I knew I was in for trouble when I posted my thoughts on a protest over sites like Facebook wanting to remove photos of breastfeeding over questions of decency. There are some posts that belong under the “powder keg” category, and this is one of them. Then again, sometimes it’s good to discuss such an issue, because it makes people voice opinions others of us (myself included) ought to consider, but may never have before.
I’m happy to say that this is exactly what has happened at that post, and I am grateful to everyone who has expressed their take, even those who took great exception to mine. That’s how we grow, folks. But there’s more to this story that some are missing.
Emotion seems to be pushing two of three points far into the distance.
QUESTION 1: SHOULD “DECENCY” BE POLICED?
The first point is whether or not such sites should be allowed to take steps to remove photos that they consider to be indecent, particularly when other users — the peers of those who posted them — complain that the photos are indecent. Forget for a moment what is being depicted; set aside any emotional attachment on the subject of breastfeeding, and think about whether or not you would want to have the right to take down any photo uploaded to your site that you were receiving complaints about.
Should anyone be able to publish on their own profile of someone else’s site anything they want? As long as they think it’s decent, does that mean that the rest of us should as well and that those of us who think there’s something inappropriate should just “get over it”?
That’s a pretty important question, frankly, because in this day and age, what is and isn’t decent seems to change by the moment. So it isn’t unreasonable to ask whether the administrators of a website, particularly one being seen by teenagers in huge numbers, should have some degree of a self-policing mechanism.
So how do you answer this question?
QUESTION 2: WHAT IS DECENT?
Once you decide whether there should be any system in place to keep things “decent,” then you can start the argument over whether the specific act of breastfeeding should be considered in any way indecent.
My dear friend Linda said this:
“For heaven’s sake! Our breasts were not designed by our Maker to titillate the sexual fantasy of the male population! They are MAMMARY GLANDS, designed by God for the manufacture and delivery of milk.
As a former breastfeeding mother, let me tell you how deeply I resented (and still resent) having to go into smelly, claustrophobic toilet cubicles in public restrooms just to feed my babies. I could not remain at table, talking quietly with my husband and friends, while I fed my babies. No way. Even with a receiving blanket strategically draped over my shoulder, diners found the very act of feeding my baby (according to God’s design) an offensive, sexually provacative act.
God never designed my breasts for Playboy. He designed them expressly for my babies’ nourishment.
How sad that women are forced to hide a perfectly innocent, natural and beautiful God-given act of nurture because humankind has redefined the purpose of the female breasts as a sexually stimulative one. It’s disgraceful that human lust can dictate social acceptability.
We need to grow up as a species and value what God gave us– value it for the purpose He intended.”
One of my longest-running readers, Cat, posted a much longer comment on her own blog in response to my post. Here’s an excerpt of what she said there:
“Perhaps if people (ahem, men) saw breasts doing what they are designed for they’d stop being so freakin’ wound up about seeing breasts exhibited as artwork.
Have you seen any of the photos these women posted? I don’t think there are any that are even remotely sexual in nature, not that I’ve looked at them all. Nor have I seen any in which what you call “the whole breast” is visible. And frankly, I can randomly pull up several Fb profiles with WAY more revealing photos than these. Do I care? No, because I don’t look at, much less ‘friend’, people who post those sorts of pictures. That way I don’t have to look at their retardo exhibitionism.
However, I have a friend who has an amazing photo of herself feeding her baby: it’s a candid and one of the best pictures of her I’ve seen. I don’t think she’s on Fb, but I’m sure no one could be offended by it.
Women have been fighting this uphill battle for more than ‘just’ this year. I was called all sorts of names on the occasions when I nursed my son when he was a baby 16 years ago. My sisters, ditto, 20-30 years ago. We weren’t flaunting, we had blankets over our shoulders, and yet people (ahem, men mostly) were horribly rude about it. Had we parading through the room wearing a low-cut blouse, I doubt they’d have complained at all, though.
I do have a relative who recently gave birth to a stillborn baby. The merest sight of babies is painful. Yes, seeing a photo of a breastfeeding baby is painful, but so is seeing happy parents playing with their newborn. This particular argument is straight-up bizarre. Seeing older men sometimes upsets me because my father is dead; should photos of old men be banned from Fb? Come on.
As for those people (not just women) suffering from, or recovering from, breast cancer…do you really think this is any more painful than seeing ads for Victoria’s Secret? Really? Should those be banned? (well, actually…I’d be OK with that…)
Speaking as a mom, and a feminist, I will tell you that babies get hungry on their own schedule. To a degree you can plan ahead, but sometimes they will start fussing when you are in a public place. I would much prefer finding a quiet corner and a comfortable chair over sitting on a toilet or the floor in a public restroom. If someone took a photo of me that was a good picture, I’d cherish it.
I do think that perhaps you’re being very disingenous. To the best of my knowledge you’ve never had a baby in your life full-time much less had the opportunity to breastfeed. For that I’m very sorry. I think you’re viewpoint might change were you a little closer to the situation in your own life.
In other words, you know not whereof you speak, so perhaps you ought to take it down a notch.”
