BODY POLITICS: CAN A MOTHER BREASTFEED IN PEACE?
By Awa Gueye
August 8, 2019
August marks National Breastfeeding Month, making this an ideal time to discuss how society continues to sexualize women’s bodies as a means of policing them. Yes, even the natural and old-as-time act of breastfeeding is up for debate by people who have nothing to do with it.
Believe it or not, there was a time when breasts were not sexualized. This is hard to believe in a world where women are constantly told that our bodies do not belong to us. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the #freethenipple movement, which was created because, for some reason, a male-identifying body showing his nipples is acceptable while it’s considered shameful when a female-identifying body does the same. This message is reinforced daily on social media with nipples being censored on platforms like Instagram. As if having your photo reported for breastfeeding isn’t insulting enough, companies like Facebook have encouraged the message by adding an option to remove photos in which women are breastfeeding.
Though legally, women are able to breastfeed anywhere, society screams otherwise. Women are often shamed and judged for feeding their children in public. There was a time where it made no difference if breastfeeding was public or private … so what happened?
Over time a simply functional body part became an overly-sexualized and objectified one. As studies show, places where women are often topless garner a much less sexualized reaction to breasts. It wasn’t until the enforcement of covering up due to religion on previously less restricted places in the world that societal reactions to the breast changed. As usual, enforced religion was successful.
Our sex-obsessed society has managed to not only brainwash people without boobs into shaming breastfeeding but boob-havers shame their peers too! Plenty of women have bought into the myth that public breastfeeding is gross and have joined in on the bullying. Here is a concept: people breastfeed their children, not for attention, but because their children are hungry. Whoa.
The moral of this story is mind ya damn business. If you have a problem with public breastfeeding, the problem is you. Plenty of mothers are saying enough is enough. Breastfeeding moms turned activists, sometimes called “lactivists,” continue to fight for their rights to use their bodies where and when they please without harassment. While we have a ways to go, more and more people are joining in on protests and creating social media accounts and pages that normalize breastfeeding.
Happy National Breastfeeding Month to the mamas of the world.
Special thanks to Lakisha Cohill for the photograph.