....not as men's personal play toys.
The brouhaha over Facebook deleting breastfeeding photos and closing accounts is heating up. At least it is getting people to talk about it - and perhaps reexamine their thinking and attitudes toward breastfeeding.
Here is a great article:
The Most Obscene Debate on the Internet by Leigh Shulman
The comments after this article are also really great - I was up way too late reading them all. At the end of this blog post, I included some excerpts from those comments.
I posted this article on facebook and it actually sparked a discussion among my friends, which of course led me to some deep thinking and so here is a long treatise on how I feel about the whole issue.
Here is another great website: The NIN Project – Nursing Is Normal
The first part is my first reaction to the article and the group discussion. Then I had a day to think about it and thus, wrote the second part.
First Reaction: I know that I try to nurse discreetly (though large and x-large chested women have more trouble with that) in public, especially in a room where there are men that I personally know. Not because I feel embarrassed, but because I don't want them to feel embarrassed. I'm not quite sure if I should feel this way, ie, if someone has a problem they should remove themselves from the situation, not us (the whole 'put a blanket over your head if you’re offended' slogan) though of course there is a world of difference between offending someone with breastfeeding, and embarrassing your male friends. I think the women that I talk to are more upset about the people who are actually offended by breastfeeding (like when someone compares it to urinating in public, as if urinating and breastfeeding are the same thing) than the people that are just embarrassed (ie, they don't want their male friends to think about their breasts in this way). However, a lot of attitude towards breastfeeding does come from our oversexualized society. The same people that do not have a problem with bikinis and thongs on the beach tend to have major problems with breastfeeding, and that is an ingrained type of problem that I think a lot of women would like to change. I just wonder how much a problem breastfeeding in public would be if everyone just saw it naturally growing up. For 30 to 40 years in America, formula was touted as superior to breastmilk, and nobody breastfed (which is one of the reasons our obesity epidemic is so high) so we all became accostomed to feeding a baby by bottle. I was breastfeeding in front of male children the other day (one was 11) and I wondered about it if it was ok, but as I watched their reactions, it was somewhat neat, because they just continued to play and be themselves, and just acted like it was normal that the baby was being fed this way. I think all their moms breastfed them and their siblings, and so they were just accustomed to it. I think that is the "militant" breastfeeders main goal is just to get people accustomed to breastfeeding, and so that most decent people will think it is something completely normal. What I think is most sad is when I see young women think its completely gross. I definitely would like to see that type of attitude to change.
A Day Later Reaction:
One of the reason that women are upset with facebook is that facebook's policy is simply that the nipple has to be covered. So they allow pasty and tassle clad breasts and string bikinis, but do not allow breastfeeding - even closing the accounts of breastfeeding mothers. This is discrimination, and the reason why they are suing facebook.
I have also found that as a large chested woman with an active baby, it is almost impossible to "nurse discreetly", and I am not going nurse in the bathroom.
It shows how we as a society are when we think of nothing of posting ourselves in a swimsuit or even a bikini on facebook, but are offended by breastfeeding .
It doesn’t help that in America, we have to learn the art of breastfeeding – its very hard work which is why only 1/3 of American women are still breastfeeding after 3 months. Unlike other cultures, our mothers did not teach us how to breastfeed, and so many of us have latch issues at the beginning. Lactation consultants are on the rise as more women are willing to get help in order to feed their baby. As an example of how breastfeeding is portrayed in the media, on the tv show The Office the other day, a male lactation consultant was clinically showing Pam how to breastfeed. She accepted him as a clinical person who knew what he was doing. Jim her husband however had very wrong thinking and had a problem with it. Dr. Jack Newman is a very famous male doctor and lactation consultant and has written many books on the subject of breastfeeding. So there are such things as male lactation consultants.
And that’s another issue – we need to continue to educate men on the importance of breastfeeding so that they will support their wives and girlfriends in this endeavor. It is very hard to breastfeed if you don’t have your male partner’s support. So I think the campaign for more breastfeeding needs to be in two parts – one to educate women that breastfeeding is important for the health of the baby and the mother (google 101 reasons to breastfeed to find out more) and to educate men that breasts are not only for sex and that breastfeeding is normal, natural and there is nothing to be “grossed out” about. The other part of the breastfeeding campaign is to make it easier for women to work and breastfeed. For many women their workplace is not at all breastfeeding friendly. I think the more women insist upon the right to breastfeed, the better off we as a society are. It is the women who will get this change accomplished, and one way is to breastfeed in public, and the other way is to insist that breastfeeding is portrayed as normal in all entertainment mediums. Including facebook.
