It’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, so I thought I’d pitch in with a rebuttal of some of the most common arguments levelled against women who wish to feed their babies in public, and should be able to do so without stigma.
Number 1: The ‘how would you like it if I just took a shit wherever I liked?’ argument
“Oh, that’s interesting,” comes the familiar sarcastic cry from the army of mammary-phobic morons inexplicably allowed to walk our streets unsupervised, “Breastfeeding is a biological function, and so is defecating, so why is one okay in public, and the other isn’t? In fact, since pooing is an almost inescapable daily necessity, shouldn’t we be more supportive of street-shitting than we are of breastfeeding?” They say it with a self-satisfied smirk, believing themselves to have constructed an argument worthy of Plato. ‘Defend your gross act of nipple-sucking now that I’ve lumped it in with jobbies, you Guardian-reading heathen’, their eyes seem to say.
This is a bullshit argument brought to you by the same people who brought you: ‘Letting gays marry? Well why don’t we just allow people to marry their pets?’ If you can’t see the distinction between the process that allows us to eliminate waste from our bodies and the mechanism that enables mothers to provide their offspring with life-boosting nutrients then your high-school biology teacher has failed you, and they should be redeployed to the McDonalds’ serving hatch immediately. Also, you’re a fucking moron.
We are compelled to poo in private, in dedicated, enclosed areas, for the sake of good hygiene and for the good of public health. If the streets were awash with excrement, as once they were, the NHS would implode as it scrambled to find enough cash to treat a hundred million cases of pinkeye a year. We’d all have diarrhoea, all of the time, and our children would go blind from munching on an unknowable number of poisonous people-pats left dotted up our streets like cats’ eyes. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, doesn’t pose any risk to human health or safety. No-one’s going to get their eye taken out by a sling-shot of titty milk, or catch some horrible contagion from a mother’s briefly exposed breast. Also, and this is crucial, nobody – save the most despicable or inebriated of us – wants to remove the stigma and consequences associated with shitting in public. There’s no pro-jobby lobby about to stage a million-strong march on Westminster waving placards bedecked with slogans like “WE’RE DESPERATE FOR EQUAL TREATMENT”, “SQUATTERS’ RIGHTS” or “WE WILL SHITE THEM ON THE BEACHES.”
Which brings us to argument…
Number 2: The ‘Fair enough, you’re breast-feeding your kid, but I don’t see why I, or my kids, should be forced to see that’ argument.
This argument is seen by its proponents as a corollary to the street-shitting argument. The implication here is that there is something inherently gross, shameful or dirty about the act of breastfeeding, and that children should be protected from this highly-damaging sight. After all, it’s a scientifically proven fact that kids who spend even a few seconds near a woman who’s nurturing her infant child can go so maniacally ape-shit for tits that they have to be brought down with tranquiliser darts and treated with ritalin and morphine cocktails for the rest of their lives, lest they become warped and broken-minded sex offenders living in syringe-littered bedsits.
I know that some babies have trouble latching, or can’t, and I’ve witnessed how gruelling it can be for new mothers – sore, sweating and exhausted – to pick up the knack of breast-feeding. I don’t seek to denigrate mothers who bottle-feed. I was mainly bottle-fed, as was my partner. In fact, I can’t think of a single person I know who was breast-fed, at least beyond the first few days or weeks of their lives. Bottle-feeding is as pervasive as it is persuasive, a torch handed down from generation to generation without much debate or forethought. It’s the method by which more and more mothers are choosing to feed their newborns, in the UK and around the world, to the point where breast-feeding is beginning to be seen as some bonkers new-age fad, the boob equivalent of reiki or homeopathy.
Maybe if more children could see breast-feeding in action, and have its function and benefits rationally and gently extolled to them by their parents or guardians, there would be a much needed sea-change in our attitude and culture. A good thing, too, because the benefits of breast-feeding are legion. For the baby, breastfeeding means increased protection against a host of bugs, afflictions and diseases; an improved ability to homeostatically self-regulate; a higher likelihood of developing good communication and language skills; and a lower likelihood of developing things like diabetes and heart disease in later life. For the mother, breastfeeding means a decreased likelihood of brittle bones and post-birth anaemia; a decreased likelihood of developing ovarian and breast cancer; a closer bond with their child, and, of course, a financial saving of approximately £600 a year.
For the father, breastfeeding means a decreased likelihood of having to fuck around with bottles and sterilising kits for six to eighteen months, but an increased likelihood that his precious breasts, those vaunted fun-bags he thought were his exclusive domain, will be off-limits for a very, very long time.
And with that tongue-in-cheek, cheeky tit-shot we arrive very aptly at the next argument…
Number 3: The ‘bare boobs are indecent and sexual’ argument.
This argument is of course connected to the previous argument in the minds of those who would cling to it: breasts are sexual, and so having them out in public is inappropriate. It’s all about context, really. Breasts can be sexual, but let’s not forget that men find them arousing – deep in their primal core – precisely because of their ability to support their theoretical offspring. Breasts don’t exist in a vacuum; divorced from their primary function, they’d be about as alluring as a knuckle or a liver. Breasts exist to sustain life, and ultimately men’s fetishisation of them is both a regrettable by-product and a corruption of this purpose.
Before I morph into Germaine Greer, let me state for the record that I’m certainly not immune to my biological impulses, and find myself rather a big fan of breasts. But, let me repeat the word again: context. There is nothing sexy or sexual about a woman breast-feeding, and if you think that there is then you belong on a special edition of The Jerry Springer Show, togged up in nappies and sucking a dummy. Do you think male gynaecologists go home and masturbate over the thought of all the vaginas they probed that day? Hunched and sweating, muttering to themselves: “I knew you wanted me to… take that glove off, girl.” Context!
If my partner suddenly whipped her top off in a busy nightclub and started jiggling provocatively I’d feel rather aggrieved, and ready to fight any man who ogled her. But when we’re in public and she pulls a bit of boob out to feed my son, hell, even a full boob, it elicits no stronger a reaction from me than were she to scratch her arm. It’s normal and natural, and if I feel anything it’s pride, and a sense of security that my little boy is getting all of the natural, life-giving nutrients he needs.
Remember, those of you who agree with or actively employ the arguments dealt with in this piece: women don’t feed their babies just to piss you off. They feed them because they’re hungry, Einstein. A breast-fed baby – up to a certain age – pretty much only cries when it needs fed, and it is cruel – and detrimental to their development – to leave them wailing without immediate resolution. Because of this, mothers don’t always have the time to dash off to a darkened room, or cover their head with a towel like a budgie at night-time, just to appease your fuckwitted, Cro-Magnon thinking. Why should they in any case? And, no, breast-feeding mothers can’t just stay at home to save you the sight, because being a full-time, 24/7 carer for a tiny human being can be arduous and isolating (as well as incomparably beautiful and enriching) and mother and baby deserve a break, and the chance to get out and about wheresoever they please.
There’s no justification for adopting a negative stance towards public breast-feeding. The fabric of the country won’t unravel. The world won’t end. But more babies in the future might just get the chance to reap its benefits. We owe it to them.
But if you really feel you can’t be supportive, then at the very least be neutral, and keep your nose out of other people’s breasts.