Y’all probably noticed a while ago that I adore the Bullshit! show. So I’m watching the one about breastfeeding right now and at the 8:30ish mark there’s a lawyer talking who compares kids seeing human breasts in the context of breastfeeding to underage sex in general. She seriously thinks that a kid seeing a breast being used to feed a baby is the same as that kid being allowed to have sex under the age of consent. In her little world, children must not ever be confronted with any sign of human sexuality, ever, even within a totally non-sexualized context. And it suddenly made me realize just how new an idea it is that children must be totally insulated against anything considered adult, from kitchen appliances to sex to death to life to to to to…
So, gang… how old were you when you figured out that for Ma and Pa Ingalls to conceive the youngest children in all those one- and two-room shacks they lived in for most of the series, unless they were sneaking off on those rare occasions the girls were both out of the house, they had to be having sex pretty much right in front of the older girls or at least well within earshot of them? And how often do you suppose those girls saw their mother–and other women besides–breastfeeding her babies? It’s not like formulas and baby bottles were standard issue gear for mothers at the time. Breast wasn’t just best; it was pretty much the only thing babies could get food from.
I was in my 30s when I figured out that the messy reality of human sexuality had to be right in those kids’ faces all the time, but in a context that made it clear that this stuff was for adults, not for kids. I don’t ever get the impression that parents in past ages were shoving this stuff in kids’ faces in a creepy or inappropriate way, just that they weren’t bubble-wrapped and insulated against it. And yet somehow Laura didn’t turn out to be an axe murderer or some bangarang slutbunny (not that there is a single thing wrong with that, just that her moral code meant not having sex with a lot of folks, and it doesn’t look like she ever violated that moral code) (also, that phrase is today’s entry for the Best Band Name Ever Award).
I reckon context is everything. You can’t just divorce breastfeeding from the human condition like this lawyer thinks we should. My own breasts might be more or less toys and especially perky and picturesque flotation devices, but breasts do have a purpose, biologically speaking, and I’m not sure I like the idea of telling women they have to burkha up or feed their hungry babies in filthy bathrooms or just be hermits till their kids are weaned. That all sounds an awful lot like body-shaming to me, and while I’m not sure what I think of seeing a woman breastfeeding in public, I do know that I don’t like body-shaming. (Which means I probably just need to get over myself and quit worrying about what other people do as long as it doesn’t get bodily fluids on me.)
Look, y’all probably figured this breastfeeding thing out a long time ago, but I’m still kinda struggling forward with an understanding of what it means for a woman to breastfeed in public, and this just hit me and I wanted to share it with you as I journey toward a framework.
I can’t wait to see what my image recommendation service is going to say about illustrations for this piece… Antichrist post tomorrow–be there or be LEFT BEHIND.