Back to Facebook -
It should be about the reason behind the exposure. Women in low cut tops that show cleavage are trying to look beautiful and sexy. The aim is to look attractive to others. Same goes for bikinis and halter tops and anything else that shows off breasts.. Breastfeeding mothers however are not showing off their breasts to be attractive, they are simply trying to feed their babies.
Indecent exposure is against the law. But in order for there to be indecent exposure, there must be the opposite – decent exposure. Breastfeeding is considered decent exposure which is why there are laws protecting breastfeeding in public in most states.
I think we do men a disservice when we believe that they are not capable of multi-faceted thinking. Men can see breasts as sexual, but they are also capable of seeing them in different ways. Doctors are very good at this – enjoying their wives’ breasts but seeing all others as simply part of the human body. In fact, if they don’t have that capability, their thinking processes are considered deviant. I think men who are turned on by or uncomfortable with All breast exposure have deviant thinking – they are not thinking right (and were probably not raised around normal breastfeeding). For instance, I myself would have no problem with my husband being in a room full of breastfeeding women. He is capable of thinking of women as being thinking individuals, not sexual objects. He would not be “turned on” by breastfeeding women. I think men who can only think about breasts in one way have deviant thinking and need to be more introspective and figure out why they are that way.
I guess I myself tend to be very introspective. I have greatly different attitudes and perspectives now than the way I thought in my 20’s. Experience and research have taught me a lot, but I have also learned to think things through. If something makes me feel uncomfortable, I dig to the root of the matter and figure out why it makes me feel that way. Is it ok to feel uncomfortable about that, or do I need to change my thinking and expose myself to it more until I feel more comfortable with it. For instance, I always thought it was weird to breastfeed a child past 2 ½ when they really start to talk in complete sentences. Now that I’ve been exposed to older children breastfeeding, and now that I have done the research showing the many benefits of a four or five year old breastfeeding, I now have no problem with women choosing to “full term breastfeed”. Of course, it also helps to have worked with many children ages 2-7 and so many of them have babyish qualities until about the age of 7. Researchers say that children will usually self-wean sometime between the ages of 3 and 7, and that biologically, that is what is suppose to happen – how God created it. It is humans that twisted their thinking and perverted something God has created.
Speaking of God, its interesting (and somewhat difficult) to breastfeed in church.
I’ve been to several churches lately, and it varies widely on what they have for breastfeeding mothers. There was nothing at Tate Springs Baptist, I ended up in a unused classroom, and missed half the service. At the United Methodist of Hurst, they actually have it in the bulletin that you can watch the service in the parlor (with couches). That was nice. At Crossroads of Arlington, they have a tv in the hallway by the nursery. There is a changing station and chairs in front of the tv to watch the service. However, there is also a chair surrounded by screens, that if you sit there, you can’t see the tv, which defeats the purpose. Also, for me, its highly claustrophobic. So I just sat in one of the chairs in front of the tv, and hopefully all know if they come to that hallway, that they might see breastfeeding taking place. What I would really like is if we could all feel comfortable sitting in the service, doing what God intended us to do, what He made breasts for. Since Christ was breastfed, and if we are all to emulate Christ, churches should always encourage breastfeeding mothers. Hopefully one day, breastfeeding will become so normalized that people won’t see it as sexualized at all, and nobody will feel uncomfortable and can feed their baby wherever they want to.
I guess my main thought was that I believe that children should be exposed to as much breastfeeding as possible so that they will grow up thinking that it is a normal and natural process that should be encouraged. I want my son to have a "don't mind me, its ok" type of attitude towards breastfeeding. I don't want him to grow up thinking its sexual or perverted in any way, that a woman has to go off and hide if she wants to breastfeed.
Personally, I'd rather breastfeed in the car in public if I'm by myself because then I can listen to the radio. Its boring to sit on a bench and nurse in public. However, in the Texas heat this summer, that might be another story....
As far as breast exposure goes, I think my attitude towards it was shaped very early in life by seeing so much art work in the museums across Europe during my teenage years. Breasts and breastfeeding has traditionally been portrayed as being beautiful (especially Mary/Baby Jesus portraits) in all classical art. I guess I just don't see it as sinful if a man catches sight of my breast if I'm breastfeeding. I think intent is important - ie, if I'm showing my breasts to entice a man to have sex vs. I'm showing my breast to feed my baby.
