as a whole.