If you’re inclined to get a group of your friends in the mood to stab one another, the topic of breastfeeding, particularly public breastfeeding, works wonderfully well. Women are especially passionate about the subject, likely because their opinion is the unassailable truth, and everyone else is horribly and viciously wrong.
A conversation sampling: “It’s completely natural, so be natural and proud.” “No, who needs to see everything? Get out your Hooter Hider.” “Are you nuts?” “Have some discretion, woman. You are aware that you have a home and we’re no longer roaming the savanna, right?” Even the men get in on it, though generally less vocally or passionately. For them, it’s more discomfiting. Men generally don’t gaze upon Kate Upton and think, “She would do an excellent job at feeding some offspring.” Rather, they think about the act that might lead to some offspring.
Why is it such a contentious issue, though? And why is such contention seemingly a recent development? Perhaps it is the increased number of women in the workforce. Perhaps we’re just more sensitive. Perhaps we validate our own choices based on how many others make the same choice. Maybe, thanks to our Puritan heritage, we just have to be prudes about something. So instead of perpetuating a puritanical view on sex, we’ve transferred our Puritanism to the logical outcome of sex. In order to push a laissez faire attitude about sex it becomes a necessary to try to control its consequences. Whether it’s “positive consent,” or abortion, or know-it-all breastfeeding advice, people cannot get enough of attempting to deny nature.
Men may look at Upton and be inspired for things other than baby-feeding, but it’s no coincidence that the two things are in common. Kate gets that attention because, let’s face it, she looks plenty equipped for the job. This gets to the core of why we are debating what should be a normal activity that but instead instigates Woman War World III. Instead of raising children peaceably, we’ve become children—children who apparently have strong opinions on how one should feed babies and the exact gear one should commandeer in the process. Breasts in general can cause much envy among women. Some women are willing to consent to surgery and part with large sums of cash not currently provided by Obamacare to get them. Thankfully, breasts have not been declared a human right, and so far redistributing them has been held to the private market. Since it is not legal to take breasts from one woman and give them to another, the best we can do is critique women on how they use them.
Three things have contributed to the breastfeeding debate.
First we have the “opinion class,” a class of people brought forth by the shocking amount of leisure time that capitalism has gifted them. While they think no one should have an opinion on sex, there’s plenty of space and time to judge those crazy breeders. The opinion class is as relentless as Robert Patrick in “Terminator 2.” Their favorite target is one of society’s most heralded activities, raising children. From “you must breastfeed on demand” to “please don’t feed that thing in front of me,” women are basically set up to lose regardless of what they decide. Someone out there will disagree with how they feed their baby. Despite it being clear there are many ways to manage baby feeding, some women are believe that they must organize a campaign like “When Nuture Calls.” Dramatic calls for legislation have me concerned that women as a gender are proving incapable of asserting their preferences as an individual. Do we all really wither under a stranger’s passing, possibly disapproving glance? Is it too much to ask to simply pursue your baby feeding choice without a giant discussion or legislation?
Secondly, our growing comfort with a political class poking us all with assorted carrots and sticks is undermining individual decision-making at a brisk pace. Take the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is meant to help low-income women cover the cost of feeding and diapering their babies. Despite the cost of breastmilk being exactly $0, “WIC is the nation’s largest purchaser of formula, accounting for 60 percent of total sales” Talk about a huge subsidy of an industry that sells a product that can typically be produced by the mother for free. Granted, there are women who have challenges, and formula is the right option in many cases, but having the government be responsible for 60 percent of the formula market is astounding:
[WIC] purchases over half of all infant formula consumed in the USA and provides it free to enrolled mothers, all of whom have incomes less than or equal to 185% of the Poverty Income Guidelines.Although breastfeeding promotion is part of WIC’s mandated work,formula companies have leveraged WIC as a promotional vehicle. In each state, one formula manufacturer gives WIC significant price rebates in exchange for exclusive rights to provide its brand of formula to all WIC participants in the state. The rebate money constitutes a substantial portion of WIC’s budget, and it can only be used to expand the program’s reach—thereby providing a broader consumer base of potential formula purchasers.Many states violate the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service restrictions by allowing formula manufacturers to use the trademarked WIC acronym in their printed materials—often specifying them as ‘WIC approved’ and/or ‘WIC eligible’, thereby implying a WIC endorsement of their products.
One has to wonder how prevalent formula use would be if over half of its business was not directly subsidized by the government. No longer expecting people to raise and care for their own child has resulted in the majority of formula use in the United States. We even prefer to pay for a product that can be made for free than have a rational discussion on welfare reform.
