A range of emotions and incommensurable reactions towards the performance of breastfeeding, both within the home but most notably in public space, has taken on a complex and multi-layered fixation. In the United States, notably over the last two centuries, popular attitudes and feelings on the topic have repetitively oscillated between approval and non-approval in its overall assessment, complicated by a variety of issues including cleanliness, standards of motherhood, etiquette and sexuality while also challenging its association with space in terms of private versus public. As a whole, widespread breastfeeding ideals are often contradictory in their qualities and conceptually stem from a male-defined perspective that has emerged from the sexualization of the female body. In the United States especially, the physical embodiment of male desire takes the form of the female breasts.
In the 1950’s, La Leche League was formed by an assembly of White women who approved of and upheld the necessity of breastfeeding rooted in the moral significance of the Mother-Child touch. Today’s La Leche League, the online group “Hey Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!” represents the perpetuation of the controversy surrounding public breastfeeding but within another sort of public sphere, the internet. Apparently, Facebook’s reason for removing posted pictures of women breastfeeding their children was in response to other Facebook users who reported them. What this suggests to me is a confirmation that the cyber world and material world do not subsist in separate realities but do in fact co-exist. Facebook users who reported them, somehow felt that these images would affect them beyond the social media setting.
But I also want to comment on the health aspect of this issue as well. Both organizations were rooted on moral obligations to breastfeeding their children with the belief that this was the healthiest and most “natural” option. Their arguments consistently and determinedly were in direct opposition to doctor/medical suggestions, leaning on the approach that “Mother knows best”. While this may not challenge cultural values related to gender stereotypes, it echoes the attitude of the Women’s Health Movement associated with and extending from reproductive rights.
For whatever reason a woman decides to breastfeed or not, in public or in private, on a bus or on the internet, we must first come to understand what is we agree or disagree with about the act itself. Posting pictures or participating in public “lactivist” groups will not in itself alter cultural values, but if we cannot identify what it is that we disagree on, we cannot expect to reconcile because compromise is not an option.
I incorporated the video below because of it’s multi-layered controversy as well as it’s incorporation of new media.