Posted by: Morgan | December 3, 2009

Random thoughts to follow up myself…

Having just posted my paper about the sexualization of breastfeeding, I thought I would do a follow-up post with more of my thoughts surrounding this that did not make it into my paper. I must admit I am very interested to see what the response and reactions are to my paper, both of which I’m hoping people don’t keep to themselves. I looking forward to a vibrant discussion about this, but perhaps I’m putting too much stock into the response I gathered from my Facebook status while writing this paper. This post is perhaps a response to the reactions I’ve already received, some via that status thread and others in person or on the phone.

For those who read my paper and wonder if I’m championing for a revolution that throws off all semblances of modesty, please know I am not. I am not wanting to be able to walk around wearing nothing, showing any part of my body to anyone that I please. I am not an exhibitionist, nor do I think that type of behavior is necessarily a positive thing. Rather, I am very saddened by the rarity of breastfeeding in the westernized world, and believe strongly that the decline of it is something orchestrated by Satan to destroy something so wonderful that God created to strengthen family. Aside from medical ignorance, one of the leading reasons worldwide that women either breastfeed for a very short time or not at all is a fear or sensitivity to how they will be perceived nursing their children. In this modern culture, it is very difficult for a woman to stay at home constantly, so public breastfeeding becomes a necessity. If a woman is going to breastfeed, at some point she is going to have to deal with the thought and practice of breastfeeding in front of others. This is why I feel that attitudes toward public breastfeeding are so vital.

Why can’t they just cover up? So many people who are bothered by the sight of a bare breast ask this. Some women prefer that, and that doesn’t bother me at all. In my case, my daughter can’t handle having anything over her head. Instead of waiting for her to rip off a cover-up at the most inopportune time, I just choose to nurse without a cover, being discreet about how I hold my shirt and being quick to pull it down when she decides she’s done. Most people don’t even realize we’re nursing and I can guarantee I’ve never flashed anyone unknowingly. I find it more inconspicuous to nurse without a cover than with one. I’m fine with that, but I’m also fine if someone does catch a glimpse of flesh or an full on flash for a moment. So many women are bothered by that though, because this culture has taught them from a very early age that their breast is sexual and it is not proper to let it be shown. So many women do not attempt to breastfeed in public, for fear of that accidental slip up, or the baby ripping off the cover to see what’s going on in the bigger world.

You cannot convince me that the embarrassment a woman may feel about her breast being revealed is not taught to her from a young age. 150 years ago a woman would feel that way about showing her knees and upper leg, and yet now many women have no problems with doing just that. I personally know women who have a problem with bared breasts, but do not mind wearing two piece bathing suits (albeit “modest” ones) in public. I do not say these women who feel embarrassment at their bared breast, or the women who choose to bare their legs, are wrong. I am merely pointing out that this is a cultural thing, not something that is universal across culture and time.

In my paper I call out the Christian sub-culture as dropping the ball by not stepping forward to make breastfeeding so common and natural that a bared breast while doing so does not bother us. I believe the church missed a wonderful opportunity to establish the family core strongly as God-ordained and created perfectly. We should be on the forefront of telling people that what God made is good and natural, and that we don’t need science to substitute what God already has put in place. More women in the United States stop breastfeeding on the suggestion of their health provider than anywhere else in the world. Doctors tell women that they can’t produce enough milk for their babies and that they “must” supplement to help their babies thrive. And we let them. We let man decided science and man-made liquid tell women that they cannot provide for their children naturally, how they were created to do.

When the breast is no longer the natural and perfect way to feed an infant, then it becomes sexualized to compensate. Christians allow themselves to be persuaded by the world that the breast is erotic and nothing else. Because of our stance on “modesty”, we don’t show women what a normal, healthy breast looks like. When they see the world’s concept of firm, perky breasts and look down at their own or a friend’s slightly stretched breastfeeding breasts, their confidence is shattered. In a recent poll, a majority of mothers polled said that if they had the money, they would have cosmetic surgery to get them back to their pre-pregnancy body. Why is the church not on the frontlines, showing women that their motherly bodies are beautiful. By saying nothing, we stabilize the world’s perspective of a woman’s body.

I would even go so far as to say that the more the church drills into people that revealing the breast is immodest, the more society is going to do it, if only to rebel against the church. Though with pure intentions, I am sure, we have done much in the effort to sexualize the breast. Even the way childbirth, breasts, and breastfeeding are whispered around and avoided in church only ramps up the unhealthy view of all of it. Many may call me judgmental, but I think Christians should be on the forefront of telling people that their bodies were created by a God who does not make mistakes and that their bodies are capable of so much more than the medical community gives them credit for.

I also want to take a very brief moment to address the concern for those who cannot conceive, birth, or breastfeed their own children. As one who thought for several years that I was infertile, to the point of beginning infertility testing, I completely know what it is like to see a pregnant woman in a mall and break into tears. I know how much I looked at mothers and wished I could have what they have. I can appreciate this pain and heartache, but I do not believe that those mothers should have felt they must hide their joy because of my pain. Honestly, in a healthy church the barren woman would rejoice with the one nursing, and in turn the one nursing would mourn with the barren woman. If someone is bitter because of the struggles God has in their life, I cannot be made to feel guilty about what He has given me. A woman who was upset that I breastfed my baby would also be upset if I bottlefed. This logic also follows to other aspects. If someone does not have a job, should those of us who do avoid speaking of it? For those who are married, must we be quiet about our happiness and daily life in our marriage around those who wish to be married but aren’t? I do not believe so.

