Once upon a time, in a land across the country, there existed a woman. This woman was mother to a 10-month-old. One day, the two of them set out on a journey to the house of the mouse in Anaheim, California. While they were there, her child became hungry, and the woman found herself facing a critical decision: “do I feed my child like any loving parent would, regardless of when and where” or “do I say screw it kid. You can starve” ? In short time, she made her decision and boy was it shocking: she chose to breastfeed her 10-month-old. Right then and there,
A California mom who posted a photo that shows her breastfeeding her son while two women look on in disgust at Disneyland has received both major backlash as well as support. The mother said Monday she never expected such a response.
Brittni Medina of Rancho Cucamonga, who attended the Anaheim park earlier in November, said her 10-month-old son became cranky while in line for a holiday photo and she needed to feed him. She said she heard two women making comments behind her, saying she should go somewhere private.
Medina’s husband snapped a picture so people could “peep the haters.”
“No women should be shamed for feeding their baby uncovered,” she said in the Facebook post.
I’m glad she received more support than criticism. That she received a backlash at all though, is really annoying and frustrating. It’s far from surprising though. It’s pretty much to be expected. Here in the great old USofA, any woman who breastfeeds in public will quickly find herself on the receiving end of some vicious comments. I can predict some of the responses without even going to look:
1. The Argument From Indecency
I’ve seen a few variants of this argument, including (and I paraphrase here) “Have you no modesty? Cover yourself up or go somewhere private” , “If I can’t show my penis in public, you shouldn’t be able to show your breasts in public“, and “it’s against the law to expose your breasts and/or nipples“. There are a range of opinions on the issue, very few of which are taking into account the fact that the infant is hungry, which should supercede anything else. Sadly, for some people, modesty is more important than infants having their meals. For many people, it is considered an indecent or lewd act. Typically these are the holier than thou religious believers and they are trying to impose their religious version of ::coughcough:: “morality” upon others. Others who feel this way will go so far as to condemn the practice in front of a person nursing. Others reserve their criticism for online forums. Men, in particular, will engage in both, and many will escalate their criticism to vicious attacks and threats against women. On the other end of the spectrum are people who believe public breastfeeding should not be stigmatized and that the practice should be free and accepted. These are the folks who will roast your ass if you even think of telling them where and when they can feed their child. There are also some who are in the quasi center who don’t have an issue with breastfeeding in public, but choose not to do it themselves (many of these people won’t feed their infant in public bc of the social stigma attached to the act–they don’t want to deal with the back lash).
The people who argue from indecency often argue that sex organs should not be shown in public and are a are a private, closed door affair. As mentioned above, many of those who engage in the “OMG, breasts!” are theists who don’t realize that other people have no obligation to follow the dictates of their religion. Some people assert that breasts are sex organs and should be covered up in public. Unlike the vulva or the penis, however, breasts are not sex organs. Sex organs are parts of the anatomy directly related and essential to sexual reproduction. Breasts are one of a number of secondary sex characteristics (including pubic hair, wider hips, facial hair, and Adam’s apples) that begin during puberty and are not directly art of the reproductive system. As for the people who like to claim it is illegal to breastfeed bc the law says exposed breasts or nipples count as indecent exposure…
2. “It’s against the law to breastfeed in public.”
NO. IT’S NOT.
With the exception of Idaho (unless legislation has changed recently), it is legal to breastfeed anywhere in public or private in the United States, the VIrgin Islands, and the District of Columbia. the specifics of the laws vary somewhat from state to state, but in effect, breastfeeding is allowable wherever a mother and her baby are authorized to be present**.
3. “They may not be sex organs, but they are associated with sex and sex is subject matter not suitable to children ”
By that metric, we should ensure that ears, necks, fingers, toes, lips, and tongues are not visible in public. After all, they are associated with sex and those poor children, they just aren’t ready for a conversation about the sexual nature of the big toe.
As for the still-prevalent attitude of “don’t talk to children about anything related to sex”–these conversations need to happen regularly:
Children are exposed to advertising when they’re as young as six months old – even babies recognize business logos. Researcher and media activist Jean Kilbourne, internationally recognized for her work on the image of women in advertising, has said that “Nowhere is sex more trivialized than in pornography, media and advertising.” Distorted images leave youth with unrealistic expectations about normal relationships.
Long before the social media age, a 2000 study found that teenagers see 143 incidents of sexual behavior on network television at prime time each week; few represented safe and healthy sexual relationships. The media tend to glamorize, degrade and exploit sexuality and intimate relationships. Media also model promiscuity and objectification of women and characterize aggressive behaviors as normal in intimate relationships. Violence and abuse are the chilling but logical result of female objectification.
While there is no consensus as to a critical level of communication, we do know that some accurate, reliable information about sex reduces risky behaviors. If parents are uncomfortable dealing with sexual issues, those messages are passed to their children. Parents who can talk with their children about sex can positively influence their children’s sexual behaviors.
Leaving your child in the dark about matters related to sex and sexuality is a recipe for raising a child who is an ignorant risk taker. Or, perhaps even worse, your child might grow up to have no respect for the rights and bodies of others (we need less Brock Turners in the world, not more). We ought not be ashamed of our bodies (including the actual names of body parts, such as vulva, penis, vagina, or scrotum). One way to avoid such shame is to have regular, age-appropriate conversations about sex and sexuality with children (here are some tips from Planned Parenthood on how to start such a conversation)
4, “Think of the kids! How can I explain this to them?
First off, before you say anything, get a fucking grip. They’re breasts FFS. Odds are your kids have already seen breasts before. Heck, they probably nursed from them!
See that response to #1 above? You could say that. Or you could say that she was nursing her children. Infants do have to eat.
If not that, then hey! Be honest with your kids.
Tell them conservative mores combined with religious prudishness and topped with a dollop or ten of misogyny are preventing you from properly educating them.
Or just be honest and say that you are a misogynistic shitstain who thinks women belong at home (if you opt for this response, be sure to include that you are also a transantagonistic douchebag who regularly erases the experiences and existence of trans men and non-binary folks in discussions like this).
5. “I am eating my dinner and breastfeeding offends me. They should stay at home.”
Is someone holding a gun to your head and making you stare? Bc if not, STOP LOOKING. The minute you turn away POOF all you issues become moot. It is not the job of anyone nursing their child to accommodate your delicate feelings. They are nursing their child on demand and THAT is far more important than whatever issue you have.
How about YOU stay at home. Then you never need to see breastfeeding in public again.
And here’s one I’ve not encountered before, though it’s every bit as insipid as those above:
“She’s doing it for the attention”.
This one I actually just read. It was the first comment on the NBC LA article. Apparently the guy (yeah, it was a guy) is psychic and was able to discern Medina’s true motivation for feeding her child. Instead of “hey my infant is hungry and I’m going to feed him here in public where I have every right to and no one should take issue with bc HELLO FEEDING CHILD”, she was really thinking “I’m going to tell everyone I was feeding my child, but really, I just wanted to show off my breasts.” Problem with that is, to believe that version, you’d have to be comfortable calling Medina a liar. A woman you don’t even know. Personally, I think it’s more reasonable to take her at her word, rather than attempt to read her mind. This guy needs to understand that while she was breastfeeding in public, not only was it her right to do so, but it has nothing to do with anyone else. Again, it is for the benefit of her child. Also, that dude can fuck off with that attitude.
**I’ve tried to employ inclusive language throughout this post, bc women are not the only ones who can get pregnant, give birth, or nurse. Trans-men and non-binary folks can as well. Unfortunately, the laws surrounding public breastfeeding are very cis-centric and refer specifically to women and mothers (hence the wording).