• Public Breastfeeding...

    Public Breastfeeding...

    at a public monument.

     

    "When I realized I was having the first boy of my family, I had a moment of confusion. Girls run so prominently in my side of the family that I’d assumed I was having one, and so I was preparing to raise my little girl to be a strong, independent woman and feminist. I was ready to tell her she could do anything, be anything, that anyone suggesting her sex would hinder her dreams was wrong. When I found out I was having a boy, I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about that.

     

    I had no idea that having boys would bring feminist challenges I hadn’t contemplated. Having boys made me even more a feminist than before.

     

    My birth experience with my first boy was frustrating and ended up in an emergency C-section due to mistakes made by the hospital, so I was determined to have a successful breastfeeding experience. But it is hard, and emotionally harder than anyone can explain simply in words, even if your baby takes well to the breast.  So when you layer on the stigma of breastfeeding in our society, especially public breastfeeding, something that is supposed to be natural and positive gets mired in the shame and pressure of sexism.  

     

    I started out covering up - I didn’t want to be accused of exhibitionism. But I began to resent the fact that there was judgment all around about how and where and when I could feed my baby. The very idea that my feeding an infant could be equated with sexuality was offensive. And so when baby refused to let me cover up, I stopped trying to hide our feeding sessions and endured people looking askance or giving me side eye.

     

    I realized this was part of my path of making my sons feminists, of breaking through the shame around the human body. Covering up while breastfeeding was just another “maybe you shouldn’t wear that short skirt.”  We tell a woman to hide her body, to have ‘modesty’ - when she dresses, when she swims, when she bathes, around her children, when she moves, when feeding her children - solely based on the fact that men, even boys, may see her and be moved to lust. I saw that the shame I was supposed to feel for showing my breast while feeding my child was directly connected to the concept of the woman’s body existing as a sexual outlet for men, stripping her of ownership of her own body.

     

    Further, demanding a woman cover up creates the very allure we are purportedly supposed to avoid. Boys who are allowed to see the body in a natural state are not indoctrinated into believing it is a hidden prize - it is just a body, doing what bodies do. On the contrary, labeling the sight of flesh as forbidden but also desirable creates the very intrigue that leads to the dangerous place of men believing they have to ‘steal’ opportunities to obtain it. When we tell a mother to cover up her chest when breastfeeding, we are feeding that cycle of framing women as sexual objects that are tantalizingly out of reach.

     

    It isn’t just women who are demeaned by this; the upbringing of our boys is undermined as well. If a woman must hide herself because a man’s lusts could be incited, this suggests men cannot control themselves, that they are beasts - and somehow that is acceptable. These sorts of uncontrolled behaviours are subtly reinforced and encouraged throughout our culture. Those that heed this call to aggression are ‘winners’ and awarded accolades; those that do not are ‘losers’, ‘weak’, or ‘girls’.

     

    We tell men that they are like women: that they are not actors, but acted upon, and therefore lesser.

    We are building a game of power and control.

     

    This is what we teach our children.

     

    We are teaching rape culture.


    The breast’s first function is to feed young; it is a secondary sexual characteristic. Our society has built breasts into a fetishized plaything, all but discarding the natural, beautiful purpose of a woman’s body that isn’t directly related to pleasing the male gaze or desires.  Now that I have two boys, I am eager to keep their eyes and ears and hearts open to both the beautiful and terrible truths, to teach them respect and appreciation of the human body through familiarity and understanding. I will not hide my breast feeding from them or the world, because the more everyone becomes comfortable with the human body as natural and beautiful for all its facets, the more equal - and more happy, I believe - we all will become." - Lane Burns