Breastfeeding and Destroying the Stigma Against It

Tara Phillips is a student at Pimlico State High School and recently presented a persuasive speech.  She has shared it with us below…

A mother boards a Delta Airline flight with her beautiful child in her arms. Her baby begins to cry, expressing that they are hungry. The mother begins to nurse her child, as any mother would do. Suddenly she is told that if she wants to stay on this flight, she must feed her baby with a covering or she must get off.

Can anybody tell me what is wrong with this situation? Is it that this mother is breastfeeding in public, or that she is being told to stop at once or she will be penalised for it? Personally, I hope you all thought the second option. There comes a time when an individual should stop and think about why they hold certain beliefs.

​Growing up, I have learned that women are just sexual objects, with breasts and curves and… Bodies… and when you hold a negative view on the act of breastfeeding you are directly sexualising an innocent act, let alone a natural bodily function. 

Public nursing, simply known as breastfeeding, holds a stigma that should be destroyed especially when individuals of the modern day are spreading such hatred and disgust towards the issue. YouTube channel Mic published a video, hosted by Natasha Noman, expressing that we are exposed to imagery of breasts in films, magazines and even music. Natasha states, “Boobs are everywhere,” but we are appalled when we see a woman nurturing her child in public.

​This is where the topic of sexualisation comes into play. As we continue to sexualise women, both inadvertently and knowingly, we will retain this backward way of thinking that breastfeeding is inappropriate. This will further affect women in ways that can cause mental and emotional barriers. Nevertheless, as a society, we can come together and stop this from becoming the norm.

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Currently, sexualisation is the biggest bringer of hate towards public nursing. 1,988 advertisements from 50 well known magazines were studied in 2008, revealing that half of the images showed women as sex objects. The way that a woman was viewed in terms of her posture, make-up, the amount of skin shown etc. were aspects that determined such a title. Images of women in victimized roles were also found to be portrayed as sex objects.

So, why is this okay for the world to see and simply accept as okay?

Teenaged girls and young adults see these images and are expected to be exactly how they’re shown in these photos. Once this representation becomes normal throughout all ages, a sexual connotation to the female body is being developed every day. It’s not surprising that so many people find breastfeeding so inappropriate with the portrayal of breasts in the media.

​“Massive exposure to media among youth creates the potential for massive exposure to portrayals that sexualize women and girls and teach girls that women are sexual objects.” This is a quote from an APA report on the Sexualisation of Girls. If the women of today are being conditioned to believe such a thing, how do we stop it from happening more in the future? Because of these beliefs, women are being treated disrespectfully.Mothers shouldn’t be criticised. Mothers shouldn’t feel ridiculed. Mothers shouldn’t have to wonder if what they’re doing is right or wrong when this act is as innocent as keeping someone alive. This shouldn’t be debated.

​The Sexualisation of Girls report expresses that there are many consequences of sexualisation. Young girls are conditioned to fulfil unreasonable expectations of stereotyped gender roles, and if they don’t fulfil such expectations they are exposed to violence and denigration. Girls internalise the sexualising messages of culture, thus self-objectifying themselves. This can follow them into adulthood, when they’re mothers and find themselves questioning their right to exercise standard maternal instincts such as breastfeeding.

​Us, as young men and women, should be empowering the women around us to stand their ground and help prove to society that breastfeeding doesn’t inherently denote sexual and inappropriate. If you truly find it uncomfortable to see this act, think about this. You’re sexualising a child and their mother. I feel as if that’s more uncomfortable to come to terms with than breastfeeding itself. Furthermore, we must wonder about if we are in our legal rights to dictate how a mother feeds their child. 

Moreover, Breastfeeding in public is convenient for the mother. The baby isn’t stressed out about having to wait, hungry. Would you rather a screaming baby whilst you shop? As a man quoted on his blog, “I don’t really want to see women’s breasts as they nurse a baby in a restaurant, at a mall, a coffee shop, etc. A quick flip of a baby blanket over the shoulder and it’s all much more discrete,” but it isn’t as easy as putting a cover over your body and going on your way.

Many mothers express that when they put blankets over themselves, their baby throws it off. It’s easier for a mother to breastfeed without having to think of other people’s comfortability, and it would make the child stressed if they just want to eat without being covered by darkness. It is illegal to discriminate against a breastfeeding mother. There isn’t a law about covering up a breastfeeding mother. Think about the woman on that Delta Airline flight and how she was told to do so.

Breastfeeding can be done anytime, anywhere, including cafes, restaurants, public transport etc. If there is no law against it, why do people continue to discriminate? As said in the APA report, “sexualisation occurs when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.” So, stop this discrimination and unwanted sexualisation, at least in the eyes of the law. This discrimination comes in many forms, from passive aggressive comments online to verbal abuse in public. ​

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Common quotes such as, “Cover up!” “It’s too intimate!” “Public exposure!” “Breasts are far too inappropriate for the public!” are used in arguments against breastfeeding in public. All these responses to breastfeeding in public, and none of those people consider that they likely had to breastfeed for their survival… That it is a natural occurrence in life.

Think about it, if we didn’t make such a fuss over someone feeding their child and abolishing the traits of sexualising women when they don’t even want it, life would be so much simpler. Women would be much more comfortable to tune in with their maternal instincts. Mothers wouldn’t be attributed to being “too intimate” with their child, delivering an ill message of what breastfeeding is all about. The ignorance of us as humans towards this subject would be eased, and we wouldn’t have to be conditioned to such anger and disgust towards natural ways of life.

Therefore, the stigma must be destroyed against breastfeeding in public. We must stop making mothers feel uncomfortable for it. We can do this by teaching our children appropriate ways to view the female body and educating them on what the female body is built for, through comprehensive sexuality education as considered in APA’s report.

We can consciously encourage both teenage boys and girls to not view female bodies in movies and magazines as sex objects. We must continue educating our peers and people around us that breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, and that when mothers are in public they are going to have to breastfeed their baby when their baby is hungry.

​Ignorance towards public nursing will be worn-out soon enough, if we educate others. 


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Written by Tara Phillips
I’ve lived in Townsville for all of 11 months since December 2016, moving here due to the personal choice of my parents. Since moving up to Townsville, I began attending Pimlico State High School and took part in Pimlico Presents, along with the school Choir. I have a passion for theatre and although I’m only a student I know I want to be a social worker in my future to help people in the big world.
I’m often told I have an old soul, with a love for vinyls and music ranging from the 1940s-1990s. I’m incredibly passionate about family and friends, along with positivity that should be shared among everyone I meet.


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