Yeah, United States, I’m talking to you.
Last week, I had one of the infamous reuniones for all of the teachers at my elementary school. Held (once again) in the charming, fairy tale-esque countryside house of one of my workmates, it was a much welcomed opportunity to eat, drink and be merry with my compañeros del trabajo.
As we sat around the humongous dining table, making our way through the various courses, the room was filled with chitter chatter and laughter - and one tantalizing aroma after another.
(Side note: Why must there always be a 2-3 cake minimum at every single gathering? I mean … I’m not really complaining, being the golosa that I am, but I’ve never left a single Spanish festivity of any kind with my stomach feeling anything less than on the brink of explosion. Hello, food-coma nap.)
But wait, no one cares that meanwhile, there are mothers openly breastfeeding at the table? You’re going to carry on a conversation with this woman, alternating between making eye contact with her and her baby’s mouth adhered to her breast? And this woman is not even going to bat an eye? Vale, vale, que no pasaa naaa.
But wait. In the United States, this (pardon my French) shit doesn’t fly. My alma mater actually has a separate breastfeeding room in the Union, which, to be quite frank, always struck me as odd. Why does there need to be a separate room for breastfeeding mothers? Something so natural shouldn’t have to be hidden. Mothers shouldn’t feel shame for breastfeeding in public, nor should society give her the stank face for doing so in their attempt to shame her into breastfeeding in private.
This has nothing to do with what way you choose to provide nourishment for your infant and everything to do with the sexual objectification of the female body. Quite simply put, a child feeding from it’s mother’s breast is standardly viewed as dirty and offensive.
A few quick Google searches or a once-over of the Wikipedia page “Breastfeeding in public” will clue you in pretty fast to the intricacies of the general U.S. public’s distaste for public breastfeeding. Often described as “creepy” and “gross,” a female breastfeeding in public is an act that people have tried and tried again to claim is “indecent exposure” or “public indecency,” despite laws in place that forbid it to be prosecuted as such.
My coworkers breastfeeding their children at the dining table couldn’t have bothered me less. The two thoughts that ran through my head in the moment were: (1) It is mad cool that no one cares even a single iota that these women are breastfeeding right here, right now; and (2) Why would this same scenario in the United States play out so differently? Mad uncool.
For further education on the matter, I’ve compiled a list of quotes and articles on the subject of breastfeeding in public that I hope help shed some light on the issue.
”[…] it’s about working to ensure that women and their bodies are considered as important (as normal) as men and their bodies. Something happens for all of us - regardless of whether we are breastfeeders or not - when a woman is allowed to breastfeed, in public, as a member of her community, while getting shit done in her life - it makes a statement that women belong, that women’s bodies belong, that women are here.” - Guest: blue milk on Feministe
“Is there a breastfeeding backlash?” - Article by Jessica on Feministing
“Breastfeeding is a personal decision, and not one that should be mired in judgment.” - Jessica Valenti on The Daily
“‘It is normal. It is not obscene. It is every baby’s need to have food and be nourished and nurtured,’ said Veronika Polanska as she rallied the moms to publicly feed their babies.” - CBC News / British Columbia, from a nurse-in held in response to an incident in a Canadian H&M
“Kansas gives out breastfeeding cards” - Article by Jessica on Feministing
“Target Employees Bully Breastfeeding Mom Despite Corporate Policy” - Article by Bettina Forbes for Best for Babes
“It’s going to take a couple of generations before it’s a non-issue. Our ultimate goal is for people to not notice that anything is happening, just like with breathing or speaking or a baby taking a bottle.” - Kelly Roth, as cited by CBS News
“Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet” by Adrienne Pine on Counterpunch, her response to breastfeeding her child during the university class she was teaching
“Funny how we live in a society that both expects women, especially highly educated and ambitious women, to breast feed, but forbids them to do so while pursuing other ambitions. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think pushing women out of positions of prestige and power and back into the home was a feature and not a bug of the system.” - Amanda Marcotte for Slate
“I have a feeling this is what’s at work with Maher and a lot of met who take issue with public breast feeding. They resent that a woman’s public body - her exposed or partially exposed breast - could be there for someone other than them, for something other than sexual consumption. After all, if a woman is exposed in public it’s supposed to be because she’s flashing her tits for beads or taking money in a g-string - not for feeding babies. Because that’s unsexual, and therefore unacceptable.” - Jessica for Feministing*
*And from the same webpage, but the following article beneath Jessica’s:
“What Maher said is like male politicians telling women they can’t have abortions. I was surprised, because Bill’s always saying America needs to be more European and get over its puritanical shit. Hey Bill: not being able to see a boob outside of a sexual context is so American. Not being able to ignore a boob is so puritanical.”
“I’ve tolerated [Maher’s] snideness in the past, but this time, Bill stepped over the bottom line: breastfeeding sustains a baby, and a mother who’s nursing will stop at nothing to do it, nor should she. To suggest we do it for attention and praise is just astoundingly ignorant, and hints more at his own motives than ours.”
- Both quotes from Sarah Thyre from the aforementioned article
And to bring this discussion back full circle to females breastfeeding in Spain, I recommend you check out “Spanish fathers entitled to breastfeeding leave” by Barney Henderson for The Telegraph. Punto pelota.
After making you do all that extracurricular reading, I’m sure your eyes are weary, and your head may be spinning from all the facts and arguments thrown at your dome. But if you even for a second think I have some razón for calling the United States “Prude-y Judy,” well, then I think my job is done here for the day, folks.
All I’m asking for is a little bit of compassion, respect and logical thinking from my fellow Americans. We don’t look down upon mother birds who chew their food and then throw it up into their babies’ mouths to provide them with nourishment, now do we? Any and all related processes of a mother giving her child the nutrition it needs to grow and be healthy should be viewed as equally as natural. Now chew on that, y’all.