Julie Bowen of Modern Family recently shared a picture with George Lopez of her breastfeeding her twins in a move called the “double football hold.” Unsurprisingly, that photo, seen below, created a public outcry and claimed that the picture was offensive and shocking.
The squeamish response is unsurprising given previous outcries in recent years. In 2006, Babytalk, a free parenting magazine consumed mostly by mothers, received a backlash from offended parties when they featured a cover of a nursing baby in profile. The magazine received over 700 letters, comments included:
I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine,” one person wrote. “I immediately turned the magazine face down,” wrote another. “Gross,” said a third.
One mother who didn’t like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it.
“I shredded it,” said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. “A breast is a breast, it’s a sexual thing. He didn’t need to see that.”
“Gross, I am sick of seeing a baby attached to a boob,” wrote Lauren, a mother of a 4-month-old.
Here is the “controversial” cover:
Angelina Jolie created a similar uproar in November, 2008 when she appeared on the cover of W Magazine nursing one of her newborn twins. Along with general discomfort, people responded to the breastfeeding image as something inherently sexual and claimed that the cover photo “sexualized” the act of nursing.
I don’t buy into the excuse that any of the photos featured above are too sexually explicit. I’m subjected to more boob by non-nursing women walking down the street, in my classes, in restaurants, on the beach and in pop culture on a daily basis than I am by any breastfeeding mother, on a magazine cover or otherwise. From the obsession with Heidi Montag’s ever increasing breast size to the never-ending Kardashian covers featuring one or all 3 Kardashian sisters bikini clad, from Dancing with the Stars to the notoriously nude PETA campaigns, public exposure to breasts is commonplace and unremarkable. Nude female bodies are a continuous pop culture staple and, as demonstrated below, lad mags are not the only culprits featuring image after image of highly sexualized, objectified, scantily clad or nude female bodies. In fact, nudity or near nudity has become normative, a result of the increasingly fuzzy boundary between pop culture and pornography. This line grows finer each year making women’s jiggly bits (or not so jiggly, as the case may be) and yards of spray-tanned and greased up skin the standard, a standard that doesn’t result in nearly the same public protest as a breastfeeding mother and her child.
The female body situated within the system of patriarchy is not hers alone. The female body is considered public domain, open to public ogling, scrutiny and unwelcomed commentary. In addition to patriarchal ownership the female body, women’s bodies are situated within a hyper-sexualized culture that defines women as objects of heterosexual male desire. Within this context, female breasts are solely sexual objects and so the act of nursing takes on a sexualized tone, a tone created by contemporary cultural definitions. I had a pregnant acquaintance that cringed at the thought of nursing her own child, an act she thought “was gross.” After all, “who would want a small mouth sucking on your nipples?” These negative and narrow-minded attitudes toward nursing women has gotten mothers kicked out of public spaces for feeding their infants (which has inspired protest in the form of nurse-ins).
Not only do some mothers choose not to breastfeed their newborns due to this sexualization of the female breast, women often choose not to nurse their babies because they don’t want to “ruin” their breasts. It’s sort of mind-boggling that women perfectly capable of breast feeding (obviously, not all mothers are able to breast feed for a variety of reasons) choose to deny their infants breast milk in order to keep them in tip-top condition for public display. Similarly, Jillian Michaels’ recent statement that pregnancy would ruin her body falls in line with these sentiments. These attitudes and decisions reflect the internalization of the culture at large, a culture that defines women by the firmness of their asses, the perkiness of their breasts and the tautness of their bellies.
Women’s bodies belong to the women that inhabit them, including their breasts. It’s high-time that we begin to dismantle patriarchy’s hold on our minds, bodies and souls.