Stop Sexualizing Women’s Breasts & Let Mothers Nurse in Peace

 May 23, 2016

By: Rianna Lee


nursing-in-publicOnce upon a time, there was a queen who had just given birth to a beautiful, healthy princess. The queen decided to nurse her princess for the first several months of life, because breast milk was natural, convenient, cheap, and proven to be very good for both mother and daughter. After her first few days of life, the princess had settled into a normal feeding routine, and required breast milk at least eight times a day, and sometimes as often as every two hours.  When the queen returned to her job and everyday duties, she needed to take the Princess along with her. If an errand lasted any longer than two hours, the queen would need to breastfeed her baby, no matter where they were.

One day while the queen was out shopping at the market, she realized that it was nearing the time for the princess to eat. She sat down on a bench near the market to breastfeed her daughter, but people gave her strange looks; some would whisper and laugh as they walked past. One woman even told her, “Put that thing away! There are children around!”

Well, of course there are children around. There’s one attached to my breast! the queen thought to herself. She covered up with a blanket she had brought along, but it was hot and stuffy under the fabric, which was uncomfortable for the princess and caused her to start crying. Feeding time was cut short.

The queen decided to move somewhere else with more privacy to continue the feeding.  She went to the bathrooms near the market, but they did not offer much more privacy than the bench outside had, and were dirty and unsanitary to boot. The queen finished feeding the princess in the bathroom, but she felt so ashamed that she had to hide her baby’s natural feeding process – the same feeding process many people had also used for the first year of their lives – because people were offended by a natural body part used to feed children.

Ironically, as the queen walked out of the bathroom, she saw the woman who told her to “Put that thing away!” buy a magazine with a well-endowed model on the front cover, flaunting her breasts and cleavage. Magnanimously, the queen said nothing, but instead just rolled her eyes and continued shopping.

Okay, so the likelihood that a queen would go to the market with her newborn child is probably pretty, but hey! It’s just a story. Aside from the social standing of its main character, though, it is remarkably similar to the reality faced by many new mothers who choose to nurse their children.

In many states, including Pennsylvania, it is legal to breastfeed a child wherever the mother and her child are legally allowed to be, which includes both public and private property, even if the mother’s breast is visible during feeding. However, this doesn’t stop people from giving weird looks, making comments, or flat out asking the mother to stop and go somewhere else.

Newsflash:  every person, male and female, will develop breasts in their lifetime, probably sometime around the dark days of puberty. Yet, males can go topless in the middle of a crowd, but if a female did the same thing, she would be arrested for public indecency in most states.  When you think about it, the only difference between the male and female breast is that it is larger and produces milk. So what is the big deal?

The hypersexualization of women’s bodies and the fact that sex is such a taboo in America has ostracized women and made them feel uncomfortable with their bodies in more ways than one. The deputy editor of a UK magazine got into hot water when she announced that she bottle-feeds her baby because, “seeing your teeny, tiny, innocent baby latching on where only a lover has been before feels, well, a little creepy.” But… babies get their necessary sustenance from your breast, while your significant other does not. I think the baby takes precedence.

I will say that many women choose to bottle-feed their babies for MANY different reasons, and that is perfectly okay! Just because you don’t breastfeed your child, for any reason, does not make you any less of a mother than a woman who unashamedly breastfeeds in the middle of the grocery store.

 The point is, when women feel compelled to pump their breast milk into a bottle to avoid unwanted stares and objectification, spend thousands of dollars on formula, or banish themselves to unsanitary bathrooms or struggle to find a similar secluded area to feed their children – that’s not okay. We need to end this patriarchal notion of sexualizing women’s bodies and fetishizing breasts so women can use their breasts for exactly what nature intended – feeding babies.

Rianna is a summer intern for the Thomas Merton Center and a senior at Duquesne University, studying international relations and sociology. She is interested in law and public policy surrounding gender and women’s rights. In her spare time, you can catch her eating at Chipotle with her friends or playing with her two guinea pigs, Thor and Loki.

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