Monday, April 15, 2013

Breastfeeding - The "ICK" Factor

I am conservative in nearly all areas of my life.  I am a generally a rule follower too.  Unless, of course, the "rules" are stupid, in which case I have no problem speaking up.  

This week in Ft. Worth has been eventful.  An advice columnist in Ft. Worth Magazine posted a nasty response to a question about breastfeeding etiquette in church.  You can read the (short) article here.   I admit, it was incredibly rude and stupid, but I found it as entertaining as I did offensive.  I might add that I was also offended by the "Also check to make sure your phone is on silent so that I am not subjected to whatever lame Country song you have downloaded for your ringtone" comment.  

As you can imagine, people were - rightfully so - up in arms.  It's amazing the article was published, but I suspect they all found it humorous and didn't think much of it.  The salt on the wound came when the writer and the magazine apparently refused to apologize, so the breastfeeding moms of Ft. Worth organized a Nurse-In with over 140 in attendance.  We have an amazing natural birth and breastfeeding community!

Back to the "ick" statement.  I've decided that the only thing that really changes people's minds about breastfeeding is either doing it themselves or being around it A LOT, like every day. Talking about nourishment, baby's right to eat, mom's right to breastfeed, etc. -- well, no one cares.  People just think it's gross.  I had a guy in class several years ago who was super freaked out about his wife breastfeeding in public.  Of course, she had the baby, he lived and breathed life with a breastfeeding baby...  yadda, yadda, yadda, he didn't want to sit in a restaurant by himself, she breastfeeds wherever, whenever.  It became normal because it was their life. He witnessed the normality of breastfeeding and changed his tune.

So why the "ick"?  It was a woman who wrote the article, not a man.  I guess I could see how men only want to see breasts as sexual.  It's kind of a bummer to see them in action feeding a baby.  I hear women use the argument "That's what they are for," but that's only half correct.  Breasts are sexual and that cannot be ignored.

Let's talk about sexy breasts for a minute.  We have become so accustomed to seeing breasts pushed up, exposed cleavage, plunging necklines, and seductive poses.  It's all about arousal.  Thumb through a National Geographic (remember snickering at those when you were in elementary school?) and seeing topless women in villages in Africa and there's nothing sexy about it.  It's all about how breasts are portrayed to make you think and feel. Normal women with normal breasts don't typically look like the women in the media.  Most women have normal, non-greased-up-and-shiny breasts.

My point here is that it's OK that breasts are sexual and are capable of feeding a baby.  They are dual purpose.  I have a friend that calls breasts and genitalia "life-giving parts" and explains to her kids that we cover those parts because they are sacred.  Follow me here.  I'm still on the "ick" factor... If someone has not breastfed a baby or been around breastfeeding A LOT, they really only see breasts as sexual.  Everyone knows that breasts produce milk (giving life), but many have never been exposed to breastfeeding. (Pun intended.)  Because it is so ingrained, I don't know that their minds can be changed without life experience.

If you have read my blog for a long time, you know how I feel about breastfeeding covers. These weren't around during my 7+ years of breastfeeding. I have never thought these would be good for breastfeeding. Turns out I was right.  Look what is happening in our culture. Things are worse for breastfeeding moms when they are out in public than ever before. There is now a very strong feeling by the general population that breastfeeding should be covered or hidden.  It is expected.  I honestly believe that the (stupid) "hooter hider" covers are  partially to blame.

Back to the article this week, one of our Birth Boot Camp Instructors was interviewed on the radio this week, as she herself breastfeeds in church. Hear it here.  The interviewer made the comment at the end, "My mom didn't breastfeed me because she just likes me as a friend." That statement is ICK!  Janie (the interviewee) jumped on that right away and asked if he was implying that breastfeeding is sexual, to which he adamantly denied.  Whatever dude.  Whatever.

I know what you are thinking now - is Donna saying that we should be out there more than ever?  In your face?  Uh, no.  Do I think breastfeeding women should cover?  Uh, no.

I subscribe to the idea that people really do need to be around breastfeeding to become comfortable.  But it's not going to happen in their one encounter with you!  I propose that women simply modestly breastfeed wherever they might be.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  The argument from the "ickers" seems to be that breastfeeding women are "making a show" of it, which is ridiculous.  (Don't give them ammunition - don't make a show of it!)

I don't want to see any woman and baby banished from wherever they might find themselves - even church! - to a bathroom or their car.  A timely and a very awesome post by The Feminist Breeder  sums it up.  Next week, we will plan on diving into Breastfeeding Activism and the most effective way to go about this sensitive topic.  In the meantime, I'm headed off to a very awesome Birth Boot Camp Instructor training workshop this week.  Woo-hoo! Join us!


HappyMommy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HappyMommy said...

Breasts may be sexual for some people, our body parts often are sexual as well as functional, but they still aren't genitals. ;) Breastfeeding=normal Thanks for the post!

Unknown said...

I agree with most of what you say, but I do believe there is a place for nursing covers. I think that they do give some women the courage to nurse in public. If they didn't have the cover, I fear that some might choose not to nurse in public at all. My personal experience has been that once mamas and babies become more comfortable with nursing, they often shed the cover. :)

Rita said...

I keep finding that stories where moms get harassed often involve a cover. I think it can signal vulnerability that the unkind pounce on. Moms should do whatever lets them carry on living and raising their babies.

Sarah--Well Rounded Birth Prep said...

If it makes you feel any better, that interviewer you mentioned toward the end was just trying to copy a Rodney Dangerfield "joke."

Tom and Juli said...

I wandered into the comments section to find this gem: "it can be okay in public, as long as the mother is entirely covered." ENTIRELY covered? What does that even mean? Should she have a sheet to put over her entire body? Entirely covered huh? What if a woman is wearing a low cut top showing more than a nursing mother with no nursing cover, should you tell that woman she should be entirely covered? People are so... dumb. There just isn't another word to describe it (well there is, but dumb was on the nicer side).

I don't ever use a cover, I tried it once and I felt it brought more attention to me. I don't show much, if any, skin though and I've had people (online only, thank goodness... never had a problem in person) tell me I should still use a cover. Why? If the breast is what's offensive, and you never see the breast, why use a cover? Even if you do see some breast, comparable to cleavage you would regularly encounter, what's the big deal? Even if there's a nip slip why were you watching that closely in the first place to catch it? ;)