27 August 2010

Gumbo News Network Op-Ed Page: In Which I Address the Subject of Breasts

Let me state up front and categorically, I do not have breasts.  So anything that follows is written from the perspective of observation, research and study, not from that of possession.  So, to the point.

While watching the local news tonight, noshing on a delish BLT sandwich, my attention was gotten by a "coming up on Channel 11 News: the link between breast feeding and Type II diabetes" announcement that the fine folks at the station assured me I didn't want to miss.  Fair enough, I'm a curious type, so I stayed tuned.

I thought the story would be about breastfeeding reducing the risk in the child.  Not an unreasonable assumption given the documented benefits it has for the wee ones.  As it turns out, a new study appears to indicate that mothers who breastfeed for at least a month or longer significantly reduce their risk of developing diabetes later in life.  Now this is pretty good news.

So I am watching this news story, and the anchor woman is intoning the report while a collage of images is run across the screen.  Stock footage of moms and babies,  doctors in lab coats, women breastfeeding in a variety of settings, and...wait, rewind that.

Women breastfeeding their infants in a variety of settings...progressive, right?

Not quite.  I never saw the actual activity.  Why?  Because the infant/nipple interface was always obstructed by things like a vase of flowers, or other strategically placed object.  Oblique camera angles were utilized.  Sharply focused shots of said vase in foreground with unfocused outline of mother and child in the background.  It was as if they were going to do every thing they could to report on the subject without resorting to the subject itself.

They may as well skipped the images altogether.  Because doesn't it seem ridiculous to talk about breast feeding in a visual medium without using images of what is being talked about?

I can only imagine the contortions the media outlets have to go through to editorially justify the content.  I'm sure there are all sorts of rules in place that supposedly govern these situations.  But come on, it's breastfeeding, not sex or some other activity many people might claim to find objectionable.  This is a particularly goofy form of censorship.

Question:  am I the only person on the planet who is capable of separating the sexual aspects from the nurturing aspects vis a vis the female breast?  Am I the only person who thinks it is possible to discuss one without involving the other?  I hope not.  Maybe I'm weird, but when I see a mother breastfeeding her child, I see an act of singular beauty and femininity; I don't think "Huhhuh, boobies, huhhuh!"

I got the impression that someone was really scared about backlash.  I'm not suggesting that 'anything goes' all the time, every time', but for cryin' out loud, people, this is a completely normal, nurturing activity that has nothing to do with "gettin' busy"*.  It occurred to me that the problem is not so much in the mind of the viewer, it is in the mind of the censor.  Has it not occurred to them that selective editing such as that only increases the likelihood of generating the kind of attention and questions they are seeking to avoid?

"Why is that baby's head blurry, daddy?"
"Mommy, do baby heads always disappear behind stuff when they do that? And what are they doing?"

It also struck me that this reluctance to be open about the topic says a lot about the minds of the beholder.  To go to such lengths as they did to show without really showing, implies that somewhere, someone thinks there is something wrong or objectionable about breastfeeding.  It implies a sense of shame about something which we shouldn't be ashamed of. It amazes me that a news cycle that has no problem showing burning vehicles, combat footage, chalk outlines with bloodstains, and freely talks about murder...treats a suckling infant like a bearer of moral turpitude.

Don't get me wrong;  I appreciate a nice pair of breasts in the way that the average hetero male** seems to across the board.  I like them and find them inordinately intriguing, but in the right context, one that is far away from the nurturing act of breastfeeding.  I think it is a sad indication of a societal mindset that automatically assumes a worst or more distasteful viewpoint whenever we acknowledge that (gasp!) our bodies have parts that do things as nature intended.  And that says more about misplaced priorities than it does about the ability to appreciate beauty.

Why do so many people seem to freak out about this?  Nursing and sex may both be primal activities***, but they are very different.  Can we at least stop acting as if they don't exist?

*Yes, I concede its gettin' busy that produces infants, i.e. the feeders, in the first place. But the point is its a normal activity with its own beauty, rooted in the cycle of life.
**I say 'hetero male' because that is the only gender-associated viewpoint of which I can speak with any authority.  It is certainly possible that other viewpoints find them just as attractive.
***Some may say "Yeah, well, defecation is a natural, primal activity, so should we show that?"  My answer is no.  Not because I refuse to acknowledge its existence, but because pooping is gross and boring.  Not much beauty there.


