New feature: Breastfeeding: radical, feminist and good for you

// 25 January 2009

Kate Joester explains how breastfeeding helped her understand ‘the personal is political’

The first time a male hand touched my breast, I was 14. The breasts themselves were considerably newer, arriving in the sudden rush of puberty that turned me from a short, skinny 13-year-old to the round-hipped, DD-cup young woman I was that day. I hadn’t really thought my breasts had anything to do with anything before then, but that moment, backed up against a wall by a predatory old man, made it clear to me: they were dangerous.

The second time a male hand touched my breast, I was 30 and the hand belonged to my newborn son. It was curled into a semi-fist as he tried with confused urgency to work out what hunger meant, and how it might be resolved. I gently persuaded him to open his mouth, take a mouthful of breast and suckle. That hunger was the first question he asked, and I was able to answer it in a way that gave him both food and a reassurance that my body was home to the baby as well as the foetus.

In between those times, I’d grown into a feminist, a queer activist, an off-and-on member of Edinburgh’s lefty rent-a-crowd and also a mother. My son is my second child; it was really my daughter who taught me that I could make and sustain another person with the body I had distrusted for so long.

I breastfeed as a feminist, and I’m a breastfeeding advocate as a feminist: what could be more of a feminist issue than women being taught to doubt their capacities and trained to fail, all so that corporations can make a profit by selling us a poor substitute for ourselves?

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