The breast or not the breast?
Abby OReilly // 6 March 2008
Nourishing one’s own child should be hailed as the most natural thing in the world, and yet breast-feeding is still considered something of a taboo for new and expectant mothers. While it is the woman who is affected physically and emotionally by this process, it seems everyone has an opinion on whether it’s right to pump or not. For this reason many women agonise over the decision, worrying not so much about the physical implications but more the extent to which they will be considered social lepers, cast from civilised society along with their milky udders, for fear they may squirt their messy nourishment across the realm like some sort of psychotic laughing cow.
Frankly, it’s ridiculous, but as more and more emphasis is placed on the need for self-perfection during pregnancy, anything that would imply one is not in complete and utter control of her body is considered disgusting and a part of womanhood that should be shrouded from human eyes. A recent poll of 3,500 mothers across the UK by Kamillosan Chamomile Ointment has revealed the extent to which these negative attitudes have permeated the national consciousness, with motherhood no longer something to proudly embrace but rather something that should be carried out without offending the so-called angelic sensibilities of a country that apparently could not stomach a bit of tit.
More than one fifth of the women who participated claimed they have left their babies screaming from hunger rather than opting for the alternative of feeding them in a public place. Many women fear that they would be judged for their decision to breast-feed, with 38 per cent of new mums banishing themselves to lavatories as they anticipate a negative reception in a public space. In fact 54 percent of mothers claimed to have received unwanted attention when feeding their babies, with more than 14 per cent confessing to having heated arguments with those who have been so abhorred by their actions. Consequently, more than a third of the women questioned opt to use formula milk in public in order to avoid any unnecessary conflagrations. Why is it though that a woman’s body is always considered public property, and thus rightly regulated and controlled by the masses? Is it fair that something as precious as the mother-baby bonding experience is inhibited by those who harbour nothing more than an inflated sense of their own self-importance, and thus feel they can express their opinions so vehemently to the detriment of others? And why is it that breast-feeding is regarded as abhorrent by many?
More than 24 per cent of the women questioned claimed their biggest concern was accidentally exposing their breasts. While this was not a survey of a huge number of women, I think it was accurately representative of the female consensus and feelings about breast-feeding and highlighted the extent to which, as women, our decisions are largely dependent on whether or not our behaviour is considered socially acceptable, more so than if we feel comfortable with it. Women’s breasts, while having the biological function of generating milk to feed babies, have been eroticised by men for centuries through status, paintings and pornography. Breasts have considered men’s playthings and have becoming increasingly sexualised, and thus breast-feeding has become stigmatised because our mammaries have been centralised has serving nothing more than visual sexual gratification for men. Therefore, a breast-feeding woman is difficult to fathom, as she is using a part of her body that has been designated by a traditionally male-dominated porn industry as erotic to fulfil her role as nurturer – unfair don’t you think? Especially as it’s not our fault.