February 24, 2014

Perhaps I shouldn't write this since I'm not actually Breastfeeding...

But I'm going to anyway! Many women in my life are breastfeeding right now (or weaning their little ones, or preparing to breastfeed their little ones) and I totally would be breastfeeding right now if Samuel were here. August is usually National Breastfeeding Awareness month, but here's the thing about awareness months: it's only a month. And the issue is really an year-round thing. So I'd like to re-introduce the subject, just to get your minds a-reelin'. Back in August when the subject was all the buzz, there was this clever little post by Anna Helfey at One Crazy Mother that highlights one of the most frustrating aspects of breastfeeding. Really, her commentary is quite amusing. I'm sure many of you stumbled upon this little gem last August, but if not. Please. Do read.

No seriously. Read it.

It's okay. I'll just play in the snow while I wait for you.

Olaf's [older] sister.

So what'd ya think? Intriguing, yeah? Ms. Anna received 615 comments on her post. 615. I haven't even had that many page views on one post. Anyway, her little blurb was quite inspiring.

Whether or not I would breastfeed was never even a question. Sure I was aware complications could arise, but as long as the physiology was working we would BF. It was something I had so looked forward to doing with my little Samuel. The ability to nurture him, comfort him, bond with him. All of it so crucial to his development. Breastfeeding would simply be an extension of my care of him from the womb. But I did worry about the social disturbance it could cause when I would need to feed Samuel in public. I had noticed a certain stigma about feeding in public. An unspoken rule that moms should keep their breasts tucked away, or at least behind closed curtains. God forbid should any man or *gasp!* a child! catch a glimpse of her side boob, or worse yet, her nipple!

Somehow in our society a woman, graced with a unique body--a body that has been naturally designed to carry and develop a baby for nine months, a body that has been naturally designed to birth this baby, a body that has been naturally designed to produce nutrients meant for the baby to continue its development outside the womb--is misunderstood. That is to say, a woman is seen for only her physical body, not for her whole being. More specifically, it seems that society looks at a woman's body and does not see beyond the sexual nature of it. As if her body is nothing more than a sex object. Anna's post clearly highlights this deeply ingrained belief by paralleling the act of feeding one's child with a spoon to feeding one's child with her own body.

I am very much aware that objectifying women is old news. We can look at the media, the fashion industry, the ad industry, politics, the corporate business world and see just how much society objectifies the human body, and more glaringly the female body. Sex sells, man! So for the past five decades or so women have tried to counter this from a variety angles.

Exhibit A: "I'm not going to let you reduce me down to my body!  I am MORE than that!  I am a strong, independent, brilliant person who can contribute many a great things to this world!" She then goes out into the world and works hard, taking a career by the horns, shoving her fist up society's you-know-what.

Exhibit A is meant to be facetious.
I am in no way implying women should not be in the workforce.
Exhibit B: Men are objectified.  They are groomed to believe they are nothing more than their bodies' urges.  We can't expect a man to control himself.  We must provide him with "means of release."

Exhibit C: To counter any sort of objectification, a woman says: "No way are you in charge of my body. You can't tell me who, or when, or how I'm going to express my sexuality. I can do whatever the hell I want with it."  <--NOTE that her body is an "it."  It is an object.  She is now objectifying herself.

With each example, the motives behind one's actions are rooted in one's connection to his/her sexual nature. Our "sexuality." As a society we have identified our sexuality as something we use, share, keep to ourselves, hide, put on display. As a society, we have identified sexuality as a thing, an object.

SO? Where am I going with this?

What if I suggested to you that sexuality could be defined as something greater than the sum of your parts? That one's parts--in this case, one's genitality--is only one aspect of one's sexuality, not the entirety? If we take a step back, then, we can see how society is not objectifying one's sexuality as much as it's objectifying one's genitality. All of the above exhibits are objectifying a person's body, yes, but specifically in relation to his/her genitalia, which for some odd reason has been generalized as one's entire sexuality.  

The thing is, sexuality is more than just one's parts. As a woman, it is my femininity. Or for David, his masculinity. My femininity has many, many facets that I have come to know and value. There are facets that I'm still discovering, still fine-tuning. I am coming to know that my sexuality is something I was born with, and only a very small piece of it relates to my sexual urges. Some other aspects of my sexuality are my womb. My fertility. My nurturing instinct. My instinct to verbally communicate. All naturally feminine qualities. All things a woman can come to know and understand about herself over time. It is a very personal part of who we are.

So, if we are to look at one's femininity or masculinity apart from one's genitality, and see one's sexuality as a whole, then perhaps we can see how a mother feeding her babe at breast is not in fact a sexual behavior. Rather, it is a feminine behavior.  It is a faculty all women are born with so as to nurture their offspring.  

Now, the reason I spent so much time talking about sexuality vs. genitality is because I think the confusion between the two is the reason so many people--both men and women--are uncomfortable seeing a woman feed her baby at breast. While a woman's breast is part of her sexuality, this is only because it is part of what makes her feminine. It seems that generations upon generations of people have misunderstood the human body in our culture, not grasping it's original purpose nor appreciating the feminine and masculine. I could write post upon post on this topic, but that's not my point here. My point is simply that breastfeeding is a feminine behavior, not a sexual one.

Now that I've shared many of my thoughts I'm not sure I've really added much value to the conversation that's been buzzing for years now.  I'm sure this is old news for all those moms out there nurturing their babies. And probably old news to those of you who grew up around breastfeeding women. But nevertheless, as long as we're having the conversation we work toward changing the way we understand and perceive the roll of a breastfeeding mother in our society. She is simply filling her feminine role in this world. Nurturing. Mothering. Continuing to extend her body for the development of her child.

Breastfeeding mamas, carry on.    

1 comment:

  1. That linked story is hilarious! I think that as we educate women on breastfeeding and teaching our children it is normal it will help to "de-sexualize" breasts. I nurse in public without a cover because it would honestly be more distracting to nurse and cover Mr. Z. I have only been asked to cover up once, and that was in my own home! I told that person they can leave!

    I am grateful for the community I live in and how open and accepting they are of breastfeeding. La Lache League and some other groups have helped me be more confident in nursing in public, well nursing at all. (Our first few months were really hard.) I know you well be a great advocate of breastfeeding, even more so after you get the chance!