Sunday, June 27, 2010

Breasts in Modern Day NYC and in Natural History

Whew! I this is the longest I've gone without posting on my blog. I guess I'll chalk it up to it being summer! There is a lot to do in New York City. I went to the Coney Island annual Mermaid Parade, which was full of colorful sea-themed costumes, including many women who simply painted seashells on their bare breasts. I also attended the NYC PrideFest Parade, where I saw even more bare-breasted women in costume.

Why am I focusing on this? Its not because I am judging the actions of any of these women. I'm pointing out how there are certain instances in which we accept that women will bear their breasts and society is accepts it. These women were not pulled aside by the numerous NYPD cops for indecent exposure. This is just whats done at these things, right? Standard. Expected. Typical. Customary.

So of course my thoughts go immediately to the issue of public breastfeeding.
Like so many other Lactivists (lactation activists), I've addressed this topic a few times already:

...and numerous other bloggers have written about women and mothers (among others) attacking breastfeeding mothers for breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding a toddler, breastfeeding without covering up, etc.

The argument is generally that it is gross, disgusting, offensive, indecent, sexual to see a woman feeding a baby from her breasts because either it will upset their meal in a restaurant or their children will be... what? become perverts later in life?

Providing important nourishment and nutrients to your child in public by breastfeeding is offensive and disgusting? Something to get thrown out of a restaurant, shopping mall, or school over? Even though it is Standard, Expected, Typical and Customary and has been the Natural and Normal way to feed a child the world over since the beginning of humanity?

I think its just a public embarrassment problem. People don't mind looking at their own breasts, the breasts of their loved ones, breasts on giant billboards or cable television, but if its a real human stranger's breast right next to them they don't know what to do. Especially if the woman is using her breast to do something they've never been exposed to: breastfeeding. This embarrassment causes them to not want to have to answer their childrens' questions. The American cultural norm is to see breasts in sexy ads, not feeding babies. If we can change the societal norm, we can change the societal mentality and be rid of the embarrassment problem.

Speaking of the beginning of humanity...

I spent a lovely afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History last week. It was full of parents and kids.

I visited one of my favorite areas of the museum - the Human Origins exhibit.  There was one particular diorama in this exhibit that showed a Neandertal man sharpening his spear, a woman holding an animal hide in her teeth while she used a stone tool to scrape the fat and blood vessels from the skin, and an older woman who sat and spoke with them. As you can see from the photos, none of them were wearing clothing. Genitalia was exposed, though partially hidden by thick pubic hair. Both womens' breasts were clearly exposed.

And yes, parents stopped, with their children, and looked at the exhibit with them. They didn't cover their childrens' eyes and run away at light speed. They didn't say "ugh! breasts in a public place, where my children are being exposed to indecency!" Why? Because this is an exception to that reaction? Well then why can't breastfeeding be an exception?

My favorite exhibits in the museum are, naturally, the cultural and archaeological exhibits - various Native Americans, Peoples of Asia, African People, and so forth. In one there was a diorama showing tribal life, and the people we wearing little more than loincloths. A group of kids and parents were gathered around it, and one child asked why they weren't wearing any clothing. One of the moms simply explained that they had to make all their own clothing out of what they could find. And that was that. Maybe it was awkward to have her child see half-naked men and women and have to explain that that is just how it is done, but she did it. And the children nodded, accepted the explanation, learned a little about history and culture, and moved on. This same concept can be applied when your child asks you why a woman is feeding her baby with her breast. They will learn that it is just how babies are normally fed, and they will absorb it as a societal more.

As PhD in Parenting puts it: "Breastfeeding is not creepy. Our society is creepy for thinking that breastfeeding is creepy."

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