The shame of breastfeeding
It seems we cannot go long without reading of a woman being scolded for breastfeeding her infant. Last month there was a social media firestorm over a Goodwill clerk who shame-tweeted a nursing customer and this month there was a quickly handled incident involving a YMCA staff member who incorrectly interpreted a policy.
Nursing mothers are told to cover themselves by putting a blanket or similar object over their breast area. I have to ask if you have ever tried to eat with a blanket covering your face? Other times these mothers are directed to nurse in a restroom. Again, I am compelled to ask about the last time you decided to take your lunch into a restroom, or is that thought just way too unhygienic for you to consider?
Nursing mothers are consistently told to hide themselves as if what they are doing is shameful. This body shaming seems to be reserved strictly for women. Seeing men’s nipples does not appear to be awkward for anyone. Men are generally free to walk on beaches or jogging trails without being shamed for exposing their chests. And yet, as a society, we often see women’s nipples in movies without getting offended and storming out.
On the other hand we have the opposite of shaming which is objectification. Women are often seen as sexual objects and playthings. It would be easy here to say that this is man’s fault, but it is not. Women actively contribute to their own objectification by wearing skimpy tops, low cut tops, and tightly fitting tops because we know it will bring admiration and attention.
Some of us take cleavage shots to post on social media because they are sure to bring in likes and positive comments. Some women make an awful lot of money using their physical assets in order to sell happiness and a wide variety of other products. However, the sexualization of the woman’s body is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it can be nice to get admiration and praise (as well as the occasional free drink), but all of that also comes at a price. This same objectification can also damage our self esteem. Some of us are taught from a young age that our only worthy is as a sexual plaything. We engage in sexual activity before we are ready because we do not want to be left out of the group. We want to fit in and have friends.
Girls will sometimes trade their sexuality for acceptance before they are able to understand the emotional consequences of the choices they are making. Because of the way women’s bodies are sexualized, both men and women experience a range of fairly strong reactions to nursing mothers including disgust, sexual interest, embarrassment, and anger.
It seems as if breasts are just way too sexualized and objectified to be used for breastfeeding which, ironically, is their biological function. This is why we need education:
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “46 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location. 29 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Only five states and Puerto Rico have implemented or encouraged the development of a breastfeeding awareness education campaign.”
Legislation is a good start to protecting nursing mothers. However, you cannot legislate people’s reactions so, the bottom line is this: if you are able to sit through a PG-13 film without complaining to the theater manager about seeing nipples then you have no right to shame women for breastfeeding their infants.
Olya, G.7 (2015, March 1). Breastfeeding moms asked to move from metro YMCA locker room http://www.people.com/article/breastfeeding-mom-kicked-out-ymca-locker-room Retrieved March 17, 2015
Dunn, T., Iwanga, J. (2015, February 26). Local Goodwill breastfeed tweet riles moms http://koin.com/2015/02/26/mcminnville-goodwill-breastfeed-tweet-riles-moms/ Retrieved March 16, 2015
BREASTFEEDING STATE LAWS (2015, March 2). Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx