Posted by: emjb | June 8, 2007

Bring out cha’ boobs!

hathorvs.gif

This artist has been around a while, engaged in various forms of artistic activism around birth/parenting and women’s bodies. I really enjoy her cartoon strip blogging as the personification of Hathor, the ancient Egyptian Cow Goddess associated with birth and the milky way.

She talks about a lot of issues, including natural birth, but breastfeeding is a big one for her. And while reading through her archives, it was funny to me how strange and wonderful it would be for women to be able to breastfeed without having to worry about what men (or anyone, but usually men) think. I mean, ok, some men are going to find Maggie Gyllenhall doing this:

mgbfeed.jpg

arousing. And that will be taken as reason Not to Do It.

But you know…there are idiots with fetishes everywhere. If you tried to police yourself to avoid all of them, you’d never leave the house. If some git thinks feeding a baby the way it was meant to be fed is some kind of come-on, clearly they have mental and maturity issues. They are the ones with problems. I think women who breastfeed should do so wherever they need to, whenever, for however long they think is right. And people who can’t deal should look away, or just grow up already.

Breasts belong to women; if men like them, fine, but it’s not women’s job to tiptoe around the problems guys may have seeing a boob feeding a baby now and then. It’s mens’ job, to keep it to themselves, not to harass her, and stop feeling some sense of entitlement, some right to tell women what they can do or not do with their breasts.

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Responses

  1. I’m horribly confused by this post. Aren’t you talking about people with “moral” objections to breast feeding? If so, then why are you attacking men, in a culture that sexualizes women’s breasts (and I see no immorality in that), who enjoy looking at women’s breasts? The fact that men will look at you when you whip out a bare breast in front of them is just a fact; at risk of sounding misogynistic, suck it up (no pun intended). Please note that I don’t hold harassment under the same harmless umbrella; any man who harasses a breast feeding woman, thinking that she’s coming on to him simply because she’s feeding her baby is probably best dealt with by law enforcement. It is certainly a woman’s right to breast feed in public without being harassed.

    What I think you’re actually mad about (correct me if I’m wrong) are puritans like Barbara Walters–people with such puritanical and inane objections to anything publicly and remotely sexual that they would probably find themselves at home among the Taliban. To them I can only say this: Breast feeding is not a sexual act. It is not obscene. It is not lewd. It is not the equivalent of a man waving a penis around.

    Disgust with public breast feeding seems to be related somehow to disgust with public, homosexual affection (though they sometimes do not occur in the same person). It’s the assertion that you have the right to determine what you and your children should and shouldn’t have to see in public. Well, Barbara Walters and Bill O’Reilly, you don’t. No one’s coercing you. Look away. Go away. Don’t come back. Shop at Wal-Mart where they shoot you on-sight for saying the word “fuck”. Keep your kids glued to “Veggie Tales” 24 hours a day. Or, as a last resort, I’m sure the Taliban would love some new recruits.

  2. Also, I’m not saying that it’s not rude to stare at a woman’s breast while she’s breast feeding–just it’s not coercive and that accepting the fact that it happens is part of taking responsibility for your need to breast feed your child in public.

  3. Dean,

    The deal, though, is that the hyper-sexualization of breasts is exactly what creates these guys who think that the mere presence of a breast is inherently sexual. Intelligent folk like you and me can go the extra step of understanding that an organ can have dual purposes, and its appearance on the street does not automatically signal a sexual intent. After all, I know no women who find a man urinating with his reproductive organ the least bit sexy. But we know that we’re not talking about intelligent people.

    Obviously it’s at least in part a product of a double-standard in regard to “acceptable” public nudity. A man in public without his shirt is not considered lewd or indecent, whereas a woman is. Inequality in perception is built into the culture at the moment, and recognizing that is part of formulating an appropriate response to seeing public breastfeeding. And as you pointed out, it’s not just men who promote this double-standard.

    I take issue with your comment that staring at a woman’s breast while she’s breastfeeding is not coercive. Until you have been a woman in this repressed culture and therefore a constant unwilling walking invitation to rape, I don’t think you have much of a leg to stand on.

    Idiots are going to be idiots, and unfortunately they have a great deal of power in this country. But if intelligent people don’t challenge the idiots, we are well and truly fucked. And being intelligent means giving women the benefit of the doubt that what they perceive as coercive may actually be coercive. It means listening to outside experience rather than simply relying on your own. It has been a difficult thing for me to do at times, but always worth it. An intelligent viewpoint must always be informed by first-hand information, whether or not that clashes with one’s natural (and culturally formed) intuition.

  4. Damn! I hardly need to say much. I will say about Matt…he wasn’t coached! I didn’t even know he posted here until now.

    I think he covered it Dean. And you know, breasts are, biologically speaking, for feeding babies. That’s their function. It’s great that men like them. But men and anyone else need to chill out when a woman uses one for its intended purpose in public or anywhere else, if for no other reason that screaming babies=bad; babies fed healthy mama milk=good. And babies just don’t care if you don’t want to see them eat.

    Kinda like if someon found you eating Chinese food sexually arousing; that’s not a sin, but if they stare at you anytime you eat Chinese food or tell you not to do it in public, then they become the problem, not you.

  5. I think we often start disagreeing when I try to draw the line between what I think the government should do and what society should do. Let me clear a few things up.

    1) Coercion is a matter of objective fact, not subjective feeling. And it’s easily verifiable. Were you forced to do something? Were you defrauded? In the case of some dude staring at your bare breast while breast feeding, the answer is obviously: No. In order to form this argument, one necessarily must put oneself in the place (to the extent that one can) of a woman breast feeding in public.

