In defense of breast feeding in public
|D. Barbara McWhite grew up in York County, S.C., and lives in Orange Park, Fla., with her husband and cat. Her column is published here each Tuesday. Opinions expressed are solely her own.|
Are women wrong to breastfeed in public?
I recently read a news story about three Delaware women who staged a “nurse-in” while walking through their local mall in an attempt to “raise awareness of and normalize breastfeeding in public.” They were questioned and threatened by mall security and a Delaware state police officer.
Is it just me or does this incident sound like a story pulled from the news in some Middle Eastern country where women are expected to wear burkahs and follow strict laws (written by men) to protect feminine modesty? Is it not a double standard that women are expected to cover their breasts, even while breastfeeding, yet men are allowed to expose their entire chests in public, big hairy bellies included?
Many who oppose public breastfeeding see the female chest as sexual and are therefore offended by any public display. Other are repulsed and say women who breastfeed publicly should exercise discretion by covering themselves with a blanket or shawl.
I have to question why society and the law fail to require that men be discreet or more self-controlled as it relates to the subject of breasts.
Men are allowed to enjoy the beach, the backyard or a stroll around the neighborhood sans shirts and remain unmolested. A woman who did the same would, at best, be ogled and at worst, attacked or arrested for indecent exposure.
I have always found it rather arbitrary that laws allow men to freely expose the exact areas of the body that women would be arrested for showing.
Women are attracted to men’s chests just as men are attracted to women’s. The sight of a well-toned male physique is as sexually stimulating to many women as women’s physiques are to men. Yet women rarely use the sight of masculine pecs as an excuse to demean, harass or attack men. Rather, society has taught women to contain our attentions and suppress our aggressions.
So I say, “Get over it folks. The lactating mother is not the star of a porn movie or a flirty Hooters waitress. And those who are unable to walk by her without being turned on or being repulsed have issues of their own.
The female chest is more than an object of sexual interest. For optimum health, more and more doctors are encouraging women to breastfeed their children. And unlike men who flaunt their chests for vanity or to catch the sun, nursing women’s breasts are, in reality, working-breasts.
And in reality all chests, whether male or female, are mammary glands covered with skin…some larger, some perkier, some rounder, some more hairy.
As a mother who breastfed, I believe in discretion. I never wanted to look like I was an aborigine in a National Geographic magazine. It’s easy enough to use a shawl as a screen when one needs to breastfeed in a public place. But as a woman, a breastfeeding proponent and a law-abiding citizen, I also believe that laws should be applied evenly, regardless of gender. Breastfeeding mothers should not face harassment or arrest if they choose to nurse openly.
Maybe the Aborigines have it right.
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