You were totally expecting something else when you opened this post, weren’t you?

I was reading Alas, A Blog, this morning, and there was a great post about breast feeding. I must say, maybe I’m a dirty hippie, but I was surprised by many of the views discussed–that people find breast feeding gross, or that they think it’s something which should be done in private. Rachel, the author, made a really good point when she said that “when breasts are used for what they are actually for people get loopy.”

It’s interesting, to me, that in an average day walking down the street I can see underage girls in low slung pants and belly shirts, and no one complains about the overt oversexualization of young women. I can also see plenty of breasts on display, at least the upper portions. There are plenty of body parts I don’t particularly want to see on display, even in the winter when it’s alarmingly chilly. Sometimes, rarely, I see a mother feeding her child covertly, looking cautiously around her in case of disapproval.

And this troubles me. I may be a clearly stated disliker of children, but I don’t have a problem with breast feeding. In fact, I think breast feeding is awesome. Not only is it better for the baby and mother, but the child usually quiets down while it’s eating, and if it’s breast feeding, it’s not running around underfoot being obnoxious. It’s just relaxing and having a little afternoon snack. And it’s far from unhygenic–it’s not like urination or defecation, as one commenter pointed out. Breast feeding, to my knowledge, doesn’t spread disease and squalor.

This is not about dictating the one true way to raise a baby–it’s about making breast feeding socially acceptable and available to women who wish to do it, without fear of stigma. It’s about the fact that breast milk is way cheaper than formula, being readily provided by your own body. What’s the big deal with breasts? As adults, we eat in public all the time, sometimes very offensively–yet no one is proposing laws against the public consumption of food. We can eat any time we feel like it…why shouldn’t babies?

The thing about babies is that they require a lot of food. There’s a heck of a lot of growing going on. And women happen to conveniently manufacture primo baby food. I see nothing wrong with providing nourishment to anyone–it’s unfortunate that I live in a society where breast feeding has apparently become offensive. In a society where women are expected to formula feed their children so that they won’t be doing “something gross.”

Apparently it’s totally fine to have naked women on the covers of magazines, to wear skimpy clothing, to sexualize women in every way possible–but it’s not ok to feed your child. Many commenters made the point that this may be where the problem lies–thanks to the sexualization of breasts, any appearance of a breast in public is deemed sexual. Combining an exposed breast with a baby is a disturbing thought for many, apparently. Of course–most of the breast feeding mothers I know are more discreet with their breast feeding than some women are fully clothed. The point of breast feeding is not actually to expose your breast and make some kind of political statement–it’s to get nourishment to your child.

Many people object to breast feeding in public because they find it offensive. I find a lot of things offensive but I somehow manage to contain myself when I see them in public. And this argument that breast feeding mothers should “take it somewhere else” is foolish. Most places do not have clean bathrooms with a comfortable place to sit and breast feed (and who the hell wants to eat in a bathroom, anyway?) Few workplaces have a comfortable room designated for breast feeding mothers–women are expected to perch in perilous and dirty places to pump or breast feed, and I think that’s wrong. Milk producers of all species should be able to do so in comfort and cleanliness.

I suspect that most people object to breast feeding because they find it uncomfortable, and they cover it up with a series of excuses. I think it’s time to examine yourself if you don’t mind walking past a flock of teenage girls wearing virtually nothing but you have a problem with a women draped in a modest scarf, feeding her child. Breasts are body parts, just like elbows and feet, knees and stomachs–and all of those body parts can be (and are) eroticized, just like breasts. All of them are also readily visible in American society, and no one seems to have a problem with it.

So what’s with the war on breasts, people?

[breast feeding]