Not sure where you stand on the topic of public breastfeeding? Follow this jump and look at the photos of Maggie Gyllenhaal breastfeeding her daughter in public. Do those offend you? Do they bother you? Or do you look at them indifferently, seeing a baby being fed, just as you would look at a woman feeding with a bottle, or even another type of animal nursing its young?

So I’m not touting for free-reigning nakedness. But this shouldn’t shock you. This shouldn’t make you upset or offended. This should be a normal sight of a baby having their lunch. Like I said in my paper, the breast may be sexual, but we should stop making them sexualized.

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Responses

  1. Oh goody, more thoughts. 😉 My baby too – 3 months she wiggled, 10 months it was a losing battle to keep the cover on. And it’s only switching sides that gets a little more awkward in mixed company – not terribly worth it to me. I don’t want to imagine what a toddler would do!

    Still, there’s a modesty trump card: my husband. He prefers me to use the cover. If I was honest and said it was way too much bother for the potential gain of covering up, I would have to leave the room. I don’t like leaving the group (this is mainly at weekly Bible studies with one’s home fellowship group). Of course, at some houses I could simply drop behind the sofa, where no one would see me unless they got up for some reason. That is preferable to leaving the discussion entirely.

    Anyhow….

  2. OK, additional comments to your additional thoughts!

    First off, I completely agree with the idea that breastfeeding is a GOOD thing and should be encouraged!

    That said, a few things:

    -I’m not as certain as you are that women who choose not to breastfeed do so because of the sexualization of the breast. I seem to see a much higher number of women who choose not to because their own families haven’t put an importance on it. This is (in part) evident in numerous studies that show the massive disparity of breastfeeding rates according to race and socio-economics. If sexualization was the core of why women choose to breastfeed or not, the numbers would likely be closer to each other across the board (because the breast is almost equally sexualized across races in western cultures). (More on this in a second…)

    -Contrary to your post, breastfeeding in the U.S. is actually on the rise, not decline. The majority of women in the U.S. are breastfeeding…but some aren’t exclusively breastfeeding, which I would imagine (though I don’t have anything to back it up) that has more to do with “freedom” and career choices by women these days. Exclusive breastfeeding means staying home exclusively (or, if not at home, with your child), or putting a fair amount of work into freezing and pumping breastmilk. More women working = more kids in childcare and with sitters = less “exclusive” breastfeeding.

    -You argue that the church has “dropped the ball” for not making breastfeeding so common that the bare breast “does not offend us”. First of all, I’m failing to see any actual numbers or percentages for Christians and breastfeeding, but I’m hard pressed to think of any Christian moms in my church or in my friend/aquaintance groups who do not or did not breastfeed, other than those who could not (due to having multiples, health problems, etc), though I can think of one or two of my mother’s friends from my own childhood who did not, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just my own group, but it seems Christian breastfeeding is quite high, much higher than the average, even. And childbirth and breastfeeding aren’t really “whispered” about in my circles either. That doesn’t seem to change whether folks are uncomfortable (within the Church) about women “bare-breastfeeding” (not covered). So frequency doesn’t seem to be the issue there. Even if frequency made a difference, I don’t think we can expect Christians’s frequency of breastfeeding to change hundred’s of years of cultural molding of men (in a culture which glamorizes lust and sex), especially those who are not Christians.

    If anything, the bigger issue is that the church has dropped the ball when it comes to idolatry on the whole, leading to rampant idolatry of sex (in general, not just the breast), the “perfect” female body, freedom, career, and youth in our own churches. These ALL contribute to women who value work or the youth of their bodies (albeit with pressure from both their men and society) and men who worship at the altar of sex, women’s bodies, and discourage women from “ruining” their bodies and lives through having children. In short, it’s a much “wider” issue with a lot more variables than simply “embarassment” caused by the general sexualization of breasts.

    -Also, Maggie G. is an attractive celebrity, and many men would love to see her boobies and have probably already thought of them before. So I’m certain that’s at least in part of all the hub-bub. If I’m a Christian dude who struggles with lust and may have a thing for Maggie G., seeing that photo would NOT be helpful, and all the breastfeeding (in general) in the world may not change that.

  3. Very well stated, I have similar views, but you worded it better. I just wanted to add that having a child how detests covers I found to make more of a scene and decreased discreteness.

  4. I really really really really REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to see anybody breastfeeding their babies. I advocate it…God’s design is good…but I don’t want to see it. That’s all I have to say.

  5. I’ll jump in a little late on this discussion. I am all for breast- feeding but feel it needs to be done in a manner as to keep the breasts covered up as much as possible – whether that be with a cover, utilizing a sling (which worked great for me) or just with practice and good nursing tops. I don’t know if you are familiar with the book “For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men” but there is a chapter in there that explains what “men are visual” truly means. It is a shocking revelation to us women who are created differently. But the jist of the research in that chapter is this: men constantly have unbidden sexual images come into their minds. I believe she described it like having a rolodex of images that the brain just keeps flipping through. They have no control over it. You really should pick up the book as I can’t do justice to the topic in this comment. But the point is I want my husband thinking about ME, not the breast of some other woman that he saw breastfeeding in the mall. And vice-versa – I don’t want to create an image in the mind of other men that will be replayed over and over again.

    Blessings!
    Amy


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