Breast-feeding advocates were still deflecting outrage over Time magazine’s recent photo of a nursing toddler, when the “Ew, yukky, it’s breast milk!” crowd started in again.
The latest eruption surrounds yet another published photograph of breast-feeding mothers — this time, a photo of two National Guards servicewomen in fatigues.
The picture, posted on Breastfeeding in Combat Boots.com, and sponsored by a Washington Air National Guard moms’ support group, was part of a campaign to help mothers envision the co-existence of breast-feeding and military life.
But then the “Ew, yukky” crowd caught wind.
Breast-feeding while wearing the official attire of the military is inappropriate, naysayers retorted on the support group’s Facebook page. Breastfeeding in uniform is a disgrace, no different than defecating or urinating while wearing the same, one critic went so far as to say.
“My fiance and my brother are in the military and nothing is worse than seeing someone disrespect the uniform,” one complainer wrote. “Brestfeeding (sic) is beautiful and a personal choice but I don’t think it is professional or appropriate to breastfeed in uniform while being in public.”
“Nobody told you you can’t do it, but you don’t have to flaunt it,” wrote another. “I am a mom and a Marine and completely do not support your cause.”
As a longtime proponent of a woman nursing her child when she feels it’s necessary, for however long she feels it’s necessary — no matter where she is or what she’s wearing — I must say I’m starting to look forward to these feeding frenzies.
Prior to the National Guard incident, of course, was the commotion that started the week before Mother’s Day when 26-year-old Los Angeles model Jamie Lynne Grumet appeared with her suckling 3-year-old on the cover of Time magazine.
The picture was supposed to illustrate and illuminate a story on attachment parenting. But the shot heard around the world was breast-feeding. Blogs, social media and news shows lit up with the hows, the whys, the for-how-longs, and under what circumstances women should nurse their babies. Everybody was talking about the female breast in the context of mammalian motherhood.
Every few months or so, there’s another story about breast-feeding in the news: A nursing mother gets kicked off an airplane or a bus, out of a restaurant or a courtroom. There’s the mother who was ticketed for driving while nursing; stories of sit-ins and protests outside places like Target and McDonald’s; and reports of the ongoing conflict with Facebook over what constitutes an appropriate breast-feeding photo and what, in the minds of the social network’s censors, crosses the line.
These media events are indicators of our culture’s confusion about female anatomy, and if you don’t know this confusion firsthand, check out the Facebook pages entitled “Girls Kissing” and “Breasts” when your children aren’t looking.
That Facebook allows the provocative photos that appear on these pages, but not photos of women breast-feeding is ignorant, irresponsible and definitely confused. Granted, some of the censored breast-feeding photos are explicit. But so are the photos of women kissing, touching and exposing on the aforementioned Facebook pages. And yet, the sexy photos get to stay, while the breast-feeding photos disappear.
These incidents are disturbing for the women involved. Indeed, they offend the heart and soul of any mother who ever hid under a blanket in a restaurant, sweat breaking out on her brow as she tried to get her breast to the mouth of a crying baby without anybody seeing.
But as disturbing, as infuriating, as downright insulting as they are, these incidents bring with them a measure of promise and of resolute determination.
“The more we see it, the more it will become normal in our culture,” Grumet said.
I get it. I still remember the look on my middle-aged neighbor’s face the day he happened upon me breast-feeding my almost 2-year-old son. However discreet women are — however normal breastfeeding mothers think the act is — our culture is simply not accustomed to considering a woman’s breast in this way, any more than we were used to seeing a woman’s ankle 100 years ago.
But, as Grumet says, the more women push against the breast-feeding ceiling, the more their stories and pictures are posted and pasted around the world, the more normalized breastfeeding will become. The more normalized the act becomes, the more comfortable it will be for a woman to breast-feed. And maybe, somewhere down the road, the hands-down healthiest way to feed a baby will once again be more normal than not.
For now, the act of breast-feeding is still on an uphill trajectory. The Washington Air National Guard, with strict U.S. rules on decorum and protocol while in uniform — no hand-holding or hands in pockets, according to Veterans United.com — last week issued an official statement denouncing the photo of the two airwomen. Not because of breast-feeding, per se. But because the uniform should not be used to promote a “civilian cause.”
I, for one, hesitate to call breast-feeding a cause.
Meanwhile, if we keep on pushing like we did with our ankles and voting rights and women in the work force, one day breast-feeding will be not a cause, but a right. And then, women will dance with naked ankles on the rooftops of the office building. Breast-feeding.