16 June 2012

The Breastfeeding Controversy

So, this is probably an odd thing for me to write about, but why not, eh? In recent months, there has been a bit of controversy in the news about public breastfeeding. It seems there have been a few cases where breastfeeding women have been asked to cover up, cease and desist, or take their mewling spawn to the depths of the forest with the other beasts (I may have made up the last one). Outrage has often resulted, though articles and Facebook comments defending the original complaints have also been seen.

In all this, I often say to myself, “Just what sort of people are doing the complaining in these situations?” This gets the occasional odd look, but it's not like I'm the only one who talks out loud to himself on the bus.

For a woman, it seems there are a number of normal reactions to seeing another woman breastfeeding in public. One is to see the joyous bond between mother and child, rejoice that there is still love in the universe, and go home with renewed affection for her own children. Another is indifference, because, hey, it's not like there's a mystery about what's going on there.

For a man, one reasonable reaction is to politely avert the eyes, out of respect for the mother's modesty. Another understandable, though less laudable reaction, is to go to one's friends and say, “Dude, this chick totally whipped her boob out right in the middle of the mall! It was awesome!” These two hypothetical men had very different reactions, but neither one of them was offended.

So, who are these offended individuals, who find that the sight of a woman nursing her child in public, particularly uncovered, to be such a grave transgression? What follows is a partial list, unaffected by the biases that tend to accompany actual research.

The first is a young, sexually active woman who fears getting pregnant and becoming a mother. Seeing another women using her breasts for their primary biological purpose strikes to the very heart of her insecurities. Complaining furthers her goal of pushing pregnancy and its associated responsibilities out of her view.

The second is a young, sexually active man, who either is the partner of the woman in the previous example or wants to be. One reason for his complaint is a desire to show his partner that he is of one mind with her in her own complaint. Another reason is that he likes living in a fantasy land where sex is just for fun and never leads to pregnancy, where breasts are for his enjoyment and not for the nourishment of a crying little creature that poops everywhere.

The third is a slightly older woman who desperately wants to become pregnant, but has been without success. It is as if the nursing women are flaunting their own fertility and mocking her lack.

The fourth is a man who is worried that if his eyes inadvertently flit to the area of interest, he is not attractive enough to avoid a sexual harassment charge. To him, public breastfeeding is some kind of entrapment scheme. Complaining helps deflect any accusations toward him, while also preventing future events of the same kind.

The fifth is a prude of either sex. This is the sort of person who shuns art museums and refuses to read National Geographic. He or she is probably religious, but, even if married, is probably not having much sex.

Those are just theories, and if anyone has any other ideas, let me know. If anyone was not offended, let me know what offends you, and I'll try to get it into my next entry.

My own thought on the matter is that a mother should be free to nurse in public. If her beliefs or sense of modesty so dictate, she can cover up in the manner she deems best. It should not, however, be dictated by those around her, who, after all, can avert their eyes, if they find nursing so distasteful.

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