Also, breastfeeding for me is validation. I've always had these great big annoying breasts that have hurt my back and make idiotic men stare at my chest and make it hard to exercise, swim, dance, or do anything fun. I've never thought they looked very attractive, they were just there to be put up with. Breastfeeding finally gives them purpose and meaning and a revelation of "oh, that's what God created them for" type of mentality.
Here is my husband's point of view towards the attitudes of facebook and other issues. He is a freelance writer (contact me if you want him to write for you) and a manuscript editor (contact me if you want him to edit for you). I just love his post, and would love to see it published somewhere. This is the type of attitude more men need to have towards breastfeeding!
From Kevin C. Neece:
It is really a sexist view that proclaims that women are intelligent and responsible and can make choices about how they respond to stimuli and that men are just drooling animals, uncontrollably dominated by their passions because they are basically too dull-witted to do otherwise. Saying that men “can’t help it” or “are wired that way” may seem like compassion and consideration for men, but in reality it is a degrading gender bias. The truth is that we should expect all adults to behave like adults regardless of their gender.
As a man, I am personally tired of hearing such views bandied about so easily as though they are not at all bigoted. It may be culturally acceptable, but it is wrong to expect men to be the lowest common denominator of our species. Adult men are expected to be and are often portrayed as no more than college frat boys with families. But college frat boys are just junior high boys with newfound freedom and legal permission. And junior high boys are just elementary school boys with sex drives. So essentially, we are telling men that their progress as a gender is so stunted that they can never truly be expected to grow out of boyhood. This is now excused because we tell them that they are genetically wired to be too stupid to grow up. When you place no expectations of civility and maturity on any human being, they will more often than not respond to those expectations by remaining in the realm of their baser instincts. If, however, people are treated as beings capable of civilized, respectful behavior, they develop as such.
Moreover, the story of human progress tell us that the basic project of being human consists of learning, changing, growing, and trying to become more than what we are. By insisting that men are incapable of advancing themselves in a conscious, focused manner, we are depriving them of their basic dignity as human beings by ignoring their potential to grow in positive, civil and mature directions.
As a man married to a breastfeeding mother, to whom I am very sexually attracted, I can say that simply having developed the mindset of the natural, feeding function of the female breasts has allowed me to consistently view my wife’s breasts as sources of food when seen in a functional context, and as sources of arousal when seen in a sexual context. There has never been any confusion between the two. I did not have to be trained or desensitized. All I had to do was learn about the purpose and beauty of breastfeeding. Were the activity of public breastfeeding more common and accepted in our culture in general, and were our expectations of men inclusive of more than unthinking Neanderthal-like sex drives, there would not be an issue regarding the response of intelligent, civilized men to public breastfeeding. A mother must be asked to do no less than put the needs of her child before other considerations. A man’s response to what he may or may not see for a brief moment is his own to deal with.
The breastfeeding conversation among Christians today tends to focus on nipples, nudity, and naughtiness. Instead, Christians should be about the business of helping to develop a view of breastfeeding as normal, natural, and necessary. Part of that process includes the promotion of breastfeeding as an acceptable, everyday experience. This may create some difficulties along the way for Christians who are now grown men, but it will also help prevent future complications for the Christian men of tomorrow. If our boys are raised in a culture that values and openly accepts the fullest, truest nature of the female breast, we can come one step closer to a world that no longer reduces breasts, and indeed women, to mere sex objects.
Familiarizing the younger generation with a broader understanding of the feeding function of breasts will help to prevent unnecessary and unwarranted sexual temptation in the future rather than creating such temptation by presuming a universally sexualized view of the breast. This is not about a few instances of men being bothered by seeing a little skin. It is about a process of cultural education and development toward a more enlightened future where sex is a natural part of life and not something that dominates our lives in a negative fashion. In this future, breastfeeding is placed in its proper context as a normal and necessary function of motherhood, no longer overshadowed by over-sexualization, nor oppressed by the tyranny of titillation. Therefore, normalizing public views of breastfeeding mothers is a move toward moral responsibility and away from the domination of sexual temptation. As such, it is important that it be carried out, not flippantly or defiantly, but with a focus on awareness, education, and acceptance.