With a recent storm in the media about breastfeeding in public I really felt compelled to share this, because it’s not often that my husband and I disagree on breastfeeding.
If you didn’t know a BBC radio presenter recently opened a ‘debate’ on his how about breastfeeding in public where he made comments that he had to speak up on behalf of all men and let breastfeeders know it was ‘offensive and made men uncomfortable’ so should only be done in private or in a toilet whilst out and about, like other bodily functions. Now the day I agree that breastfeeding is a bodily function like defecating or urinating is the day that someone orders a shit sandwich with a pint of piss to wash it down. They are NOT the same, and that is something that my husband and I agree on. What surprised me was that he does agree it makes men uncomfortable when they see a woman breastfeeding.
Now before you, fellow breastfeeders, reach for your pitch fork and prepare to hunt down my relic of a husband, let me explain. When I asked him what he meant he said that he felt uncomfortable when he saw a woman breastfeeding in a cafe or out and about because he was worried that she would think he was staring at her breasts and would say something to that effect, he didn’t want to make her uncomfortable and in feeling that way, became uncomfortable himself. I said to him that there was always the option of, you know, not looking, and he said ‘I wouldn’t be, but you know when you catch someone’s eye, or you notice that someone is doing something so your eye is drawn. It’s just innocent and usually it would be a smile as someone adjusted their jeans or untucked a shirt, but if it were a woman putting away a nipple or unclamping her bra… Well, I just don’t want to be accused of doing something wrong and I’ve been given a dirty look before because I looked up at the wrong time in the wrong place’. I have to say, I have never really given that perspective much thought. My initial response was to say ‘get a grip, no woman cares if you look’, but then I started reading various posts about breastfeeding in public and if it wasn’t some stupid anti-feeding woman claiming women should ‘cover up’ because she didn’t want her husband to see someone else’s boobs, it was a pro-feeder responding to that with ‘can’t your pervert husband control himself’. Is a wonder my hubby (who is very supportive of feeding, in public and at home) has felt this fear of being accused of doing something wrong?
Breasts are so over sexualised in the media that quite often women over sexualise them too. What happens if a man looks at your breasts? Are you offended? Why? We spend a lot of time as breastfeeding mums making it apparent that we don’t want breasts to be sexualised, they are for feeding babies, so why would we be offended if we caught someone looking anymore than if they were looking at our hands? Anyone who stares overtly at any part of your anatomy would make you uncomfortable but why would someone get upset about a passing glance?
I asked my husband if he felt breastfeeding should only be done in the home and he said of course not, baby’s hungry, baby’s got to be fed. It’s that simple, he did add though that he wished there was less of a ‘don’t like it, don’t look’ culture because people are nosey by nature and if they look, it doesn’t mean they are judging or sexualising. They just happened to look up at the wrong time.
So, thoughts? Is he being silly to feel this way, or is it true that we need to remember our own stance on breasts not being sexual objects and remember not to get offended if someone happens to look, hey, maybe they are looking at a beautiful bond between mama and baby and thinking of their on families?
I think it’s such a sad sign of the times that it’s perfectly acceptable for women to walk around in low cut tops and to leave newspapers with half naked women in on tables in cafes but if someone should use their breasts for the reason they have them, to feed their babies then all of a sudden breasts become something that should be hidden away for fear of upsetting people. It’s crazy! I do get that because men as used to seeing breasts in a sexual way it might make them uncomfortable to see a baby sucking on them but I think that’s all the more reason why it’s so important to keep feeding in public to try and normalise it a bit more. And I’ve always said that in a closed space I’m pretty sure everyone would rather me feed a baby than have it scream it’s head off! x
Sadly BFers can be defensive, and it’s not surprising as we are in a very tiny minority and there are plenty of well-publicised incidents of discrimination.
A glance may just be an accident, but the recipient of that glance may be on a Facebook group later on telling everyone (genuinely thinking it) that ‘some bloke gave me an evil look’. Sometimes these tales have a happy ending such as ‘and then he came over and said it was great to see a mum BFing’ but not often.
What’s the alternative to ‘don’t like it, don’t look’? It’s not that hard to avoid staring once you realise some bosom may be slightly visible 😉 I have had practice BFing and just ignore everyone else now.
Absolutely love this article and its balanced view. I’ve been breastfeeding for almost 6 months now and would do so out and about most days. I must say that personally all the recent media attention made me a little moreself-conscious than I would’ve been about breastfeeding in public initially. Saying that, the freedom it gives us far outweighs this. Countering all the reported negativity, I’ve so far personally not encountered any negative comments or actions by individuals. Quite the opposite, I’ve had a toddler ask me what I was doing in that all so innocent way and after explaining her mum was all smiles and thankful. I’ve had women of all ages comment how wonderful we looked, I’ve had a waitress offer me table service despite the cafe being self-service normally and I’ve had an elderly gentleman offer me his seat in a restaurant, cause ‘the sofa is more comfortable’. I’m sure anyone with a hungry impatient baby can appreciate… 🙂
Yes my beloved does occasionally get embarrassed when our little fella moves my top out of the way a little too much for his liking. I understand his point and also that made by Harriets partner, after all these breasts are enjoyed by him in a different way and any grown man would get into trouble for paying too much attention to them in public, let alone expose them in any way. I guess he’s just to get over that cause as far as I can tell the majority of people really either aren’t bothered or feel positive and open about breastfeeding women in public. Personally I can assure anyone who’s looking, accidentally or not, I really don’t mind but if your not shy and throw me a positive comment, compliment on how we look or undertake any action that makes me a little more comfortable when I breastfeed in public really does wonders and makes me feel appreciated. I in turn will teach my child to be open, helpful and respectful to anyone because that’s the way he’s been treated from the start of his life. Who knows maybe one day he’s going to help that ignorant BBC presenter with a random act of kindness when he’s elderly and it’ll make his day… 🙂
I really hope other mums also experience those positive acts of kindness and admiration when they feed their babies in puplic.
Surely people do not hesitate to give up their seat on the bus for an elderly person or pregnant woman. Maybe we just need to let ‘the public’ know how to be kind to breastfeed ing mamas and not mind the occasional stare so much…?