Earlier this month, Malayalam magazine ‘Grihalakshmi’ took a bold stand by featuring a model breastfeeding a baby on its cover. The cover sparked a nationwide debate, and led to reactions filled with joy, surprise, disgust and anger. The cover was trolled, the model was shamed, memes were made comparing it with the act of men peeing in public. Needless to say, the cover made hundreds pretty uncomfortable.
We asked the Youth Ki Awaaz community what they felt about the issue of breastfeeding in public, and the ‘Grihalakshmi’ cover. Did it smash patriarchy or was it indecent and unnecessary? Many users published their thoughts on Youth Ki Awaaz, and sent in diverse responses. Here’s a glimpse at some of them:
I stand with the magazine and the lady who projected the image. For how long will women, men or whoever does an out-of-box thing be targeted? Targeted by misogynists, fringe groups and so called “thekedars” in society! They can’t control people and they are none to decide for them. Yes, It slams the patriarchal mindset right in the face.
“Just because you feel awkward because breasts are connected with sexuality, you force the poor mother, who is lactating, and her child for whom, breasts are a source of nourishment to move to uncomfortable places such as a washroom, or any secluded place.”
“A country that is embarrassed of looking at a mother breastfeeding her child, or a country that cannot be adult about breasts in the 21st century, deserves to be embarrassed about being themselves, more than anything else.”
“It smashed patriarchy. We need to take the struggle to the next level. Male entitlement from mainstream society should be decimated. Most taboos and stereotypes are products of this narrative; they should go!”
“Can we shut the hypocrisy looming over? Our society is a patriarchal society, driven and controlled by the men and the powerful. Women are allowed to exhibit only those emotions which are convenient to the other sex, and carry out activities which fit in the male-dominated society.”
“There are many magazines on motherhood where the pros and cones of breastfeeding have been shown along with pictures. But yes, for a magazine cover, it is new and according to me, it’s always hard to accept change in society. With time, many will copy and follow the same trend.”
“ज़रूरत इस बात की है महिला शरीर को लेकर समाज अपनी पूर्वाग्रही धारणाओं से बाहर निकले। साथ ही साथ बच्चों के लालन-पालन के लिए महिलाओं के नैसर्गिक क्षमताओं को कानूनी सहायता देकर अधिक सशक्त बनाये, जिससे महिलाओं को शर्मिंदगी नहीं सहजता महसूस हो सके।”
“In my opinion, the cover was beautiful. All I could see was a beautiful act of bonding. Breasts, albeit sexualised, are not a sexual organ. Their primary and most important goal is nursing. People love breasts as long as their display is for their pleasure.”
“Comparing Breastfeeding with the act of peeing in public is insane. Let’s just swap the world. What if a man would have to breastfeed the child? Then nobody would have an issue with it. The fear of losing the patriarchal power is making these people uncomfortable. Let’s all breastfeed wherever we need to and make this “NEW ABNORMAL”, a “NORMAL TREND”.”
“Actually objective of the photographer is to show naked female body in public: a fancy dream of teenage youth. This is a punishable offence as per Indian law. Nowhere on earth women show naked breast in public to breastfeed. Everywhere they cover up. Don’t try to bring some uncommon thing for publicity.”
“Coming from the same state where this magazine is published, I can say that I wasn’t surprised at the negative reactions. People should have have appreciated a bold move like this, instead of all the trolling. Living in this century, one can’t just argue about traditions and cultures all day long. This kind of a move helps stop the sexualization of breasts and women’s bodies. That is the bigger picture here which many of us fail to realise.”
“Very bold step by the magazine and we need more of such strong voices. It did succeed to challenge and make many uncomfortable. However, I am not very sure about the portrayal of the model and her strictly adhering to normative symbolic representation of ‘married Hindu women’. That excludes many other sections of women and in that sense the photograph falls within its own patriarchal mesh.”
“Seeing a model breastfeed on a magazine cover isn’t something that should cause us shame, or offend us. We have plenty to be outraged about, plenty to feel shameful about. We are a patriarchal society that fails women, our collective shame, outrage, outcry, and action should focus towards that.”
“एक महिला जो ट्रेन के सामान्य डब्बे में सफर कर रही होती है और बच्चा भूख से रोने लगता है। ऐसे मौके पर महिला द्वारा स्तनपान कराने की दुविधा, बच्चे की रोने की आवाज़ और स्तन को घूरती बेशर्म आंखें, कभी न कभी लोगों ने ज़रूर देखी होगी। ऐसे में बच्चे की भूख को शांत करने हेतु स्तनपान कराना अश्लील है या माँ द्वारा बच्चे को स्तनपान कराते घूरती आंखे अश्लील हैं, इसपर सोचने की ज़रूरत है।”
“Public may look at it from different angles. The models, in fact, should not be ready to give such poses and should be ashamed no matter how richly they are paid. Such kind of pictures will surely raise anger in public since Indian women are considered to be of high dignity.”
The magazine drew flak even from women alleging sexualisation of the female body because we’ve been so thoroughly conditioned that you should breastfeed your child covered up completely. No matter how literate and liberal one calls Kerala, Malayalis still live ages behind in terms of perceiving such things. P.S. I am from Kerala.
“The problem is that we are living in a culture that has sexualised breasts so much that it is hard to look beyond it and accept the fact that they serve a bigger purpose in our lives. Apparently, a woman feeding in public is more offensive than a man eve-teasing in bright daylight.”
“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.”
“I have attended to nature’s call among the trees while on bus trips and even breastfed in public when there were no exclusive breastfeeding rooms around. I can vouch for the fact that it is not such a blissful experience after all. We definitely need more public toilets and breastfeeding rooms for our own comfort.”
“मैंने तो तब भी लोगों को घूरते देखा है, जब माँ पूरा पल्लू ढककर बच्चे को दूध पिलाती है। नज़रें चुरा-चुरा कर लोग अपनी कल्पनाओं के घोड़े दौड़ा रहे होते हैं। ये तो वही बात हो गई कि नज़र तेरी गन्दी और पर्दा करूं मैं। माँ का अपने बच्चे को दूध पिलाना, समाज की नाक से कब जुड़ गया, पता ही नहीं चला। क्या बच्चे को दूध पिलाने के लिए भी नियम-कानून होने चाहिए? कितने पल्लू से खुद को ढकना है या कितना स्तन दिखना सही है, ये किस संविधान में लिखा है, हमने तो आज तक नहीं पढ़ा।”
What is your opinion? Share it in the comments below, and if you have more to say, publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.