Saturday, August 05, 2006

Photoshop that baby out of the picture!

I can't remember where I first saw this story, but it's been featured on several blogs. Apparently, babytalk magazine featured a nursing infant on the cover of their current issue. What's more, the infant was attached to a visible breast. Readers were appalled, as shown in the following quote:

"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine."



Conservatives object to breasts exposed in the context of breastfeeding for reasons that run along the lines of "Because breasts are dirty". Conservatives do a great job of compartmentalizing and condemning the female body. Liberals object to the conservatives' "prudish" perspective and express wonder that anyone would be offended.

Why is everyone missing the point? In our society, breasts have been completely co-opted for heterosexual men's pleasure. (Reminder: only heterosexual men matter in our society.) Breasts are for arousing and getting men off. Look at this quote:

"There is a real puritanical streak in America," Moran told AFP. "You see celebrities practically baring their breasts all the time and no one seems to mind in this sort of sexual context.

"But in this very natural context of feeding your child, a lot of Americans are very uncomfortable with it."

Moran is right on both counts. Of course this viewpoint is ridiculous, not to mention sick. But it is an accurate reflection of how things are in society. We don't object to women showing skin as long as they do it in a sexually provocative manner. Women showing part or all of their breasts in a way that gives hetero men erections are following the dictates of their assigned roles, even serving with distinction!

But let a women expose a breast to feed her child, and the sanctions come out. Why is anyone surprised by this? Protests come not just from discomfort with nudity. Breastfeeding violates what breasts are for. I'll restate the fact: breasts exist for the sexual pleasure of heterosexual men. So it should be no surprise that we only object to displaying breasts when it's a baby's satisfaction at stake.

Think I'm wrong? Have a look around the liberal blogosphere. Check out the comments made by male liberals. In addition to condemning the prudishness of Americans, men were compelled to state just how lovely that breast on the cover of babytalk is-so perky, so full. One man even expressed envy, oh how he'd love to be that baby!

See? Breastfeeding is acceptable if the boob in question makes men hard.

13 comments:

Laura Linger said...

That's a really interesting take on it, one that I had never considered. Then again (and I am not contradicting you, just adding another dimension to this stupid uproar), look how upset everyone got about Janet Jackson's bare breast. I mean, if I ever hear the phrase "wardrobe malfunction" again, I will puke. That was supposedly a sexual thing, right? Then again, she isn't White, so that might have something to do with the collective clutching of the pearls.

I personally don't have a problem with porn. I'm not crazy about the stuff, but it doesn't bother me all that much. That is, until you have a brouhaha like this: so it's perfectly okay to watch a film of two women fonding each other's breasts and sucking each other's nipples, but let a baby latch on for a late lunch, and all of a sudden it's dirty, impure, not fit for the viewing public.

Speaking of lesbians, it's a bit like the double standard surrounding gay rights. When a fundie neocon pink-faced buffoon in navy pinstripes spouts off about "gay marriage" being an abomination that makes the Baby Jaysus cry, you and I both know that what he REALLY has a problem with is one man lying down with another. It's about hetero men having problems with what homosexual men do...probably because the hetero men harbor some dark sexual fantasies about other men themselves, but that's another matter. Hetero men never seem to have a problem with lesbians, courtesy of pornography. I'm quite sure that there is more than one male member of the Family Research Council who has done his fair share of jacking off to footage of Juli Foster getting eaten out by Jenna Jameson.

spotted elephant said...

Laura-You're right about the reaction to Janet Jackson's breast. Americans never got past Puritanism. I also agree that the reaction would have been quite different (positive) if a white woman's breast had been exposed.

My point is that the sexualization of the breast is such a part of our culture that it usually goes unnoticed. Then people have cardiac episodes over breastfeeding.

I disagree with you about porn, because there's a great deal of harm inflicted on the women involved, often women who have no other choices for earning money. Porn also contributes to how we as a society view women: sex toys for men. But these issues are much larger than comment space will allow.

sparkleMatrix said...

A "Giant" breast? They sure haven't seen any Lad's Mags lately. I breastfed my 3 babies in public with my milk filled "giant" breasts not silicone "giant" breasts. Hmmm got some lears and tuts, but some lovely smiles as well.

neuralgourmet said...

Excellent post spotted-e.

alyx said...

My dad showed me this article. Not because he cares about feminism (ha! He's actually an old-school sexist), but because he couldn't resist the opportunity to take a swipe at those "puritan yanks."

