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Why are people upset by public breastfeeding?

David Koch must have wondered what he walked into this week. Mind you it is really hard to walk anywhere with your feet planted that far down your throat.

So the people over at The Punch provided him with a vehicle to say really clearly that he is not anti-breastfeeding, just pro-politeness.

He makes a lot of very good points regarding the importance of breastfeeding, shares some cool family anecdotes and then says “They may be considered old-fashioned values but we think they are just as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.”

He has totally missed the point that the hundreds of mothers were making this week – that it is their lawful right to breastfeed covered or uncovered, and it is disrespectful to them to deny the existence of a basic human right in Australian society.

So what is it about a breastfeeding infant that upsets so many people?

I suspect these are the same people who are upset at the sight of butt cheeks hanging out the bottom of short shorts, or muffin tops peeking over extra tight jeans. They don’t like really low necklines, see-through tops, or sunbathing where “the kiddies might see”. A glimpse of a ‘tramp stamp’ or g-string sends them into paroxysms of discomfort, and as for those very pregnant nudie photos so popular on magazine covers (like Demi Moore and Jessica Simpson) that is probably just a bit “rude” for them.

I think it is a version of the Madonna myth. That mothers are all virginal and perfect (like the Madonna) and sexy naked flesh (even a glimpse of nipple or side boob) is just an all too visible reminder that this particular MILF actually engaged in sex to get herself into this situation.

This is only one step removed from the abhorrent practise of “slut shaming” where a girl who dresses in a particular way is judged based on her clothing. Someone with tattoos, low neckline, high heels and a short skirt is obviously sexually promiscuous or maybe even asking to be raped.

I was talking to a group of women who said they were worried when breastfeeding about revealing side boob or fat rolls – body image anxiety doesn’t finish when you aren’t a teenager any more, but really should that be a concern when you gave birth a few weeks ago?

It is this sad double standard that makes me relieved that I only have sons. Women are expected to maintain their looks and body size or become invisible. But if they dress in a way that shows it off then other judgements are made about their morals and personal behaviour. Based on their clothes?

So I think that Mr Koch agrees that breastfeeding is important but feels that old-fashioned prudery is more important than the laws we have had in place since 1984. He would like us all to wear twin sets and pearls, feed under a discreet muslin wrap and be sure to exhibit respect, honesty and courtesy in everything we do. But wait – appearance is NOT politeness.

I am pretty sure the way people look has no impact on how respectful, honest or courteous they are. I know people with tattoos who are kind and respectful, I know of people in business attire who are dishonest. The motorbike gang who do the Christmas toy collection don’t look very classy but are some of the kindest, most communityminded folk I know.

It’s what you do that counts, not how you look. Let’s all be kinder to each other. Remind prudes that they need to look the other way. And raise a new generation who know better than to make assumptions based on appearance.

Have your say:
Has the recent controversy changed the way you'll feed your baby? Has it changed the way you view breastfeeding in public?
What do YOU think? Let us know.


About monkeyboyzmum

I grew up in northwest Tasmania and now live in North Queensland with my family. I have been a breastfeeding counsellor for 23 years. I am monkeyboyzmum on Twitter, and love to ...

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5 comments so far -

  1. I’m a soon to be christian mum and my church friends all have no problems at all with women showing some skin while breastfeeding. We support anyone breast feeding, anywhere, anytime, anyway.

    But, outside of that context, we are careful to dress with modesty, showcasing our beautiful souls to the public, and beautiful bodies to our husbands.

    So… I don’t think it’s fair to say that all people who are concerned about dressing modestly are also the same people who dislike breast feeding in public!

  2. All I can put it down to is culture – we see breasts as sexual in our western society and so they are taboo. My DH was telling me story about how his uncle went to be a missionary in another country where the normal cultural dress is a long skirt for women and no top. Breasts were valued for their normal function of breastfeeding. On the other hand, having bear legs was sexy, and western women were strongly advised to cover their legs. Having uncovered legs was an invitation for unwanted attention from males and possibly sexual assault.
    I’m all for normalising breastfeeding in our culture – the more women who breastfeed in public, the more it will be accepted as the normal way to nourish our babies.
    As for me, I felt very uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public, and even at other peoples homes unless they were breastfeeding too. In public once DD became very interested in what was going on around her, I would take her to a parents room – I didn’t like to do this but felt more comfortable when I did. I felt anxious when there was no other option, fortunately my experiences were positive and there wasn’t any negativity.

  3. I’m not upset by public breastfeeding. I am, however, routinely pissed off by those on the breastfeeding wagon who overreact to and miscontrue comments made by people requesting courtesy and modesty, two key elements that are sadly missing in today’s mothering society. This article only serves to illustrate my point regarding this.

    I thought the sit-in was a joke and as a breastfeeder myself, an absolute embarrassment. Just because I breastfeed doesn’t give me the right to trample over other people’s feelings, something the author and the rest of the bandwagon would do well to remember.

    • I agree with the post above. No mother would or really should be offended by a natural thing as breastfeeding. However, some modesty is appreciated and to get upset when suggested otherwise says more about them than me.

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