I breastfed both of my boys and when I was a practicing doula, I advocated strongly for it. I tried to encourage my clients as much as I could, without becoming an overbearing zealot. Someitmes, it's a fine line to walk, especially when a woman is experiencing difficulties.
Now that breastfeeding is no longer a part of my life, I don't give it much thought. When I do, I can't really seem to muster as much passion for the issue as I once had. On one hand, this feels a little shameful. On the other hand, I think it's tempered the judgements and assumptions I might have once made with the kind of pragmatism born of hindsight.
So, there's this hullaballoo afoot, apparently; instigated by the always thought provoking Bill Maher, and a call to action. I'm a little slow on the uptake since my breasts have been retired from active duty for the better part of 8 years. But I think I can effectively rebut anything that has to be said on this issue, particularly if it is said by someone who is glaringly ignorant of the health benefits of breastfeeding, as well as it's importance in creating a strong and loving bond between mother and child.
Don't get me wrong. While I'm not a big Bill Maher fan in general, I like that he doesn't give a flip about public opinion, political correctness or the hyper sensitivity with which we seem to be collectively gripped these days.
But when it comes to this issue, I'm afraid he has ignited a firestorm that he is ill-equipped to extinguish. I'm not going to address his remarks point by point, because first, they were made with the express intent of generating controversy and inciting outrage. It's what he does and it should come as no surprise to anybody. And second, because he's a putz.
What I do want to address is a possible solution to this problem.
We need to demystify boobs.
In no other country are boobs so coveted, worshipped, lauded and adored as they are in the United States. In no other country are they treated with such reverence or such disdain. In no other country are people so shocked and outraged when they are put on display. And in no other country does their appearance cause so much adolescent sniggering or moral grandstanding.
Why? Because we have elevated breasts to near mythical status by deeming them lewd incitements to lust and fornication and covering them with all manner of clothing and contrivances.
I will not say that breasts are ONLY for feeding children. Anybody who does assert such a thing is sadly and inexcusably ignorant of the sexually inflammatory response they elicit on the part of other human beings; beings who are, intrinsically, sexual.
But perhaps this is one of those chicken and egg mysteries which can never be really solved. Did man, finding it wholly tantalizing and visually pleasing, sexualize the breast, thereby making it an object of intense desire? Or, did errant desire take a functional appendage and turn it into an icon of sexual titillation and desirability?
Whichever the case, the result remains the same. People like breasts. I like breasts. Although I am not sexually stimulated by breasts, I do find them very beautiful. But people are also shocked and dismayed by breasts, because they are sexual objects and as such, tabboo.
Recently, I was persuaded against my better judgement to let my boys watch a movie that I had deemed inappropriate for them. The main reason for my objection was the violence, but adding to my concerns was the nudity. I won't go into why I changed my mind, but as we watched, I found that while I could endure them watching the violence(albeit with no small amount of discomfort) during the moments of brief nudity, I felt horribly compelled to shield their eyes, fast forward...whatever, just do something to keep them from seeing the female breast laid bare.
I was shocked and disconcerted to find that the nudity bothered me much more than the violence. That is is how effectively we have been schooled to view the female breast as an obscenity. That is the depth to which the female breast has been villified, objectified, and sexualized.
So here's what I think:
We need to immerse ourselves in boobs. We need to see them on topless beaches. We need to see them plastered on billboards, taxicabs and busses. We need to see them on television, in magazines and on shining silver screens.
And we very much need to see mothers breastfeeding in public.
Only then will we ceased to be discomfitted by them. Only then will they cease to inspire shame and loathing, both in the wanting and in the posessing. Only then will people stop going to such great and sometimes violent lengths to avail themselves of them.
And only then will gentlemen like Bill Maher cease to titter like schoolboys behind one hand while shielding a surreptitious erection with the other when confronted by the sight of a mother feeding her child.
But then, I'm sure he can't help it. His masturbation analogy alone illustrates a certain sense of disgust and self-loathing when it comes to his baser instincts. And perhaps it is only through the forbidden, the shameful and the tabboo that he can be roused to sexual potency. To be sure, its a construct that we Americans have created and perpetuated with with our Victorian sensibilities and our Puritanical ideology.
Think of it this way...a century ago, it was considered unspeakably lewd to bare ankles or ears. They were, like the breast, verbotten due to their inherent eroticism. Now, we go about with them on display without giving it a second thought.
But...when was the last time you encountered an ear or ankle fetishist? Even among the plethora of sexual content on the internet geared toward every deviant taste you won't find a single porn site dedicated to ears or ankles. Not one.
Embrace your sexuality Bill. It's a good thing. Boobs? Are a good thing. And hey...I won't breastfeed in your bedroom if you don't ejaculate in my Applebee's. MMMKay?
Because the last time I checked, Applebees was an eating establishment. And a nursing bayb is most assuredly, eating. And breastmilk is most assuredly, food. A steady diet of breastmilk will yield a strog, healthy well nourished infant.
A steady diet of male ejaculate is unlikely to yield anything other than a whopping case of indigestion.
The analogy, like the argument, is ill-conceived and inept. And the exhortation that there is no deeper principle at work other than a failure to plan ahead is the worst kind of ignorance.
I'm not sure which bothers me more.