From the perspective of someone who's not an American, one of the things that pisses me off about articles like this is that they give left-wing men in Europe and Australia an excuse to brag about how "enlightened" they are by comparison. Which usually involves statements like, "Those Americans are so repressed--now, if their founding fathers had a copy of Maxim in one hand instead of The Bible, they might not be so repressed” (this is usually followed by much talking about/showing said magazines. Because watching Gag Factor 12 means you are evolved! So yeah, I totally second you re. liberal male idiocy.)

Also: Annoys me that women are the ones who are always made out to be the puritans. You know that old line: Don’t let your mother hear you talking like that! (Because fathers, being men, just lurve hearing dirty jokes, whereas mothers get all prudey and offended.)

Re. Breastfeeding = “Natural Function”: I know you didn’t make this argument, SE, but a lot of feminists do, and I’m not so fond of it. My problem with this argument is that it kinda plays into biological determinism in it’s assumptions—we know that not all women choose to have children, so the tit-feeding=nature equation seems to imply that the owners of breasts that will never know lactation are somehow “un-natural”—which, as childfree women like you and I know, is a load of hokum.

On the pornification of women’s bodies, I like what Loolwa Khazzoom (kick-arse feminist author) has to say on the subject: “My breasts should be sexual only when I choose to infuse them with that energy and intent.”

spotted elephant said...

Sparkle-Had the same reaction about "giant". I *am* glad that you got positive reactions-that's a nice change.

tng-Thank you!

Alyx-It's interesting to hear your perspective. I do think Americans are Puritanical, but as you said, there's a lot more going on in this story besides Puritanism. "Maxim saves the day"-wow. I hadn't realized that some Australian and European men would be proclaiming their superiority. (gags)

And yes, women are puritans. If a dirty word is spoken in front of a woman, she immediately has an attack of the vapors. Why just writing about this story this has left me dizzy and weak.

So true about the "natural function" blending into biological determinism. I hate having to do this dance, on one hand, defending the rights of nursing women, OTOH, defending the idea that not everyone must have children. Sigh.

RachelsTavern said...

You're soooooo right. I always make the joke in my class where I say, "Breast are for feeding babies not adult heterosexual men."

The students laugh, but I'm serious.

manxome said...

Great post, SE. Can't help but share my initial snarky reaction to the first quote, "I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine." Because, you know, if it were a smaller breast it would be fine! Bwaahaa.

She continues, "I was offended and it made my husband very uncomfortable when I left the magazine on the coffee table." Dear, if it was that bad, why did you leave it on the coffee table instead of burning it in a bonfire or something? Tsk tsk.

Anyhoo, I like your reaction better, SE.

TNTrash said...

Gah!

I've seen this happen before, and it always kinda slaps me in the face. Our bodies have become so hyper-sexualized in the minds of patriarchal media that, if a tit's hanging out for WHATEVER reason it's intrinsically linked to fucking, and it's our fault and up to us to generate some sort of "explanation" or whatever, some kind of justification, we have to fucking point out that these bodies that we have are ours- over and over again. This should be proof enough that the pornification of our culture isn't just a theory that we randomly came up with at a clandestine radfem meeting someplace.

But to alyx and SE, this whole "biological determinism" thing is making me think of a comment I posted on the Mean Feminism site. We have to step back a minute and really grind that issue up in our heads.

We don't CHOOSE to be women. We were born with certain body parts that gives patriarchal society a means of filing us as such. And while some of us choose to be childless, MOST of us are born with that capacity, and we are oppressed based on that biology. No? Stan Goff talks about this thing on his own blog, about the actual existence of physiological difference between female and male homo sapiens. The difference is indeed there, the majority of the time. Oppression enters into the equation not on the acknowledgement of the difference, but the assign ment of hierarchical or qualitative values to that difference.

I got no problems acknowledging that these here tits of mine have the capacity to produce milk and feed children, whether or not I "choose" to give birth to children and feed them from them. That does not imply an inherent inferiority to somebody who has breasts that can't do that, nor does it imply superiority to the same.

When we talk about defending the "choice" to remain childless, I feel like sometimes we forget that the reproductive rights argument doesn't just encapsulate what people with the privilege to make those choices "want" to do with their "bodies."

