Tuesday, December 7, 2010

breasts are not the enemy

i've always known i was going to breastfeed once i had a child. it just seemed like the natural thing to do. human milk is the best food for human babies...duh. and it's far more environmentally conscious than using formula, can prevent sickness and allergies in babies, and doesn't cost $30 per week. the decision was an obvious one. it was a little tough getting started, but i was expecting that. what i wasn't expecting was how weird so many people feel about breastfeeding, and how many of them think they have the right to tell me how and where to feed my baby.

most people who are offended by breastfeeding like to offer helpful suggestions such as "only feed the baby at home", "use a pump and bottle", or "nurse in the public bathroom". the root of the offense taking, and the suggestions, is sexism. it may wear the guise of "modesty", but then, so did those who were offended by women wearing pants or having jobs or enjoying sex.
so i'll first address the assinine suggestions, and then the supposed reason for the offense.

"only feed the baby at home": women belong at home doing "women's work". babies need to eat every two hours, so if they are only fed at home it means that their mothers have to stay home. it is impossible to go out without running into feeding time, so mothers should just give up all outside activities and relationships. the real offense is that a woman is doing her work (which, let's face it, you don't get work that's more exclusively female than nursing a baby) outside the home. if you let women nurse in public they might start wanting to go to school or vote!

"use a pump and bottle": if a mother has the audacity to want a social life, she had better disguise herself so as not to appear to be doing women's work in public. pumping takes much more time and effort than nursing but, since mothers can't have anything truly important to do with their time, it should be easy to pump before every outing.

"nurse in the public bathroom": the act of mothering is so repulsive that it belongs in the same category as defecating. furthermore, babies are sub-human and don't deserve to eat in the same places that other people eat. instead they should eat around flushing toilets.

all of these suggestions are offered because people are so hung up about seeing a flash of breast. they claim to be worried about decency, the real issue is sexism. their assumptions are that breasts are strictly sex objects, that breastfeeding mothers must have some secret exhibitionist agenda, and that a glimpse of breast will irreparably scar any child who sees and seduce any man who sees.

the idea that breasts are only sexual is a result of the objectification of women. it's the idea that a woman's body part derives its entire meaning from its ability to please a man. it reduces women to glorified sex toys. i am a multifaceted and multifunctional being. i am sexual and maternal, but neither one defines me or any part of me. you cannot separate out a body part and say that it is strictly a sex object but the rest of the person is not. either you respect women as individual and self-defining beings, or you don't. either i'm a human, whose body parts have many uses and meanings, or i'm an object.

when i expose my breast it is because my child is hungry and one of the primary functions of my breasts is feeding my baby. the welfare of my child is the most important thing to me, so when she's hungry and crying that's all i'm focussed on and i couldn't give two shits if someone sees me feeding her. no one else even crosses my mind, let alone stays there long enough for me to think about offending or tantalizing them.

the idea that seeing a breast would be damaging to a child is ridiculous. kids don't have any concept of sexuality. once they are old enough to have sexual thoughts, it is essential that they are made to see women and breasts as more than sex objects. sure, a 14 year old boy at the mall might be confused and excited to see breastfeeding, but it's important that he face that confusion if he is to grow up respecting women. seeing the non-sexual function of a breast forces the recognition that it is not a sex toy.

if i were to hide away i would be complicit in the lie that women are objects and that breasts are dirty. it is a lie that is as unfair to men as it is to women. it assumes that men are mindless sexual beasts who have no control of themselves. every man has the choice to objectify or to respect women, regardless of how much skin is showing. men are not animals, nor are they more sexual than women. i have hormones and sexual appetites, but that doesn't mean that i go around staring at the bulges of men wearing tight pants or demand that men wear shirts at all times. i use self control and choose to see human beings rather than objects. sexism would have us believe that only women have that ability to choose. but men have the choice as well, and the ability to control themselves. it's why rape is illegal.

so if public breastfeeding offends you, i'd encourage you to reevaluate you thoughts about women. if i make people uncomfortable with their sexist preconceptions then i'm glad, although my goal is not their state of mind but rather my child's state of belly. the bottom line is that my breasts are not the problem. and, if you absolutely can't/won't get past your own issues, you can always just not look at me.

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