PART I: Breastfeeding in Public
The actress Olivia Wilde has evidently taken a lot of heat over the photo featured above published in Glamour magazine some months ago. A recent article and discussion about the flap is available here: HuffPo OWilde2.
I’m currently teaching a course in Human Sexuality and coincidentally I came across the above article and thought it would make for a good discussion topic in class. I had no idea what an iceberg of controversy was floating underneath Olivia’s little indiscretion chronicled here. So this post has grown from an afterthought to a monster as the research on the topic has led me to way more than I imagined “breastfeeding your kid in public” could possibly engender.
I find it all fascinating tho, and another example of religious thinking infused in our culture so deeply yet subtly, it goes largely unnoticed. Do read on.
In this previously published piece from “HuffPo Parents” last September scroll down past Wilde’s Glamour cover shot to see an excellent little slide show: Memorable Breastfeeding Moments from Hollywood.
Public breastfeeding is a huge worldwide debate I didn’t even know existed. I’m like “what is there to debate?” How naive I is! What’s the big deal? Holy Smokes, Rocky, there’s even a whole Wiki devoted to the subject! Breastfeeding in Public.
Here’s a 2007 People magazine story on the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal who was photographed by papparazzi breastfeeding her son in public: Maggie B’fing. Scroll down to read the comments, they are enlightening…sort of. Most are unconditionally positive but a few tho generally in favor of public breastfeeding aren’t comfortable that she wasn’t more discreet or should have known that paparazzi were lurking about and that it was Maggie’s responsibility to “cover up.” The discussion hinges on how much breast one should see and the “sanctity” of the mother-child bond therefore breastfeeding should oughta be private.
One woman reports carrying around a “hooter hider” or breastfeeding tent (I’m not making this up!). And they are commercially available and evidently often employed.
Is this fucked up or what? Why in God’s name should we need to hide the normal, natural and rather beautiful act of suckling a child? (I just answered my own question, didnt I?).
If as much breast is shown while breastfeeding as with a low cut blouse or bikini please tell me again exactly how that is SO different?
Is it just too distracting in public?
Is it somehow disgusting or indecent when you add an infant or toddler to the sight of exposed breasts so otherwise ubiquitous in modern culture?
Especially in a restaurant? (one person just couldnt look away)
Well here’s a great comeback to one of those concerned male citizens who just cant seem to look away (yeah, right) when a woman is breastfeeding:
“I really respect your thoughts and I appreciate your honesty. But wouldn’t it be just as easy for you to pack a small blanket to put over your head (or a magazine or newspaper to use as a visual barrier if you prefer) just in case such a situation arises?”
You can read the whole exchange here at Breastfeed Chicago.
One of my fav comments to the Gyllenhaal flap was offered by a woman living in Argentina:
“I am currently living in Buenos Aires where it is completely normal to breastfeed in public. Women will breastfeed in a restaurant and the waiter will look them in the eyes and talk like nothing is going on. Living here and seeing this has helped me appreciate more how normal and beautiful is actually is. People, look at the mothers with content looks because they are happy and they’re taking care of their child. I love this picture of Maggie.”
And more comments on the situation in other countries from Religion News.
“Here in Honduras I see women breast-feeding all the time – in church, in training sessions of catechists, on public transportation, in the parks. It’s part of life ; there are innumerable images of Mary breast-feeding Jesus. There’s even one right outside the church in Copán Ruinas, a major tourist town.”
“On vacation in Italy, I was astonished by the variety of paintings portraying a nursing Jesus, and by the variety of Mary’s attire. She was rarely portrayed nursing discretely, and I don’t think that modern maternity stores invented the nursing dress, either, judging from Mary’s attire. Furthermore, he was rarely portrayed as a newborn, rather a strapping toddler. So, who has the problem in our world today? Why?”
You sure as hell wont see Baby Jeezus sucking on Mary’s tit here in good ole ‘Murica, now wouldya?
We even need specific legislation here in the US of A to regulate/permit this controversial behavior.
The following is excerpted from Breastfeeding State Laws.
“Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.”
“Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws.”
That leaves 21 that might yet construe breastfeeding as public indecency?