  1. :)
    Ok this post is ridiculously funny in parts. And very sensible for the most part.
    I've been reading about this in various blogs and mostly by women. I'm glad there is a "hetero male" in the world giving perspective on this... :)

    (*still cannot stop laughing btw)

  2. it's very telling of our still puritanical society that we live in where women are not valued for all they are, where sex is bad and even more, women who veer outside of societal norms and embrace all sides of their very femininity are looked down upon. one only has to look at a brilliant, accomplished woman running for president versus a half-wit, ignoramus female - and they all love the one in the skirt, the one who doesn't challenge the status quo, the one with the better hair, the one who doesn't force both men and women to take a long hard look at themselves. instead they let the most insidious views of so many in society that says women are to be in this one little box, while men can be whatever and are simply seen as adventurous, or outspoken, or ambitious. and us? we're bitches, we're whores, we're - gasp! - feminists.

    psst - good post.

  3. I refused to buy one of those silly "privacy blankets" to drape over myself while nursing my daughter. Though I wouldn't blatantly whip the boobs out, I didn't make a huge effort to hide what was going on.

  4. I have nothing interesting to say on this at all...
    apart from the fact that any post with the word 'breasts' in it....is fine by me!!!

  5. If that was on Canadian tv there wouldn't be any blurring. We're a little more liberal with body parts. Sadly, I'm sure that same newscast probably showed a bloody scene of a suicide bomber in Iraq or Afghanistan. Why is it that violence is ok but the human body isn't? WTF?

    And I don't know how things are where you live, but here in Vancouver, if some business tells a woman she can't breast feed in their store, the next day that same business will find themselves inundated with two to three hundred breast feeding mothers. Love that.

  6. Dear Editor of Gumbo News:

    Seems the visual aspect of a woman's breast is still taboo, whether nursing a babe or not. I think this has much to do with our American culture's obsession with dictating the "moral high ground" to the masses, as voiced by the group Puritanical Repressors Under the Delusion of Self-righteousness (aka, PRUDES). Or something like that.

  7. I'm excited about the fact that I have significantly reduced my risk factor for Type II diabetes, by 9 plus 17 months! I have women friends who were weirded out by nursing in public. I seriously didn't care and even nursed my 15 month old, who was walking and somewhat talking at my 15 year class reunion. No one gave me the stink eye for "whipping it out." In fact, one mom came and said I was an inspiration to see I was still nursing. And knowing that it helped bring the baby weight down, well, who wouldn't? But really, newscasts like that do make it feel slightly "dirty and gross" in our society and some women still feel like they have to hide. It will take some time still to get over our puritanical past.

  8. I live in a country where women bring babies to cafes and sit and chat with their friends and if the baby cries, mama puts the baby to her breast and no one skips a beat.
    It is all so natural and so "everyday" that no one pays any attention at all... the way it should be.

  9. As a boob, I appreciate your appreciation of us.

    What? Why are you laughing?

  10. Amen!
    Oh and 'era of the phoenix'? Steal away.

  11. I don't understand it either, other than there must be a lot of oral fixaters out there that it disturbs. I see more young women wearing clothing that flashes their breasts with no baby attached these days so it can't be the fact that breasts are being hidden. Maybe it's the idea of having a baby attached to one???

  12. A refreshing perspective - thanks for that! I too cannot understand the prudishness in US TV that pixellates any hint of a nipple - be it on breastfeeding or plastic surgery programmes. It certainly doesn't happen in European programming that I've seen. I breastfed 4 kids for a total of about 8 years so I have been very at ease with it. It took a McDonalds staffer in Wales to send me to the Disabled Loo to feed my son (or tried to!) and I've been told on a few occasions to feed that child a bottle as a normal woman should!
    Intrigued by your blog's name so please explain it! I found it via another Cajun foodie blog (forget name now). Drop by and follow my blog if you like - I'll add you to my list too.

  13. At some point in our history, the body became gross, and was to be concealed in darkness in privacy. That's in the West. Somewhere else, they're not worried about what Adam did with that apple.


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