Once upon a time, when I was a kid, we researched information by looking it up in encyclopedias. For those of you not quite as old as the dirt beneath the pavement, encyclopedias were collections of books which contained information about historical and famous people, events, things, animals and places. If you needed to write a report, you reached for an encyclopedia. It was like the stone age search engine, except the articles were well vetted for accuracy and devoid of opinion. Why am I bringing up the obsolete reference resource? Because I remember reading through them and seeing photographs from tribes in other countries that showed women topless. My first reaction was of shock. Women just running around without shirts on! Women openly breastfeeding babies! In fact, that is how I learned the actual purpose of a breast is to feed a baby. When I was young, no one spoke about breastfeeding. You gave a baby a bottle. I didn’t think about it. Women covered their breasts, for the most part, unless they wanted to look extra pretty for a man, then they showed just a bit of them. I was surprised to see they were actually useful for something else. But then quickly decided we must be feeding babies with bottles for a reason, it must be healthier and feeding a baby like that must be barbaric and uncivilized and probably dangerous. And I, of course, also thought Yuck! Who wants to drink human milk?” Just to set the record straight, I was six years old. So the conclusions were not so atypical or illogical. Or were they?
At six years old I had already determined breasts had a particular use, to make you look feminine and attract men. To sum that up: I thought breasts were for men. Even though I had no comprehension about sex, how babies were made (I had not read that entry in the encyclopedia yet, as Africa comes long before Reproduction in the alphabet) or really any idea of physical relationships outside of holding hands, hugging and kissing. Yet, the impression that the purpose of women’s breasts were for men had already been so well ingrained into my psyche that, I deduced, when confronted with their actual purpose, it must be a primitive practice they only do because they have no other choice.
It is a shocking revelation that by six years old I had already identified my body parts, which still had yet to arrive, were meant for men. I was not outright told that. No one had said, “When you grow breasts, those are special toys you use to please your husband.” No one had even told me that men liked breasts or found them attractive or that they were considered attributes to a woman. At least not directly.
However, I watched television and movies, even cartoons. I listened to the conversations around me. I saw what people wore and how others responded. I saw the world, even if I didn’t intentionally calculate and classify everything. I learned it all. I heard comments about women with large breasts, and the suggestions that it was why they were so popular. I heard derogatory comments about flat chested women. I heard women commenting on their own breasts, wishing they were bigger, or fuller, or perkier, or looked better in a bathing suit. I heard old ladies’ breasts called knockers because they were saggy and old. I saw television shows where a woman jumped up and down and a man was distracted by her breasts bouncing. I heard men say things about appealing, curvy figures. I heard and saw a great many things about breasts, yet none of them had anything to do with feeding a baby. Not once.
So what does that mean? It means I thought breasts were toys, men’s toys. No different than anything shelved on the boy’s toy isle, except for grown-ups. Taking away the identity of our bodies degrades us into submissive toys. Sure, men can find breasts attractive. But the greedy lust of our ancestors has created a degrading atmosphere. We have been taught that sucking on a breast is a sexual act rather than nourishment for a child. Misogynistic men do not want to see a baby sucking on a breast because they find it disgusting. Why? They aren’t disgusted by puppies or kittens. And the answer is not because it makes us look like animals. The fact is, they have been claimed. They are designated as sex toys rather than serving a real and vital purpose in child bearing and development.
At six I thought breast feeding must be wrong, unclean and unhealthy simply because I had no evidence anyone did it. When I asked about it, I was told it was frowned upon and respectable women gave a baby a bottle. Women had been taught it was unsavory to breastfeed. A misogynistic society further placing women beneath men by devaluing their purpose, by claiming their bodies and demeaning natural practices which benefit both a woman and a baby, simply because the men preferred to keep breasts all to themselves. Pretty much, they just didn’t like to see a baby sucking on them because they liked sucking on them, too. They were sex toys.
To this day, despite the medical community encouraging breastfeeding to new mothers, despite knowing the irreplaceable benefits to both mother and child, we still think of breasts as sexual toys first. We have a culture refusing to let go of the idea that breasts are somehow indecent simply because men like them. So, the rational is that because men find breasts attractive, it is disgusting to feed your child with them. They have equated breastfeeding to a sexual act in public. Now tell me who the sicko is: the woman nourishing her infant in the most healthy way possible or the deranged person berating her who seems to think it is somehow sexually explicit and indecent?
Despite my shock at age six, by the time I was a young woman, I had learned the benefits of breastfeeding and elected to breastfeed all three of my children. Twenty-two years ago, breastfeeding was a serious challenge. In fact, most women were discouraged from it simply because it was so difficult. By my third child, a decade later, it was somewhat easier, only because breast pumps were not quite so cumbersome. Still, it was impossible to travel anywhere and breastfeed. At that time you could not even feed your baby in public if you were completely covered. You were expected to go into a toilet. Because that is sanitary. Right? Even today many people argue or suggest women should do this. Think about that for a minute, think about why this is misogynistic. Why is it offensive? Why do we place more importance on the fact that some man may find breasts exciting than we do on the nourishment, well-being and safety of an infant?
So, I finally came to the conclusion that the pictures I saw long ago did not depict a primitive ideology. I think, perhaps, the more primitive is the one we seek to overcome today, for it is one of coveting and human ownership. Breastfeeding does not demean a woman in any way. Misogynists demean women for breastfeeding. It has been taught to us as unacceptable behavior, but it only is so because we yielded to the opinions of people with, evidently, very naughty minds. We accepted that it was uncouth in public because breasts were sexual organs. If we decide to see something one way, we can decide to see it another. Collectively, that will not happen overnight. But we can begin the process by teaching our children, both boys and girls, what breasts are for. Do not teach children to be offended by breastfeeding, and they won’t be. We can support local, state and federal legislation to protect women’s rights to feed their infants, however, breastfeeding is perfectly legal in most states. (Idaho, time to catch up with the rest of the world.) The real problem is public harassment. To defeat this, we must continue to stand together and support businesses and venues which provide friendly atmospheres for nursing mothers. Our daughters will grow up with a healthier self-image and our sons will have greater respect for women and their bodies.
See the links below for more information on the benefits of breastfeeding!
We are One Woman, One World.
Links: More ways to find me or colleagues of mine to check out!