From the Wiki Toplessness:
“In the United States during the 1990s and later, there were a number of legal incidents where women were harassed or cited for exposing their breasts while breastfeeding in public. A public backlash spurred legislators in some jurisdictions to specifically legalize public breastfeeding. The federal government passed a law in 1999 that specifically provides that “a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location.”
So evidently we have had to pass a lot of laws both at the State and Federal level to ensure a mother may breastfeed her child when she so chooses to in public. But who is the opposition and from where and how does it arise?
The following section gives us more than a few clues on where the madness begins with breasts and breastfeeding not being proper, appropriate, decent for public consumption:
Religion kinda has a lot to do with it and I’ll restrict myself to Xiansanity (TM) for this post at least:
From Letter to LDS (Mormon) Church on Breastfeeding:
“When leaders of the church ask women to cover up while breastfeeding their babies at church (or worse, go to another room), they reinforce these world-created narratives of a woman’s body and add barriers to something that is already not easy. They create secrecy or shame where there is none and they alienate women who often need the church interaction the very most.”
And just where did this attitude come from that bare breasts were somehow dirty and must be covered up? Also from the Wiki Toplessness:
“Attitudes towards toplessness have varied considerably across cultures and over time. The lack of clothing above the waist for both females and males was the norm in traditional cultures of North America, Africa, Australia and the Pacific Islands until the arrival of Christian missionaries, and it continues to be the norm and acceptable in many indigenous cultures today. The practice was also the norm in various Asian cultures before Muslim expansion in the 13th and 14th centuries. Upper-class women had been clothed fully, while other women had gone topless in public in many parts of North India including Maharashtra and the Ganges basin before the Muslim conquest of India.”
Over most of the world, even Arabia prior to Islam bare chests in women was the norm. Xiansanity and Islamania do a number on us once again.
SO what exactly is it? What is about breastfeeding that is different than mere breast exposure?
In our modern society women’s breasts are exposed to varying degrees more than ever before in public, on TV, billboards, magazine covers, you name it, tits are everywhere so whats the big deal?
Well here’s one answer from a good Xian, a fella named Daniel blogging at Flat Hill Faith.
“However, as Christians we have an obligation to respect the sensitivities of our culture. The fact that our society has sexualized breasts is not a justification to expose your breasts; it’s actually a very compelling reason for Christian women to cover their breasts. Do moms have a legal right to breastfeed without a cover? In some states, yes (here’s a list of Federal and State Breastfeeding Laws). However, there are times when, for the sake of the Gospel, Christians should limit their rights.”
Society sexualized breasts? Breasts are sexy and are part and parcel of sexual activity. No problem there. They are beautiful. Xianity over-sexualized breasts so you must cover up, even when they are used in a non-sexual context (breastfeeding). Many of us have no problem separating the two, it’s many Xians who get all aflutter over the sight of breasts, even while breastfeeding.
He’s not done, get a load of this:
“In a hyper-erotic, lust-addicted culture that has sexualized breasts, I do not think it is wise for Christian women to expose their breasts, even when they are breastfeeding. Yes, breastfeeding is completely natural. Yes, they have the right to do so in public. However, any man who is willing to be honest with you will tell you that once he has seen your breasts, he will never be able to forget that image. Note that I said he will never be able to forget. We men are visual creatures and, once we’ve seen something like that, it is locked in our heads pretty much forever. Yes, there are many women who wear very immodest clothing, but that is not justification to join them. Instead, it is all the more reason for Christian women to strive to be different—to be holy. Instead of being a potential stumbling-block, this is an opportunity for Christian women to protect their brothers in Christ by intentionally choosing modesty for the sake of love (Rom. 14:13-19).”
This is what Xiansanity (TM) does to your brain. “locked in our heads pretty much forever” You need to see more tits, pal. If I see a woman, a stranger, my wife, my daughter-in-law breastfeeding their child I’m not titillated nor haunted by the image forever…
Just when you think it cant possibly get any worse:
“My wife and her friends say breastfeeding in public is a huge challenge. They say their babies can’t stand being under a blanket. They say their babies flail around and end up accidentally pulling the cover aside anyway. They say it is a lot of extra work and can be a real pain. However, they believe that no matter the inconvenience, it is the Christian mother’s responsibility to find a way to be modest. I agree. I think using a cover is the wisest, most loving course of action. Although the Bible never directly addresses this topic, Paul says that Christian women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty, self-control, and the good works that are proper for women who profess godliness (1 Timothy 2:9-10).”
