Breastfeeding= pornography, apparently
I suppose it’s the Bill Henson effect, but it seems like lately everyone has been particularly on edge about the lines between art and porn, especially when it comes to photography. I’ve written about a few different instances of this in the past few months, and the issues are always pretty similar. This time, the dictator of what’s appropriate is Facebook- and the offensive act is breastfeeding.
Melbourne photographer Christopher Rimmer posted on his Facebook page pictures that he had taken of tribal Himba women on a recent trip to Africa, which are part of an upcoming exhibition about the western influence on Africa and the effect on its natural environment and tribal culture. Each of the women he photographed gave their consent to have their pictures shown. But because the women are bare-chested, and one is breast-feeding her child, Facebook banned them for being ‘pornographic’ and ‘unsuitable for children.’
Facebook does not allow ‘content that is hateful, threatening or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.’ Okay. But the idea that breastfeeding is somehow ‘pornographic’ and ‘unsuitable for children’ is just kind of bizarre. First of all, I have trouble imagining that hoards of young children are browsing a professional photographer’s Facebook page. But even if they were, and they did stumble across these pictures, sure, they’d probably giggle, but I don’t think they’d be shocked in any way. Most children know about breastfeeding. Their understanding of what breasts are for is to give milk to babies. They have most likely seen it happen before.
And they should (in my opinion) be exposed to it. Understanding that breastfeeding is a natural part of life, instead of seeing it as something shameful that should be hidden away, is the only way we’ll ever move on from this current climate where breastfeeding in public so often becomes a political issue.
This all seems to stem from some kind of misguided logic that assumes breastfeeding must somehow be in some way sexual. Which is insane. Yes, breasts are generally associated with sex. But breastfeeding puts them in an entirely different context. It might provoke a sense of discomfort in a lot of people because of the difficulty in separating the two contexts, but that doesn’t mean the act in itself is in any way pornographic.
I have a friend (or Facebook friend at least, which isn’t quite the same thing) who constantly uploads pictures of herself posing in scanty wisps of lingerie. To me, that’s far more inappropriate (and potentially offensive and dangerous etc) than Rimmer’s photographs, but using the simple criterion that there is no nipple showing, nobody would dare try to intervene and tell her she couldn’t do that.
This case is particularly problematic because the photographs in question are demonstrating another culture. Tribal Himba have always worn loincloths and painted their bodies with ochre; it is entirely normal for women to be bare-chested in their culture. It is only, paradoxically, the act of banning the pictures that in fact sexualises them.
Still, Rimmer has the right attitude about it- he says he’s going to send Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg a signed print of one of the pictures that was deemed inappropriate…