Here’s a portion of the response I left over at her blog:
“While you are correct that I’ve never had a baby and certainly never have breastfed one, I can easily enter my “feminine side” long enough to note that any mother who has lost a child might find a depiction of such an act, which seems to me as if it would be a deeply intimate bonding experience between mother and child, somewhat more harder to view than parents and children at casual play.
Maybe this is where my inexperienced male side (once again) gets in the way: maybe there’s absolutely no emotional experience for the mother in the act of breastfeeding. Maybe moms who breastfeed feel absolutely nothing whatsoever. If that’s the case, I stand corrected over my bad assumption and will concede that the example was weak at best.
I’m sure at least 95% of the people who would be offended would claim “indecency.” Most would probably be men, but there are also women who feel that such a thing should be a little more private, too.
I’m sorry you and other moms have had such bad experiences. I agree with you completely on your points about kids getting hungry on their own schedule, and that “finding a quiet corner and a comfortable chair” would be infinitely preferable to “sitting on a toilet or the floor in a public restroom.”
I would wonder why you’d take any effort to “find a quiet corner,” though. Why take any effort to remove yourself?
And lastly, I must respectfully take exception to your suggestion that because I’m not a woman, I should “take it down a notch.” Do you not find it a bit discriminatory to suggest that only women should have an opinion or be allowed to express it fully? Would you have suggested that I should “take it down a notch” if I had sided with the women mentioned in the initial news item?”
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be considered taboo in our society; at no point in my post did I say otherwise. The fact remains, however, that it seems to be to a lot of people. I remarked in a follow-up comment that it’s a peculiar trap for men:
“There’s a level of embarrassment that some of us men seem to feel if we walk into a public place and spot a woman feeding her baby “out in the open.” Something in us, and from where it comes, I don’t really know, especially if our mother’s breastfed us, triggers in our brain and tells us we’re intruding. It shouldn’t matter to us if it clearly doesn’t matter to the mother; this doesn’t change the fact that there is some level of discomfort that I can neither explain nor fully justify. Being present as it is happening, on some mysterious level, just feels wrong.”
This after we spend a good deal of our days glaring (while appearing not to glare) at such body parts when a child happens not to be attached. I’m perfectly willing to concede the possibility — probability, in fact — that what’s wrong is us.
On the other hand, I find a lot of pictures people post online to be over the top. And I’m talking about pictures that have nothing whatsoever to do with breastfeeding. There are companies like Victoria’s Secret who seem to go out of their way to show as little lace and as much flesh as possible. This shouldn’t be appropriate, either.
Then there are companies like American Apparel whose ads show much less skin than your typical Victoria’s Secret ad, yet show young people in disturbingly-provocative poses.
Then there are the ads from companies like Abercrombie and Fitch that depict people almost completely nude, yet not engaging in any sex act. Try telling that company that people only pick on breastfeeding moms about what kind of pictures are decent.
I can’t explain why many people seem to think it’s fine leaving little to nothing to the imagination when it comes to body parts that are involved in the creation of a child, yet seem to flinch when something depicting the aftermath of using those parts suddenly appears.
QUESTION 3: WHO GETS TO DECIDE?
A while back, I received some exceptional flack over the topic of spanking. I received this same kind of response from parents who felt that because I wasn’t a parent, I shouldn’t have an opinion on child rearing. The obvious difference is that I could relatively easily become a parent, and without any formal training or education on the topic, by this logic, I’d suddenly be “allowed” to have a valid opinion.
Becoming a woman, while technically possible, would require a far more difficult process that I’m not remotely interested in pursuing. Even if I were to, I’d enter into the situation with a man’s brain, so my opinion might still reflect a man’s point of view.
Regardless, it’s invalid to suggest that someone shouldn’t have an opinion on something because of their own life experience, especially if it’s a matter of something that’s beyond our immediate control.
On a topic like the display of breastfeeding pictures, the two sides are far too polarized to ever reach true common ground. There are plenty in the middle, who don’t have a problem with the idea of breastfeeding moms “covering up.” But there are those uncomfortable enough with the very idea that they don’t want it happening in the same room they’re in at any point, and there are some angry moms out there who’d never agree to “cover up” on principle alone.
So if there’s ever to be an attempt to satisfy anyone, or at least to appease anyone, who gets a vote? Is it “majority rules,” or do we first start limiting who potentially gets even a place at the table?
Having been through something shouldn’t be the only reason someone gets a say.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. It was a piece of landmark legislation that outlawed racial segregation in public schools. Johnson was white. Should they have not expressed their opinions about what was happening to black people on the grounds that they had no common experience and therefore should have been resigned to simply “turn it down a notch” and just wait for the problem of civil rights to somehow resolve itself?
If we live in a community in which an elected official is of a different race than us, or of a different gender, should we pack up and move because those people will have no idea to relate to us and therefore would be incapable of looking out for our needs?
Whose concerns do we take seriously and whose do we dismiss as being too petty?
Do we really want to get into the habit of telling people who aren’t the same as us that their opinions should be in any way discounted? Is that how true conversation is supposed to happen?
Is free speech really free when only some people get to engage in it?
There are no real answers to these questions, I’m afraid. Not from me, at least. If you have them, I’d like to hear yours.