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why are people so uncomfortable about public breastfeeding?

 Picture: John Grainger

Picture: John Grainger

What is it with people getting all het up about women breastfeeding in public? Seriously – what is it about the sight of a small portion of breast, mostly covered by the head of a child, that stirs the masses into a morally outraged frenzy?

This Monday saw a protest of hundreds of mothers outside the Copenhagen City Hall, after one woman was told off in a café by fellow patrons for breastfeeding her child. Trine Maria Larsen told Politiken Daily that the act was likened to ‘going to the toilet while eating’.

This is not the first time this year (or this decade, for that), that women have been shamed for breastfeeding their children in public. Earlier this year, a woman was humiliated at a public pool in Queensland when she began breastfeeding her 11-month-old, while supervising her two other children. When the story was featured on the Sunrise morning program, presenter David Koch spurred even more outrage when he suggested that in fact, women should be ‘aware of their environment’ when breastfeeding, but not so much when sunbathing topless.

A women was shocked when her hairdresser in Victoria refused to keep cutting her hair while she was breastfeeding, and even more shocked when her complaint was dismissed by the owner of the salon and she was banned from returning there.

Even the Skywhale – a hot air balloon sculpture created for the Centenary of Canberra celebrations – has come under attack for having too many boobs, none of which serve the culturally accepted purpose of sexual objects.

The issue here is a double standard between what nudity is and isn’t deemed appropriate in public. Arguably, if a man or woman was to whip out their butt cheeks in public, people would be likely to complain, and the issue of public nudity being inappropriate is not something I necessarily disagree with.

But breastfeeding is not a public nudity issue. And this is evidenced by the fact that boobs are allowed to be naked in some circumstances without disapproval, but not others.

Breasts seem to only be acceptable when they are present as sexual objects. No one seems to mind too much when women show approximately the same amount of flesh through wearing a bikini that they would while breastfeeding, because the flesh on display is sexualized in a cultural context and people know how to respond to such nudity.

In the context of breastfeeding, breasts are being used in a non-sexual manner, and hence don’t conform to the common notion of breasts as inherently sexual when in public. For some reason, this makes people feel icky – it’s like they’re worried they’ll get turned on, or they have no idea how to process boobs when not being presented in a titillating fashion.

As well as the idea of breasts suddenly appearing out of context, I think part of the issue that people have with breastfeeding stems from a feeling of intruding on something that feels private. To see a breast on TV, or encased in a skimpy bikini is an impersonal event. To see a mother using her breast to provide nourishment to her child feels very intimate. Why that should be cause for outrage though is beyond me.

Ultimately, regardless of where these views come from, it is irrational to feel uncomfortable at the sight of a woman’s breasts performing their biological function in feeding a child.

And I can’t get past the idea that, if it bothers you so much, maybe you should stop looking.

One thought on “why are people so uncomfortable about public breastfeeding?

  1. I can not believe that people have the ‘right’ to make a woman feel so disgusted in herself for breastfeeding her baby in public. All of the ladies i have seen breastfeeding, i have never even seen their whole breast and at times i havent even realised they are breastfeeding it is that discreet. Maybe it’s these peoples own perverted minds that make them feel wrong for being lurred into watching that makes themselves feel ashamed, therefore complaining about these ladies to make themselves feel better. Its disgraceful and there should be some kind of law against them!

    Outraged!!

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