Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thoughts on "Shame"

I was quite surprised by the level of emotion that post evoked, and I wanted to share some more of my thoughts.

First, I regret that it turned a bit into a rag on my mom. I was worried that would happen and almost didn't publish that post for that very reason. My mom is really an extraordinary woman. Anyone who can double major in English and biology, commute 4 hours a day on public transportation, and be pregnant at the same time deserves applause. I should have been more careful in how I worded my post. (Mom, if you're reading this, I'm glad you're reading my blog and I am sorry if some of the discussion veered away from its original path.)

Second, let me summarize some fascinating questions the discussions raised:
  • Does nudity always have the potential to become pornography? In other words, is pornography in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the creator?
  • Is breastfeeding openly in public a sexual (ie, provocative, inappropriate) act? And why does our society see it as such?
  • Does covering up reinforce the taboo on breastfeeding? Do you prefer to cover up or not? Is covering up being prudish? respectful? etc...
  • What are the dangers of posting intimate pictures, such as ones of breastfeeding and birthing, on the internet? Several comments alluded to such dangers, but only in a general fashion.
I, for one, will continue to breastfeed "indiscreetly." I feel quite strongly that masking the act with a blanket reinforces the notion that it is something to hide, something inappropriate for public view. I also think that covering up draws more attention to the act, than simply nursing openly.

The first memory I have of "indiscreet" breastfeeding is when I visited Germany in 9th grade. My host mother lifted her shirt and nursed her baby. At one point that baby bit her, and she said something like "ouch, that hurt!" (in German of course). The other family members acted very matter-of-fact, even though you could see her breast. After a few seconds, I was like "okay, that's what they're for anyway, I'm cool." And that was that. I took my cue from the others around me; since they seemed completely unfazed by the sight of an exposed breast, I learned to do the same. Voila! Another public nurser was born.

16 comments:

  1. Jen.b.in.az1/7/07, 9:44 PM

    Just to add to the thoughts on covering breastfeeding...I refuse to cover up! I never have. I think covering does imply there's something to hide; having said that, if it takes covering up to make a mom comfortable to nurse in public, fine. I think it's more of a societal issue that isn't going to be conquered overnight, and I'd rather she nurse at all! One of my pet peeves is the idea that it's "okay for women to nurse in public as long as it's discrete." I am NOT small-chested, and I show a lot less of my breasts while nursing than anyone can see on many women walking down the street. Oops, I forgot: if it's for SEX, it's ok. Blah blah...I have a feeling I'm preaching to the choir :)

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  2. Yeah, I agree with you that covering up isn't bad at all, if that's what truly makes a woman more comfortable. If more women breastfed openly, I think that covering up would become less common.

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  3. My mother gets very upset when I breastfeed when anyone besides our family is around, especially if I don't use a blanket. She says that I shouldn't just let it all hang out. I don't. I'm so small that hardly anything shows, but I guess it is the principle of the thing.

    I don't use a blanket when I'm in public because I think that my baby gets hot under there, and besides, I wouldn't want to eat under a blanket. Also, since I don't use them at home, my babies aren't used to them in public, and they pull them off. Why should I force the issue? I don't think I should.

    I do feel bad for the conditioning that a few of my sisters-in-law have had. One in particular has no concern whatsoever with wearing low-cut shirts over her rather ample chest, but refuses to breastfeed when other people are in the room. She will even give her baby formula, rather than breastfeed him when anybody is around. I find this very sad. That baby is not getting the nutrition he needs because his mother has been programmed that breasts are fine for sex, but not for the purpose for which they were created.

    This is very sad, to me.

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  4. The danger that people speak of is to have your nursing pictures stolen and placed on a fetish site. I know several women that had that happen. They would post to a breastfeeding list and put up the pictures and a troll would steal them and post them elsewhere. That being said I do still post nursing pictures in some places. I also think that our society needs a huge wake up call and we need to become a breastfeeding society which will never happen if we don't just nurse when needed. You are doing a great thing and just like you were swayed by the German mom, others will be swayed by you. A true version of Pay it Forward. Great work!

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  5. when perverts use pictures for their fetish sites, they arent hurting anyone-- unless you *let* it hurt you.

    when i (and so many other mamas) found pictures of our cloth-diapered babies on a porn site, i was disgusted. but i realized this didnt hurt me or my children. any pervert can misuse what you share with the world, but it doesnt hurt us.

    sharing birth images is far more helpful than it is hurtful, i believe. many women are out there searching for images and stories of birth while they journey through their pregnancies. ideally, we would have grown up seeing birth in a natural setting, but without that we have to reach for it in new ways.

    as for nursing, i dont cover up. i have covered maybe twice in my 4 1/2 years, when tristan was tiny and he needed darkness and quiet to settle into nursing and we couldnt find a quiet place. i agree that covering reinforces the taboo of the act of nursing.

    tabitha

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  6. From my humble point of view ( not a mother) I can admit that nursing women make me feel a little discomfortable... I get a feelint that it is ME who is treaspassing in their private zone, even if they nurse their children in public places.