Breastfeeding tents (hooter-hiders) are a pain for many a mom and child and once again it it the woman who is dirty and who also must cover up because a man will be tempted and just cannot control himself…sounds just as ridiculous as excuses in Islam…
Lenny Bruce had a classic bit on “Tits and Ass” during his heyday in the late 50’s, early 60’s
“Titties are dirty? Well not to me Jim, I love to hug ’em and kiss ’em”
Woman at the Oregon County Fair. This isn’t holy enough for ya’ll, huh? Women should be chaste so men aren’t tempted. This woman is somehow dirty, unholy, unchaste and she is at fault for not covering up? Can you Xians go stuff your retarded ideas and grow up? Can you appreciate a woman and not drool or have the image burned in your brain forever, like an pre-teen seeing his first Playboy? Can you Xian men grow up and act like a man instead of an immature adolescent?
Also from the Toplessness wiki, the Chicago film critic Roger Ebert just nails another example of the absurdity regarding the sight of women’s breasts: Lenny would be proud.
“Film critic Roger Ebert said the producers got away with ongoing toplessness because of the women’s brown skin: “Rapa Nui slips through the National Geographic Loophole. This is the Hollywood convention which teaches us that brown breasts are not as sinful as white ones, and so while it may be evil to gaze upon a blond Playboy centerfold and feel lust in our hearts, it is educational to watch Polynesian maidens frolicking topless in the surf. This isn’t sex; it’s geography”.
And more from the Toplessness wiki:
“Isis, an Egyptian goddess who represented, among many other things, ideal motherhood, was often portrayed as suckling pharaohs, thereby confirming their divine status as rulers”.
The sight of Jesus being suckled by Mary would be so appalling to a good many US Xians, yet the representation of gods being suckled is older than Xianity itself and widely accepted in other countries as a natural depiction of mother and child.
Also from the Religion News Service discussion linked above, this commenter just nails it:
“Ironically, the only reason this is even a topic of discussion on a religious web site is because of the Christian religion, which created the idea that we should be ashamed of our nakedness. This starts very early in their Bible at Genesis 3: 7, and then gets reaffirmed many other times throughout. It also establishes that man should have rule over women, starting in Genesis 3: 16, and then reaffirms this concept again, and again. It is no coincidence that in places in this world where the corrupting influence of Christianity has not tainted the thoughts of humans, breastfeeding in public is as common and natural as breathing, and women are considered equal to men, as it should be.”
I DO know the solution to all this religious inspired insanity and its a variation of
“Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke” so well expressed by this commenter below:
“The only way to normalize it is to DO IT 😉 We are NOT responsible for OTHER people’s feelings, good or bad…projecting such as being “considerate” is a COP OUT to them being responsible for themselves.”
“RIGHT ON”, I say. Consciousness raising happens when you are exposed to new information. Stereotypes die with exposure. So you go, girl.
And this could go on forever: from The Stir
“Wow, just wow. People like you should really keep your opinions to yourself. Since when did feeding your baby become such a horrible thing to do in public? If that’s the case, women who bottlefeed should also have to cover up while feeding their children in these places, especially around other children. God forbid your child see something that resembles a woman’s nipple! *GASP* Maybe if breastfeeding were encouraged to be something that is normal and natural, your child wouldn’t stare if someone was breastfeeding their infant. Just sayin'”
I think it is fucking beautiful. Thnx Xiansanity for fucking up our heads just one more time.
In the 60’s a fashion designer came up with the topless swimsuit, the monokini.
Is this somehow provocative and dirty? Why isnt this just beauty and nothing more?
Because Xiansanity (TM) has done a number on our culture, all cultures to varying extent, and our conservative US culture seems to harbor more of the insanity of Xian thinking than most. It is time we jettison Xianity’s rule on our lives altogether.
Breastfeed your kid in public anywhere, anytime you want.
Yes, “breastfeeding rocks,” Junior and it wont warp you or leave an indelible indecent image in your brain. And little children of all ages female OR MALE will not be damaged somehow by witnessing it either. It happens daily all over the world:
end religion now