While breastfeeding awareness among moms may be increasing, some men have missed the memo. Sure, even moms (and moms who breastfeed) have a hard time agreeing on what makes for appropriate public nursing; it seems no matter how much (or little) coverage a mother employs, how old (or young) her baby is or where she chooses to breastfeed (if it’s not on her living room couch), someone’s bound to be offended. But at least the discussion is on, and with it has come more and more recognition of breastfeeding as a natural, non-sexual thing that happens… a lot… and is bound to sometimes happen in your sight-range if you, or a nursing mama, ever go out in public.
I’m not the first to have pointed out the hypocrisy involved in our nation’s general discomfort with breastfeeding, in light of our general comfort (or… obsession) with breasts. Breasts are everywhere, selling everything! Beer, cars, anything men like… put a boob on (or near) it, and it’s guaranteed to get seen. So it strikes me as particularly odd that, recently, guys – including a teenager in New Zealand this past week, and NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne back in December – have taken offense to public breastfeeding, and then shared their opinions (and, in the teenager’s case, an instant, unauthorized phone pic) on Twitter.
The seventeen-year-old wrote, while posting a photo of the nursing mom in question, “"What? I come to the foodcourt to enjoy my food, not watch someone flop their boob out. You don't do that where people are trying to eat.” He took flack for his comment, and eventually removed the photo, with apology.
Kahne expressed similar disgust after seeing a mother breastfeeding in a supermarket. When he took flack from one of his female Twitter followers, he called her a “Dumb b*tch.” Later, he apologized for his online comments, as well (thanks, no doubt, to his public relations team), writing, “I respect the mother's right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases.” (Suuuuure you do).
Social media sites have long been as much a part of the public breastfeeding battlefield as supermarkets, food courts, buses, churches and, of course, magazine covers are. I mostly think, although people notoriously say dumb things more readily online than off, the dialog itself is a good thing, that people on all sides of an ‘issue’ benefit from awareness of other perspectives. This, ultimately, is how we all find common ground. But when teenagers post photos of nursing moms on Twitter, or when someone famous starts calling names, I wonder if I’m just a glass-is-half-full kind of person, and if – maybe -- all this talk of “Mommy Wars” has given the public the impression that they’ll be in good company in their intolerance. That dumb comments are somehow cool, and okay. Most women who breastfeed in public (still) aren’t trying to make a statement. They’re feeding their babies. Has public nursing become more open to public scrutiny because it’s been the subject of — in large part via the internet – a more widely public stir?
Of course (glass is three quarters full?), both of these guys did apologize. Whether or not those apologies were sincere, they were made in response to the backlash the initial, intolerant comments generated. Which might mean more people are okay with public breastfeeding – and not okay with these guys slamming it – than they anticipated when posting obnoxious Tweets. Which also might mean that all of this breastfeeding exposure (so to speak), and social media "lactivism", has tipped the scales in nursing moms’ favor. The climate still seems unpredictable, but the winds just might be beginning to change.
What do you think? Are breastfeeding moms under more scrutiny than they were now that the “Mommy Wars” (which, actually, I believe are mostly imaginary) have gone public? Or, are the reactions against these recent Tweets indisputable signs of progress? Does it surprise you to learn of men speaking (Tweeting) out against public breastfeeding? (Since when are dudes uncomfortable with boobs?) Do you think breastfeeding makes men more uncomfortable than it does women? I'm curious about this, and I look forward to your thoughts!