Good Girls versus Bad Girls?
Posted January 30, 2010
The question, "Brestfeeding moms, why can't you cover up?" (ed. note: post has been removed - see update). brought up lots of comments, tweets, and blogposts this week. For this, I should thank the original authors even though the interesting ideas really came from the comments rather then the post, which is basically the title question followed by some light scolding. It brought up relevant issues, however, like personal modesty, public propriety, legal rights, and even whether it's okay for women to get angry at one another.
I think it's pretty clear from the rest of my site what side I'm on in this issue and how I feel about frenemy-moms (I call them frenemoms) who soothingly, condescendingly dose out platitudes about judgement-free parenting and then turn around and oh-so-gently remind those who "want to breastfeed" to both respect and help perpetuate the uneducated view (or should I say food-industry educated view) that nursing a baby is a rather offensive thing to do.
But the photo comparison really got me thinking about the whole issue in a new way. The frenemoms ask "Why do this?" next to this picture of a mother and her baby. To me, this scene looks a lot more like a classic madonna and child painting (any of the madonna lactans) than the "fashion don't" they're being portrayed as. The mom here also seems appealingly worldly, strong and a tad rebellious, like a nursing Che Guevara:
The "fashion do"-type photo (below) finishes the question with "When you could do this."
This woman looks scary to me. She's half-buried under a giant pastel swath of fabric, despite the fact that she seems to be sitting in her own home. What's under there, anyway? Is she the Modern Ghost of Christmas Present, hiding Ignorance and Want under her giant cloak? Don't get me wrong, I've nursed in a sling or with a scarf or blanket, but I don't get the big tents.
Even the very shy and modest breastfeeding moms among us would surely still prefer the Madonna mom to the draped menace, right? What could the menace have over the Madonna?
Then I realized - the drape looks safe. It's not only a breast cover, but a complete nursing cover. The entire process is hidden including the baby. Some moms probably feel a wave of relief as they look from the dangerous "exposed" mom to the safe "good girl" mom protected from scorn and controversy by her generous drapery.
I used to assume all women who "want to breastfeed" feel 100% right about their decision, but this article and the surrounding brouhaha have demonstrated that some moms who love nursing their babies and understand the health benefits are still bothered by the feeling they are doing something questionable or edgy.
Or maybe lots of us feel like we're doing something edgy, and some are just more comfortable with that. Can only the liberals, hippies, scientists, and lactivists (the ones who are fine with, even happy about, being viewed as "bad girls") pull it off? Will the "good girls" always feel the need to hide in the breastfeeding closet, keeping "that" topic and activity under wraps? I hope not.
I hope we can work back toward a society in which breastfeeding is seen as an purely wholesome act, free from controversy. I want a place where no stern aunts or opinionated neighbors feel the need and right to ask if you're STILL breastfeeding to poke at some inner guilt they know/hope is there - a place where a woman doesn't have to feel lucky that her frenemom "didn't make fun of her or tell her to quit" nursing her child.
Why can't we recognize the sight of a mother nursing her child as wholesome and reassuring anymore? I suspect it has a lot to do with formula marketing and the commodification of women's breasts, but that's fodder for another post. For now, I place my hope in the "bad-girls" - the liberals, hippies, scientists, and lactivists - to lead the way with Breastfeeding Pride and the fight for proper legislation.
Perhaps in time the "good girls," who don't want a battle and steer clear of controversy, will emerge from their tents as the stigma dies out. Then you won't have to be a public nursing ninja to get through the day taking care of your kids, you'll just have to be a mom.
Other interesting posts on this subject:
If you of know more - please add them in the comments.
It seems the link to the original blog post "Breastfeeding Moms, Whay Can't You Cover Up?" is broken - because the post has been taken down. Too bad - I feel the post brought up a lot of relevant issues, and the comments section was full of different perspectives on nursing in public.