Breastfeeding in public; what’s your view?
I recently uncovered this blog I wrote eighteen months ago, just before I started my blogging website. Its publication might stimulate some discussion!
On Monday 1st December 2014, a young mum, Louise Burns, started to breastfeed her 12-week-old baby in London’s upmarket Claridge’s hotel. She was approached by a member of staff and asked to cover her baby, and presumably her breast, with a napkin. She did so but afterwards tweeted photographs of herself and the baby with the accompanying comment: ‘Asked to cover up with this ridiculous shroud while breastfeeding so not to cause offence at Claridge’s.’
A few days later, Nigel Farage (British politician, UKIP Leader) was asked for his opinion on the Claridge’s incident. He said, ‘I think that given that some people feel very embarrassed by [breastfeeding], it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that’s not openly ostentatious. Or perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be—that’s up to Claridge’s. It’s not an issue that I get terribly hung up about, but I know particularly people of the older generation feel awkward and embarrassed by it.’
His comments provoked howls of protests from feminists, other politicians, young mums, even a David Cameron spokesperson. Mostly, the responses were that breastfeeding was a natural function and should not be subject to castigation, persecution, cover up requests or any other form of subversive or hostile reaction.
So was Nigel right or wrong? Let’s examine the issues.
(At this point let me explain what happened. My original article was quite long and contained images of exposed breasts (female) and exposed penises but I never published it. Subsequently, however, I condensed the pros and cons into one of the conversations between my two protagonists, 22-year-old Abi and 58-year-old Gerry, in my book Conversations, also Conversations Lite, published under my pseudonym J C Pascoe. Here is the conversation extracted from the book. There are no images.)
Abi was again seated in one of Gerry’s armchairs, wearing her normal T-shirt and jeans and looking very relaxed.
‘It’s not on the list but what do you think about women breastfeeding an infant in a public place, a restaurant, a hotel lobby, on a bus or train? It came up in the Students’ Union last night and developed into a battle between the feminists and the prudes. What camp are you in?’
‘Neither. I’m in the pragmatist’s camp. Here’s a scenario for you.’
‘Let’s assume I have an amazing body, ripped six-pack abs, decent biceps, not an ounce of fat anywhere, muscular thighs, hairy chest if you like that sort of thing. Got the image?’
‘Yes, Burt Reynolds, many years ago in Cosmopolitan, or Gerard Butler or any of the other 299 Spartan warriors in the film, 300, or Kit Harington in the film Pompeii.’
‘Yes. Now imagine that I pose for a series of naked photographs including full frontal, not aroused, just my normal state. Let’s also suppose I have an average length penis, not hung like a horse and not miniscule. Still got the picture?’
‘Yes, yes. Please continue,’ Abi said breathlessly, fluttering her eye lashes, cocking her head coquettishly and placing her outstretched hands, fingers touching, palms down, under her chin in a parody of a little girl pleading for a pony or an ice cream.
‘Calm down young lady. Now, let’s suppose the photos get published somewhere, in a magazine, on a website, and you happen to see them. You’re a healthy young lady with a normal sex drive. What’s your reaction?’
‘Right, you would see me as a possible sex partner and I guarantee your eyes would be drawn to my penis. Correct?’
‘Okay, now imagine a different scenario. I’m still me, ripped six-pack, all that good stuff, standing naked, penis in full view, but this time I’m pissing against a tree. You would even see the stream of urine arching from the end of my penis and splashing against the tree trunk. Now what’s your reaction?’
‘Exactly. The penis has a dual function. On the one hand it is an essential part of sexual excitement, intercourse and reproduction. On the other, it’s used to discharge liquid bodily waste. One function excites you, the other doesn’t.’
‘I can see where you’re going with this but carry on.’
‘A woman’s breasts also have a dual function. They function as sexual attractors—in fact some women make huge sums of money based only on the size of their breasts, exposed or partly concealed. They also function as a source of sustenance for babies, a suckling function. Men are like women in that respect. If the breasts are exposed to titillate and excite, as on Page 3 of the Sun newspaper, or in so-called girly mags, even on porn sites, the man is excited and may react with masturbation or sexual intercourse if the woman is readily available and willing. But, if a man sees a woman breastfeeding, the natural function, his reaction is similar to your reaction if I showed you an image of a man pissing against a tree. Men don’t see it as disgusting. They simply don’t see it as a turn on.’
‘This is why men become uncomfortable at the sight of a woman breastfeeding. It confuses the senses. What to him is a sexual exciter has suddenly become something quite different, similar to when you compare a penis in its sexual role, flaccid or erect, and then see it emitting a stream of urine.’
‘There’s no difference. You can gather all the strident feminists in the world to proclaim the freedom to breastfeed in public but, in general, men will not like it in the same way as I can gather all the men in the world and proclaim the freedom to piss anywhere I want. Those same feminists would be up in arms if I did that.’
‘That’s my feelings about breastfeeding in public. Don’t do it. Keep those breasts hidden when performing the natural function. Expose them when you want to attract the male. Quad erat demonstrandum.’
‘That’s brilliant,’ said Abi. ‘You should have been in the SU bar yesterday evening. Ah well, not meant to be I suppose but when do I get to see the naked full frontal six-pack abs pictures of you?’
‘When you show me your naked full frontal bare-breasted pictures!’
‘Ah yes. I’ll think about it,’ Abi said with a chuckle.
So, was Nigel right? In my opinion, yes. For men, there is a big difference between viewing female breasts as objects of sexual attraction versus their feeding function just as there is for women viewing the male penis as a reproductive organ rather than a waste-product organ. Men do feel uncomfortable when a women breastfeeds in public with no regard to discreetness and it takes very little to either use the baby itself to conceal the feeding process or to use their upper-body clothing or even turn their body slightly to obscure the views of others. Not to do so may be seen as a statement of femininity on the part of the feeding mother but it places just about all close-by males in an awkward situation, just as a urinating male does to close-by women. Discreetness costs nothing, does not send out signs of gender weakness, and is acceptable behaviour in a public place, including the home when close friends and other family members are present.
To all those who howled in protest when Nigel Farage delivered his opinion, I ask you just one question: ‘How would you feel if your mother/wife/sister/daughter suddenly exposed all of at least one of her breasts in public and proceeded to give a breastfeeding show?’ If, like me, you would answer ‘I would feel somewhat embarrassed,’ then you would support Nigel Farage’s point of view. If however, you answered, ‘It worries me not,’ then I would suggest that you are either in a minority or have not given considered thought to the answer. You’re firing from the nip!