    But then again, if it is OK with the mother, I guess I should not feel awkward about it.

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  7. hithnar, I can understand how you feel. Before I had a child, when I would be near nursing women, I would feel somewhat awkward, like "hmmmm, where should I look? If I make an effort NOT to look at their chest, will they notice?" etc...and I was totally fine with the idea of nursing in public. But once I had my daughter, I totally lost any vestiges of feeling awkward in the company of nursing women! With more exposure (pun intended), nursing in public becomes more invisible. I mean, we don't feel all awkward and embarrassed when a woman bottle feeds. So why when she breastfeeds? It really boils down to how we are conditioned to react. We can change that.

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  8. I always made it a point to not cover up. I think many people were pleasantly surprised by it. I remember nursing my son when he had to go to the ER for RSV when he was 8 months old, and the doctor asked me if I'd like him to close the curtain on our little cubicle. I said no, that I didn't care. He smiled and said that his wife was the same way, that she'd "whip it out anywhere." I think nursing without shame really will encourage more women to do the same. "If she can do it, then so can I." Hell, the only time that I HAVE been looked down at for NIP is when my son was a newborn and I was still covering up. I think it makes it all the more obvious that "OMG! There's boobies being suckled under here! Everybody run!!"

    As for nudity = porn, it's all in the eye of the beholder. I can look at a naked woman, man, child, and see just that. But some look at it and see sex. I find that sad. When I look at my son's penis, I don't think about sex, I just see a penis. I was watching a program about Aborigines on the Travel Channel last night, and some of the missionaries were making them put clothes on because they were "offended." The Aborigines ran off and left the clothes scattered in the forest.

    -Jill

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  9. Yes, it is absolutely all in the eye of the beholder. And above are some nice examples of what beholders can do with their perception: own it! Realize it's your own hangups or turn-on, or whatever it is they feel.
    I am beyond being surprised that many people still can't manage this though.
    And I doubt that uncovering is an effective way to change their thinking, though for now I don't have any better ideas.

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  10. I can't believe that another poster here could say that finding photos of your babies on a porn site was disgusting but didn't hurt the children. I totally disagree. If that was my child, I would feel horrible and guilty for allowing my child to be violated in that manner.

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  11. "anonymous", that other poster was me.

    yes, a group of perverts got together and searched the internet for pics of babies in cloth diapers. they made a whole website full of them. but no, it did not hurt my children.

    a foot-fetish pervert group could steal pictures of my feet and masturbate to them, but it would not hurt me. not unless i *let* it hurt me- by internalizing it and making it real.

    we are not responsible for the sickness of others. do you hide your children when you go to the grocery store just in case a pervert looks at them and remembers their image for their sick fantasies? no! we cannot live in fear. while i would never let real harm befall my child i will not live in fear of what others are thinking when they see my images!

    when i share pictures, it is because the benefits of sharing them outweigh the risks. there are things i keep private, but not out of fear of internet pervs.
    -tabitha

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  12. How did you happen upon this web site on which your baby was featured?? That's pretty freaky.

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  13. it was a huge drama in the cloth diapering world. i dont know who initially discovered it, but the site had many thousands of photos, all 'stolen' off public domain, of cloth diapered babies. some were even just ripped from company websites, which is why most cloth diaper sites dont feature cute pics anymore. if you are really interested, you can read here:

    http://diaperimages.com/

    (sorry to be off topic here, rixa!)

    -tabitha

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  14. Not entirely off-topic. It's sad but true that there are some very filthy, disgusting, and criminal minds out there perusing the web.

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  15. I have to add that I kind of agree that those cloth diapering pics didn't really hurt the babies....yes, it's really gross and awful and sickening to know that perverts might have been wanking off to pics of your babies, but look at it this way: diaper fetishists focus on the DIAPER, not the baby. That doesn't make it right that they stole these pics and did such despicable things with them, but they probably just wanted to look at cute diapers, cuz that's what gets them off. It's the diaper they were jerking off to, not necessarily the baby wearing it.

    Ugh, just thinking about it gives me the willies. Thankfully that all happened way before I started usnig cloth...I would have probably barfed if I'd known my kid was on that site.

    -Jill

    -Jill

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  16. I just have to say that I live in a Muslim country in Asia, and what is "discreet" in N. America is the norm here. While about 95% of women would never leave the house without a headscarf (traditional, not Islamist), all of them feed in public. They use a blanket or a scarf to cover the little one and the breast. I would not say that this is a societal "issue" or problem.

    However you won't see women showing off their boobs to attract attention in a sexual way, either, which I guess is the big difference. It's just not acceptable to show boobs, or actually many things, in public, period.

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