Why Does Looking At Mothers Breastfeeding In Public Make Us Uncomfortable?

Posted on August 7, 2015 in Sexual Health, Society, Staff Picks, Taboos

By Uzma Shamim:

Editorial Note: As the World Breastfeeding Week comes to an end, we examine why breastfeeding in public spaces is frowned upon. The Breastfeeding Week’s theme, this year, had been- Breastfeeding and Work- Let’s make it work, so that incidents of blatant sexism can be avoided by creating awareness in workplaces.

Years ago when I was a tiny kid with not much understanding of this world, I remember my aunt asking me to stand in front of her, while she fed my newborn cousin, to cover her. Back then, I did what I was asked to do without any questions but now when I ask my aunt why she did that, she replies that, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Breastfeeding within the public eyesight has always been considered a big No-No. It has remained a taboo till date, forcing women to think that breastfeeding is an act of total seclusion and privacy.

Image source: Cheryl
Image source: Cheryl

The apprehensions and reservations, about women breastfeeding, has been made apparent many times in the recent past. In Beaverton, Oregon,US a woman was asked to cover up while she was breastfeeding in a restaurant because it seemed inappropriate to fellow diners. In 2011, Donald Trump got involved in a huge controversy, when he called a lawyer requesting a break from the deposition to pump milk, disgusting. Trump denies the claim that he called the act of breastfeeding disgusting. It is indeed puzzling that breastfeeding is considered a taboo when a woman’s ability to give birth is celebrated across all cultures. In fact, many movies, commercials, television shows and campaigns are based on the idea of a woman giving birth naturally. The visuals are often displayed as a matter of aesthetics. So why is the idea of breastfeeding in public so frowned upon.

Somehow or the other, this taboo is also steeped in the inequality of sexes. This also has its roots in women not being able to take decisions regarding their very own body. Popular culture, namely the domain of movies, Commercials and Television shows has made women’s bodies into either domestic objects or sexual objects. The taboo, however, emerges from the concept of sexualisation of breasts, whereby the woman’s breast is seen more as a sexual organ than a mammary one. So when women choose to nurse their kids in public by openly showing their breasts, then more than the idea of nudity, it becomes an idea of women having autonomy in displaying their sexuality in public.

Women’s Rights Activists all over the world are working to eliminate the taboo and social reservation attached to the act of breastfeeding. Visual campaigns, journalism and theatre are being involved in this process of freeing women from the burden of treating breastfeeding as an act of social exclusion. Since it is the World Breastfeeding Week, we should at the very least take the initiative to question whether women retain control over the functioning of their body or not. Breastfeeding should not be shoved into a bathroom or restroom. It is a natural process which should be accepted by one and all. If a woman can undergo pains and give birth to a little one, then definitely she has the right to feed that little one in public too.

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