Recently, the Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi has faced severe criticism for featuring a model breastfeeding a baby on the cover of its March issue. The photograph portrays the model, Gilu Joseph, staring directly towards the camera with a baby at her breast, as the text reads – ‘Mothers tell Kerala: please stop staring, we need to breastfeed’.
While some critics have expressed their discontent at the fact that the model is not a mother herself, there were (and are) many who have berated the magazine for, what they feel as, indecent representation. The widespread backlash, garnered by the magazine from numerous sources including the self-proclaimed ‘moral police’, sheds a light on the sublime practice that has been deemed ‘offensive’ by the proponents of patriarchy.
We have often witnessed, heard or read about women being disgraced for choosing to nurse their children in public. This form of harassment is by no means a contemporary phenomenon. It has continued for decades, long before social media and citizen journalism took any notice of it. Surprisingly, such act of shaming comes from the same society, which is otherwise seldom concerned about the objectification of women on different platforms.
A vast section of that society seems to be entirely unbothered by the atrocities that women are compelled to endure on a diurnal basis. It almost leads to the belief that the reprehensible sexualisation and vilification of women does not oppose the norms set by the patriarchal majority, which is rarely appalled at the surmounting crimes committed against women.
It is only when a woman chooses to do what she wants with her body that the entire nation loses its sleep. It does not matter whether she chooses to nourish her child or dress according to her own sense of style and comfort. She will be convicted for exercising her right to freedom of choice – the right which patriarchy has denied the existence of since its conception. Breastfeeding is a natural biological act. Women have willfully participated in this act since their evolution. Hence, it is not compulsory to cover oneself while doing it because it is the child’s nourishment and the woman’s comfort, which should be of the utmost priority, not the exposure of her breast.
One should know that this is not the first time a woman has been portrayed in such a manner. In the 1980s, the Government of India had released a stamp depicting a woman breastfeeding her child, which had hardly caused uproar.
However, the gradual rise of conservative ideologies is responsible for accelerating the general public condemnation. This might be a reason why people are so extensively displeased with Grihalakshmi; it has ‘offended’ the ‘accepted taste’ of the society.
Men’s sexual desires determine how people accept the images of a woman’s body. The various controversies arising from this particular topic highlight the pervasiveness of patriarchal expectations. They have even managed to suppress the message that the Malayalam fortnightly magazine was trying to convey – to create awareness about a campaign called “Breastfeed Freely”, which aims to stop shaming women breastfeeding in public.
Yet, once again, patriarchy has asserted its dominance over personal freedom.