I am most stressed out breastfeeding in public when I’m at church. I rarely nurse in public now that Aram is getting older and self-weaning, but I still think about my past negative experiences.
It started when Aram was about 18 months old. I would enter the ‘mother’s nursing room’ (specifically designed for mothers to breastfeed) and every single mother is wearing a cover. I always thought the point of the room was so you didn’t have to wear a cover (not that I do when I’m not in the room, but I respect all mothers who feel wearing a cover is right for them). I was hoping to be given the same respect in return. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I have heard “Isn’t he a little old for that?” In a ridiculously condescending tone on more than one occasion. I would ask them more about why they thought this and almost always modesty and sexualization of breastfeeding came up.
Breasts are Mammary Glands
They are not designed to be an erogenous zone (technically the whole body is, but that is another conversation). Our repressed society is viewing breasts like this because we are told they should be hidden- it is the power of our minds.
I’d also like to point out it wasn’t long ago that knees were considered a sexual part of a human body. In a cultural anthropology class, I read many bizarre sexually explicit snippets of literature, as it was the professor’s intent to educate the class on how sexuality is cultural. The literature and letters detailed explicit thoughts and ideas about knees/ankles/hair. At the time, I laughed along with the rest of the class, but seeing how some people view breasts our society, it suddenly makes sense.
Knees can be seen uncovered in modern society and we don’t find that area as tantalizing or taboo any longer – intent has to be there. It is because the brain is the largest erogenous zone of the body. That is why humans are able to arouse others while fully clothed, and nude societies are not anymore sexually aroused in nude non-sexual social situations than clothed societies.
Beauty and Sexuality are Subjective
Logically, we should be looking at what is biologically normal for homo sapiens. Biological focus will help us sift out cultural norms and look more at what our bodies are designed to do.
I’ve heard people argue that women have full breasts and men do not, so clearly they will arouse men. There is slight truth to this statement. Men don’t gestate human beings. Women need breasts to feed their children. Plain and simple. Biologically, men look for strong and fertile women.
Human breasts are different from every other animal’s in that they are large even when we are not breastfeeding. When we became bipedal, the primary area males were attracted to, the posterior/gluteus maximus/whatever you’d like to call it, became subsidiary. The breasts evolved to attract males. A large torso area on a woman was the ideal place to showcase fertility.
Also, the shape of the breasts often indicate the fertility of the woman. Progesterone causes the breasts to become rounded, and progesterone is something some infertile women lack.
The problem today is the failure to see that everything on the human body is functional. Breasts are sexual, but that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is sexual. The penis is sexual, but that doesn’t mean urinating is. I hate to use this comparison because feeding your baby is such a different act than waste elimination, but it does prove that body parts/organs/glands are multifunctional.
Social Norms Can Be Scary
It really scares me when people in western society see sustained/extended breastfeeding as sexual molestation. It is ridiculous and very very sad.
I also find it odd that some people may have a problem viewing a photo of a child being breastfed by their mother. At my parents house, there is a very large photo hanging over my parents fireplace of my mother breastfeeding me when I was two years old. Company has always seen this picture, and photos and stories of breastfeeding did not just stay in the safety of our house, she made sure this was known. The way I was raised breastfeeding is no more intimate than cutting a child’s toenails or hugging or snuggling their mother. Would people find those pictures inappropriate? Of course not!
I definitely can get the argument about posting ANY photos of your child’s face anywhere public, that is a legitimate argument to me, but it’s a choice that is up to each family to make. However, saying specifically that breastfeeding photos are unacceptable? Goodness gracious, I thought we were slightly more enlightened than that.
Our children pick up on these things. If you are showing pictures of everything but breastfeeding (or if you practice breastfeeding in private) they soon will feel it is a secretive and dirty act. All that will do is create another generation full of ignorance and intolerance.
I’m not saying everyone should breastfeed their child for five years, or at all. I’m saying it should be up to the mother when and where she does it. If you don’t want to do it, fine…but let other mothers parent the way they know is right for their child(ren). We know what is right for our boys. Even when I did feel like my body might be ready to wean, I realized that Aram wasn’t. This is not something we’re doing for self gratification; it is something that we’re doing for our children. I think every mother has a right to parent their child to the best of their ability. For some, that may be child-led weaning.
And that is my complaint about breasts/breastfeeding in our society.