Recently, the act of public breastfeeding has come under attack from both Facebook and Bill Maher, and whoever oversees the medical board exams in Massachusetts has demonstrated an astounding lack of support for something the medical profession purports to support.
For those of you who have been busy folding laundry or hiking the Appalachian Trail or just trying to avoid news media, Facebook has not only removed photos of women breastfeeding their infants from their site, but they have banned at least one woman from the site altogether when she questioned why the photo was removed. Bill Maher, in his comments about lactivism and and an upcoming nurse-in due to an Applebee's restaurant in Kentucky requesting that a mother cover up when nursing her infant, compared public breastfeeding to public masturbation and said that the woman should have planned better or stayed home, and seemed incredulous that promoting breastfeeding, i.e. lactivism, is actually a cause for some people. In another act of outrageous stupidity, the organization that oversees the administration of medical boards has denied an MD/PHD candidate and nursing mother of a four-month-old any accomodation to pump her breasts during her day-long board exam. She has sued to have arrangements made for the test she is due to take next week.
Now, Facebook certainly has the right to choose its own content, and if they deem photos of a breastfeeding woman obscene, then so be it. This is my site, and if I deem references to Facebook obscene, so be it. What someone deems obscene is subjective, and we all the option of not looking at something that we deem obscene. Close your browser window, turn off the tv, avert your tender eyes; there is no need to call for the removal of the subject of your discomfort. I do have to question, though, why images of women in revealing bikinis are not deemed obscene, or the existence of hundreds of pro-anorexia groups on the site are not deemed obscene.
Bill Maher? Idiot. Clearly. Breasts are okay in public only for your enjoyment, and not for the purpose for which they exist? Come on. Comparing breastfeeding, something necessary to the sustinence of life, to masturbation, something antithetical to the sustinence of life, if you take a purely technical perpective (which I am only doing for the sake of argument, mind you), is patently absurd. And you can't tell me this is a man thing - I am surrounded by men supportive of breastfeeding. And Applebee's really fumbled the ball there. The woman shouldn't have been spoken to at all about what she was doing, and when told about the Kentucky law allowing women to breastfeed wherever and whenever they need to, the management of that restaurant should have been falling all over themselves to make their lactating customer comfortable. If someone was discomfited by it, they could have relocated the table of the Uncomfortable One so that they couldn't see what was going on, or provided a blanket to put over the head of the Uncomfortable One, not the baby. Again, avert your eyes if you don't like it - we do still have free will in this country.
As for the call to lactivism, these incidents are precisely why lactivism exists. Because sexualized images of breasts are so prevalent in this country that despite my breastfeeding 4 kids my own sister still thinks breastfeeding is "icky." That despite irrefutable evidence that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby (for both mother and baby), most women still choose to bottle feed for no other reason than thinking breastfeeding is icky, and it is deemed something shameful by our ridiculous puritanical society. In Europe it is not shameful, and no one covers up. As my grandfather said in response to the Janet Jackson incident "Why is everyone so riled up? It's just a tit - seen one, seen 'em all." They're just tits, being used to feed babies. Not only is it not something shameful, it is a beautiful relationship, something that should be supported and encouraged as much as possible in this country, for the betterment of our own society. Healthier babies, healthier mothers, healthier society as a whole.
When I had my first job back in the late 80s, I worked in a children's shoe store. One evening a woman came in with a child in her arms, a large child, I'd say about 2 years old at the time, and the child was sleeping. So I thought. She asked me to fit shoes on the child while she held the child, which I thought was odd, but proceeded to measure the child's size. I was shocked when I realized that she was breastfeeding the child while I fit the child's shoes. My 17 year old self was ridiculously uncomfortable, in part because I had never been exposed to a breastfeeding child before, or if I had been it was a tiny baby, not a toddler. But I didn't refuse to help her, I didn't ask her to cover up, and I simply made sure I maintained eye contact with the mother. With age and maturity I've learned why it is so important to breastfeed, and I'm glad I didn't let my discomfort get in the way of letting that mother live her life.
As to whoever governs the medical boards (is it the AMA? Really, I'd like to know and write a letter to support that student/mother), it is absolutely ridiculous that an organization that governs the very health care providers to whom we entrust our quality of life won't make accomodations for this mother. I seem to recall the Hippocratic Oath including the line "Do no harm." Does this board not recognize that not allowing this woman to pump they are potentially doing harm to both the baby and her mother?
Those of use who choose to breastfeed and make the commitment to do so have an obligation to support and educate others about the benefits of breastfeeding*. We need to demonstrate that public breastfeeding is not shameful, that we need not half-suffocate our babies by covering them up, we need not take them to unsanitary places to eat. We need to do what it takes to support women to make the choice to breastfeed, by providing time and places for working mothers to pump, by providing information and help when needed. By averting our eyes if we really feel it's necessary, and by giving mothers a warm smile and thumbs up when we recognize that it's not.
*Please note that I do not condemn formula feeders. One of my children has been formula fed for some of her life. I recognize that the reasons women don't breastfeed are widely varied, and include some people who just can't for whatever reason. Women who feed their children formula are not demons who are poisoning their children by any stretch of the imagination. But our society as a whole needs an attitude adjustment in regard to how breastfeeding is viewed in our country.