When we talk about "rights" in a reproductive sense, we have to remember that there are women who have NO choice at ALL. Some women cannot have children, for medical or economical reasons, who would really like to have them. Other women might have chosen not to have children, but they had 6 or 7, and now they have a really hard time taking care of them. There are women of color who have been sterilised without their knowledge or who are coerced into abortion when they find out that the embryos they have inside them are not boy children.

So reproductive rights is not solely about "choice." This is a critique that's been brought forward several times, especially among radical women of color, and I think it's something that has to be dealt with in order to foster solidarity between groups of women who do/don't have varying degrees of relative privilege.

No, we are not "baby factories." But negating the positive aspect of being able to have children really just reinforces the idea that our biology makes us "inferior" somehow.

In a non-patriarchal world, we wouldn't have to see having children as some sort of trap, or just another chain to add to our lives as women.

And if we DIDN'T hold that particular biological capacity, one that does mark us as physiologically "different" from males, we wouldn't be oppressed in the same ways that we are, now. The oppression doesn't come from the actual biology, it comes from the culture that places a qualitative value on said biology.

We ARE women, physiologically. And there shouldn't be any damn thing wrong or inferior about that.

spotted elephant said...

Rachel-I can definitely see that-the students laughing at a very serious remark.

Manxome-Didn't you know that smaller breasts are OK? ;)

spotted elephant said...

tntrash-I think some of your comment is going over my head, or else we're just on different wavelengths. I hope you come back to this thread because I want to understand what you're saying.

"Oppression enters into the equation not on the acknowledgement of the difference, but the assign ment of hierarchical or qualitative values to that difference."

Absolutely.

"I got no problems acknowledging that these here tits of mine have the capacity to produce milk and feed children, whether or not I "choose" to give birth to children and feed them from them. That does not imply an inherent inferiority to somebody who has breasts that can't do that, nor does it imply superiority to the same."

I'm not sure where this part is coming from-my complaint was about what I have to put up with *because* of assumptions that one way is better than another.

"When we talk about "rights" in a reproductive sense, we have to remember that there are women who have NO choice at ALL."

Agreed. Choice is a reflection of privilege. But that wasn't the topic of the post. My comment to Alyx was blowing off steam about crap I put up with in my life. That's not dismissing what other women go through, just me talking about my life.

"So reproductive rights is not solely about "choice." This is a critique that's been brought forward several times, especially among radical women of color, and I think it's something that has to be dealt with in order to foster solidarity between groups of women who do/don't have varying degrees of relative privilege."

This is an incredibly important issue that needs much more coverage, but is beyond the scope of this post. I'm confused because I don't know whether your comment reflects your thoughts more broadly on this issue, or if it's about my post (or something in it). This post wasn't about reproductive choice, it was about the prescribed role women fill in our culture, and how this is so often missed.

"No, we are not "baby factories." But negating the positive aspect of being able to have children really just reinforces the idea that our biology makes us "inferior" somehow."

My desire to be childfree is not a negation of the positive aspect of having children. Yes, disowning female reproductive function would imply that female biology is inferior. I've made my decision, and I take a hell of a lot of crap for it. I really resent that, and that's what my comment was about.

You've raised several important points in your comment, and most importantly, the idea that reproductive choice is what matters most, when in fact it matters most to middle-class white women. But I'm having a hard time integrating your comments with what I've written.

Would you please elaborate?

Z said...

I completely agree about how it is okay for breasts to be 'out there' but only when it is wank material for men. It seems to me like a lot of men probably look at this picture and think 'You know, this picture would be perfect if that damn baby weren't in the way!'. It makes me sick actually. It also makes me sick to hear stories of men who get all pissed off after their partner has a baby and she is breastfeeding because the baby has 'taken over' the woman's body which is actually the property of the man. Whatever.

On a side note, even being a naturist is difficult because from my experience the men are left completely alone (their penis etc is not stared at/'ranked'/perved at) yet when it comes to women the 'naturist ideal' goes out the window and instead of women being equal they are stared at, perved at, comments are made etc. That is my experience of naturism/nudism in NZ. I genuinely love being nude because of the feeling of freedom it gives me - but men want to take that freedom away. Now I only go nude at a very secluded beach my husband and I go to in summer... yet once some guys in a boat were going past, and they stopped nearby with binoculars just to watch me. grrrrrrrrr

I wish women would be allowed to be in their bodies without being objectified by men. YES, even completely naked, if they want to be.

The whole thing is just disheartening.

Who would think that women could enjoy their bodies without MEN being involved?!?!?

I'm all rambling and stuff.

:) Take care,

Z

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