I Don’t Care if My Breast Makes You Uncomfortable

Maybe somebody can explain to me what’s so offensive about asking a woman to cover up a little more?

I don’t think the point is whether you know someone who exposes more of herself than you do…or how much ladies in another country expose themselves…or how much ladies exposed themselves 100 years ago (or how much of them will be exposed in 100 more.)

If someone is uncomfortable with how much of your breast they can see right now, isn’t it a little rude to subject them to it anyway?

Maybe I should back up. You’ve probably heard one of the hard-core breastfeeding moms give a version of this speech about why she won’t make apologies for nursing cover-less at the mall:

“If breastfeeding without a cover makes you uncomfortable, I don’t care.”

But I call bull. They totally care.

Because these same women are the ones who get upset when somebody voices a different opinion…they try to collect an army of equally-angry friends who agree with them and stage “nurse-ins”…

…they contact the local media and post to Facebook about the horrible intolerance of [insert store] after they were asked to use a cover there…

…they memorize the local laws about the right to breastfeed in public, with or without a cover, and have them printed on T-shirts and painted on walls.

They totally care.

This “Cover Up or Don’t Cover Up While Breastfeeding” debate is all over the place, especially if you read parenting blogs or magazines. And almost all of the disagreements have a group of people on one side yelling, “It’s good for the baby!” “It’s natural!” “There’s nothing indecent or sexual about breasts!”

…with a similarly-sized group standing on the other side asking, “But what’s wrong with being more discreet about it?”

For some reason, some women take it very, very badly when they’re asked to cover up while breastfeeding their baby publicly.  I’d like to share what I believe the real reason is.

—-

First, let me list my credentials.

I nursed my oldest child until she was 15-months old, and I’m still nursing my second baby at 8-months.  Any future babies I deliver will get breastmilk as well, barring any complications.  

I’m very pro-breastfeeding.

But I recognize I live in a culture where the average person feels…shall we say…uncomfortable seeing a stranger’s boob outside her shirt?  That’s why–when I’m at church or in a restaurant or at the grocery store–I feed my baby behind a large blanket, to shield “the girls” from view.

Sometimes it’s inconvenient to wrestle with the blanket and squirmy baby. Sometimes it’s hot. Sometimes I move the wrong way and…oops.  Peek-a-boob. But I try to be modest, for the sake of those who don’t want to know me that well.

When it’s within reason and within my power, I try to avoid making people uncomfortable.  

It’s just a courtesy thing.

And most American mothers take the same precautions I do–which is why you can find countless stores for buying nursing covers and patterns to make your own.

Most breastfeeding mothers keep it pretty private.  Most mothers don’t turn the act of feeding their babies into a cultural war.

But a vocal few have decided it’s worth getting aggressive over nursing covers. They view their covers as the cotton-y chains of today’s oppressed, American mothers–much like the barbaric bras our grandmothers wanted to burn. And these ladies will NOT make their babies eat under a blanket, thank you! (The horror.)

—-

There aren’t many reasons given for why it’s sooooo impoooooortant to forgo the cover, but the outspoken women often make comments like these:

-“My nipple is hidden in the baby’s mouth!” (As if placing a square of tape over your nipple would make you perfectly decent in any other situation.)

-“Covers are inconvenient!”  (As if it wouldn’t be more convenient for everyone to stop wearing clothes altogether.)

-“You’ll see more skin in a bathing suit at the beach!” (As if people wouldn’t stare and ask you to cover up, if you stroll through Target in a bikini.)

-“Women in lots of different countries breastfeed openly in public, and nobody thinks anything about it!”

Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we were more like tribal African women, nude and proud and free?!

But, my point here isn’t to decide whether it’s “right” or “wrong”  (universally speaking) to nurse in the open.  I just want to point out something I find pretty obvious: I’m not a tribal African woman.

I’m HERE, in the United States. And here, we’re not accustomed to getting an eyeful of stranger-body when we’re walking down the street.

In fact, I’m pretty sure the angry, in-your-face breast-feeders know they’re breaking cultural rules and making people feel weird, but they still act surprised and disappointed when Americans ask other Americans to respect American-cultural standards.

This is silly, Ladies.

There are plenty of things we’re expected to do differently–among strangers–than we do at home or with friends.  I don’t use a cover when I’m hanging out with my mom or sister or best friend.  I’m less cautious when I’m in a nursing room or doctor’s office, where folks are more prepared to divert their eyes.

At home, I pee with the door open.

But I’m not going to play dumb and insist there’s nothing private about certain body parts in this culture. There IS something sexual about breasts. And even if I don’t understand or agree, I still don’t march into Foot Fetish Anonymous, take off my shoes, and tell them to deal with it.

That’s inconsiderate.

I know some of us have buddies on MilitantMilkMamas.org, who tell us the discomfort about exposed breastfeeding is “society’s problem,” but they’re not the only ones at the store.

The culture on MilitantMilkMamas.org is different from the culture of the general public, and you won’t change that no matter how many times you tell the store manager, “I’m not being indecent, I’m not being indecent!”

All of this to say, I agree with the basic premise. We have the right to breastfeed anywhere, with or without a cover.  I get it.  But I still have the right to think the way some of us are doing it is rude and inconsiderate.

Hm, inconsiderate. You know, that’s just another way to say you “don’t care”?

Still think that’s a good thing?

—–

On a related note, I found this article today: Chipotle Says No to Guns in its Stores.   And, though I feel pretty strongly that upstanding Americans have the right to bare arms (anywhere bad guys might show up with a weapon of their own), I also support a businessman’s right to make the rules in his restaurant. So, if Chipotle thinks that guns make too many customers “uncomfortable,” then their managers can ask people to leave them home.

More to the point, I raise my eyebrows at a group of gun-owners who march into a restaurant carrying their weapons above their heads just because…well…they can.   Just because you have the right to make people squirm doesn’t mean you should.  What’s the point?

If you’re doing the whole concealed-carry thing correctly, most people won’t be uncomfortable because they won’t even know.  Is it so intolerable to keep it hidden? On the other hand, If you pull out the gun knowing it makes others uncomfortable, just to rub your rights in their face, you’re kind of being a jerk.

So, ladies, can we conceal those milk-shooters under our shirts for the sake of being considerate?  🙂  

Yes, we have the right to bare them in public, but we live in a culture where our “guns” make people nervous.

We may be able to force people to get used to bare-breastfeeding, if we keep doing whatever we want, regardless of how others feel. The shock will wear off eventually.  But what’s the point? (Actually, it’s not hard for me to imagine a United States where all women walk around topless all the time, because “it’s natural” and “there’s nothing sexual about breasts.” I just don’t understand why we’d want to make that stand…)

But, in the meantime, I’m going to continue practicing a little modesty for the sake of my fellow shoppers. And, if somebody thinks I’ve shown a bit too much, I’m going to be a little embarrassed–a little uncomfortable. And I will sort of wish they hadn’t said anything because I hate when I make things awkward. But I’ll apologize rather than launching into an ugly, defensive rant and boycotting that store in the future.

I’ll apologize because I’m willing to admit I DO care what people think.

—-

Feedback time: What do you think of these “militant” breastfeeding moms? Is there any real difference between mothers doing a “nurse-in” and the people taking guns to Chipotle just for the reaction?

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One thought on “I Don’t Care if My Breast Makes You Uncomfortable

  1. Pingback: Sexual Purity: Two Stories of Girls Who Don’t Brag About Themselves… | Cultures at War

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