    2) Breast feeding anywhere should not be restricted by the government, but that only means that you can do it at will in private and on public property. Breast feeding on someone else’s private property is, of course, subject to the consent of that property’s owner, just as are any other non-coercive actions, be they rational, irrational, stupid, rude, harmless, natural, or otherwise

    3) There may be some rational reason in limited circumstances to prohibit breast feeding on one’s own property, but I can’t think of any. I whole-heartedly agree with using social pressure and rational argument as a means to make public breast feeding a non-taboo activity. It’s a natural activity that harms no one.

    4) Even if it is not coercive, thinking that a woman exposing her breast to feed her child is a sexual act is, at best, a fetish, and at worst, stupid and wrong. Fetishists are usually aware, however, that their feelings are fetishes and understand that most people don’t share them. Also, even if it is not coercive, starting at a woman who is breast feeding is rude and creepy. Such people should remember that a rational fear of impending danger is often a valid affirmative defense for assault and murder.

    On to the point-by-point with Matt:

    The deal, though, is that the hyper-sexualization of breasts is exactly what creates these guys who think that the mere presence of a breast is inherently sexual.

    As long as we’re outside of the realm of government action, I completely agree that men should exempt breast feeding in their minds as a sexual action.

    Intelligent folk like you and me can go the extra step of understanding that an organ can have dual purposes, and its appearance on the street does not automatically signal a sexual intent. … But we know that we’re not talking about intelligent people.

    Ironically, I’m growing very cynical of this “we’re smart, they’re not” kind of dismissal. It’s elitist and creepily gnostic. Even stupid people know what it is to coerce. And even stupid people understand that women’s breasts can have milk to feed their babies. This is not a difficult concept. It doesn’t even require any critical thinking.

    Can we agree to save the “we’re smart, they’re not” argument for bashing the religious? 🙂

    I take issue with your comment that staring at a woman’s breast while she’s breastfeeding is not coercive. Until you have been a woman in this repressed culture and therefore a constant unwilling walking invitation to rape, I don’t think you have much of a leg to stand on.

    Many extremely orthodox Jews and Muslims feel like they’re being coerced when a woman shows her ankle. The fact is, they’re not. Just like a woman isn’t being coerced because someone’s staring at her boobs. Identifying sexualization of breast feeding women as coercive is simply extending crime to thoughts. If I want to have sex with a breast feeding woman, it’s simply not a crime until I attempt to coerce her into having sex with me. And if wanting to have sex with a woman who does not reciprocate were a crime, the entire male population would be in prison–even if it’s simply a numbers game of who would reciprocate and who wouldn’t. Intent doesn’t even matter until one acts on that intent.

    An intelligent viewpoint must always be informed by first-hand information, whether or not that clashes with one’s natural (and culturally formed) intuition.

    I apologize if I gave the impression that I completely dismiss women’s fears and concerns about public breast feeding. I do not. I merely wanted to establish a barrier between what should be illegal and what shouldn’t be socially acceptable, because those are, in this case, two different things.

    Now for emjaybee:

    And you know, breasts are, biologically speaking, for feeding babies. That’s their function.

    Yes, I’m aware of that, and so are 99.99999999% of all adults and adolescents–even the stupid ones.

    It’s great that men like them. But men and anyone else need to chill out when a woman uses one for its intended purpose in public or anywhere else[.]

    I completely agree.

  6. You know, I’m not at all sure how we got into government action in this case…I didn’t specifically mention laws (which are, remarkably, mostly favorable in the US to breastfeeding women) but social/sexist reactions.

    I would say, I have to point out here:

    [i]Many extremely orthodox Jews and Muslims feel like they’re being coerced when a woman shows her ankle. The fact is, they’re not. Just like a woman isn’t being coerced because someone’s staring at her boobs.[/i]

    You mean, Jewish and Muslim MEN, correct? And there is NO comparison. A guy who stares at a woman breastfeeding may get some dirty looks or comments or even be told to move along by a cop. A woman who shows her ankle in Afghanistan may be beaten or killed. Apples and oranges, there.

    Coercion takes many forms. If someone’s actions have the effect of making you feel threatened, then they have crossed a boundary. Crossing it unknowingly is one thing. Crossing it when you know that you will make that person feel threatened (which an average person should know that staring at someone will do) is another thing entirely.

    Staring is a social signal among humans and other animals that is perceived as hostile; if you stare at a dog, it will often growl and bristle in self-defense. If you stare at a woman nursing, she will feel either that you are seeking to use the sight of her for sexual gratification (thus making her an object, not a person, since she’s not willingly participating) or you disapprove of/are hostile to what she is doing and may move beyond staring to violence or threats of some kind.

    It’s not at all irrational for her to feel that way, either. Women constantly deal with unwanted stares, comments, and occasional gropes from uninvited men, no matter what they do or don’t do. Patriarchal men appoint themselves the police of women’s behavior all the time, from comments about what they wear/how they look, to telling women who don’t know them to “smile” on the street, to, sometimes, threats if those women don’t react the way they want them to.

  7. I don’t have a problem with women breastfeeding in public, but there are public situations that I feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in. I wonder if it would be possible to have more private areas where women can breastfeed, or if I’m somehow a part of the problem for wanting them.

  8. No, I know what you mean….it would be nice if people who designed public spaces took “breastfeeding moms” into account. Or even just moms with babies; there are some places I wouldn’t take Nathan when he was smaller because there was no quiet spot to sit with him when he needed to be fed or just to be comforted. Secluded is nice too when the breastfed ones start getting distracted and looking around at all the action, taking the boob with them….


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