Lastly, our society is so focused on sex that we have forgotten breasts have more than one purpose. They can have sexual allure, besides their important purpose for the logical outcome of said allure. As more people postpone marriage and children, intolerance of families will likely increase among the childless. We have cities that are notoriously child-unfriendly, with policies such as zoning rules that aim to compress the amount of space where people can live. We have people who are “offended” that a woman would dare feed her child in public. Reasons span from “It’s hard to watch because I don’t have children” to “I don’t want my son to see your breasts and have to explain it to him.” I had no idea until now that women were going home and curling up into a ball of tears or having long discussions with Johnny because he was subjected to a mother feeding her child.
While apparently we should be striving to have no opinions when it comes to sex lest we “shame” someone, we certainly have a lot of opinions when it comes to raising children.
One questions the sanity of a species that can be offended by its own propagation. Whether it’s breast feeding, housing, abortion, energy generation, CO2, or GMOs, the Malthusian madness persists. The desire to put oneself literally between a mother and a hungry child may be the ultimate in useless overhead. Nature had this worked out a long time ago.
Boobs. Boobies. Sweater puppets. Tatas. Melons. Baby pillows. Wait, what? Those things have nothing to do with babies. Despite how well Kate is equipped, or the fact that two of my three daughters were breastfed, you’ll never wholly convince me otherwise.
When we men see breasts, we tend not to think of their ability to provide sustenance, but of motorboating. Although motorboating might lead to procreating, our time horizon for our biological imperative is short. And although we tend to be, in my anecdotal experience, about one bazillion times less concerned about public baby feeding, we do sometimes care, and that shortened time horizon is a factor.
Maybe the factor. Definitely the factor. Maybe not. Distracted. Thinking about boobs.
As men, our job isn’t to nurture. Sure, there are those who break the mold, but most of us quickly lose interest somewhere between conception and toddling. And that in-between is when breastfeeding tends to occur.
Is it latent puritanism? Perhaps. Is it latent frustration? Maybe. It is a boob we cannot touch. Public baby feeding definitely interjects something that is normally deliciously sexual into our environs and makes it decidedly non-sexual.
Once, back when I was a server and needed to set-up a private dining room, I ambled into the room, and was immediately greeted with a young mother nursing her child. Not only did she feel no shame, she wanted to have a normal conversation—with her boob, albeit obscured by a nursing baby, hanging out.
That was before I had kids. Now that I have three, I’ve evolved a little and am ready to defenestrate arguments such as this. But, willingness to defenestrate aside, have I fully moved beyond my visceral discomfort to an entirely normal act? Will I ever?
Probably not. I’m a dude. And boobies. Can I learn to be quiet about it? Probably. After all, it is just a boob.
See, though a conservatism allows for a bit of libertine licentiousness, the modern conception of melons is focused on the licentious angle. That’s a good thing. The full utilitarian angle of breasts must be avoided. The full utilitarian angle is something up with which we must not put. We’re talking sweater puppets here. A sweater isn’t nearly cloistering enough. We are the heirs to the Puritan tradition and must be diligent in protecting that tradition.
We have to cloak. Cover. Hide. Pretend sex doesn’t exist. One flaw with this argument is that the Puritans weren’t that good at being puritanical.
Other Puritans stressed the romantic side of marriage as they compared the love of a husband to God’s love for His own. Thomas Hooker writes, ‘The man whose heart is endeared to the woman he loves, he dreams of her in the night, hath her in his eye and apprehension when he awakes, museth on her as he sits at table, walks with her when he travels and parlies with her in each place where he comes.’ He adds: ‘She lies in his Bosom, and his heart trusts in her, which forceth all to confess, that the stream of his affection, like a mighty current, runs with full tide and strength’
Thus we circle back to the new prudishness: Fecundophobia. Baby feeding is a stark reminder that sex leads to babies and babies do not emerge from the womb prepared to devour a bone-in ribeye. They require a bit more care. Biology equipped the women-folk with the tools to provide that care. But to acknowledge that requires us to acknowledge that second base is more than just a stop on the way to home. It may even be a necessity to building a home.
Man and Woman Together Say
And that’s where we tie ourselves into knots. Form, delicious as it is, trumps function. Then function, delicious as it may be, trumps form. Thus completes one aspect of the circle of life. We offer, are attracted to, and mutually aroused by a utilitarian pair that helps propagate the species. It’s almost as if there’s a plan.
In other words, as J.R. Cromwell III said in response to the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Superbowl controversy a few years back, “It’s just a tit.”
Maybe it’s time to heed that advice. Boobs are wonderful, but they aren’t anything to get all worked up over.