Social Norms(1): Breastfeeding in Public

February 22, 2012 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

I was slightly shocked to learn that Facebook have banned photographs of women breastfeeding. I know it can’t be easy controlling 845 million users, but this particular decision strikes me as wrong on a number of levels.

The point is not just that we are all naked under our clothes, though we are, but that something so natural, nurturing and human could be deemed…anti-social?

I know some body parts are easier on the eye than others, and of course we may not all be ready to parade on nudist beaches, but can anybody really object to a mother feeding her baby?

Let’s try to be balanced:

On the one hand you have the person offended, with what looks to me like self-centred squeamishness and misplaced prudishness. To be fair, however, perhaps this could be framed as cultural sensibility and an appropriate grasp of social mores.

On the other hand you have what looks to me like a primal bond, a reciprocal physiological urge, a symbiosis, a live giving force….but which, I suppose, could be viewed as a personal preference that can be enacted in private, and is both a choice to do, and when to do…

But hang on! That’s not the case at all. I don’t think anybody can argue it’s wrong to choose to breastfeed, nor that those who breastfeed shouldn’t be out in public. So what it comes down to is that when the time comes (and mothers and babies feel that intensely, viscerally, audibly) some believe you should find a way of doing it in…private?…even when you’re in a public place?

Sometimes the cultural does trump the natural, and it is often good that it does, but these particular cultural norms feel patriarchal and, if I am honest, slightly pathetic.

So maybe a weaker version of the argument is that you can do it in public, but please just cover up as much as possible…because, you know…some prefer not to see that sort of thing…

Should you have to hide in that way? Why should the preferences and conveniences of the person who looks or sees take preference over the conveniences of the two people for whom this event is utterly natural and normal….who should get to say which social norms are most pertinent in such contexts? If in doubt, surely it should be those who would be put out at a more tangible level- in this case the physical needs of mother and child appear to matter more than the visual preferences of somebody exogenous to that intimate relationship.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more screwed up it seems. The fact that breasts in general are deemed to be salacious is bizarre enough – how did it get that way?- but the fact that using them for their main purpose might be deemed, what, inappropriate?…that’s extraordinary.

So my view at the moment is roughly as follows: even though I concede that looking at such photos on Facebook, or seeing a mother bring out her baby’s milk without any embellishments, for instance in a cafe, might make some people somewhat uncomfortable, I also think that such discomfort reveals a level of personal and cultural immaturity. It is therefore up to those people and the culture of which they are part to change their ways, not the mother and baby, who should be allowed to carry on in peace.

 

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