Don’t read the comments! Is a common refrain in almost anything on the Internet, and with good reason. And when it comes to breastfeeding, the comments make it clear that we have a long way to go — even among feminists.
The people who fought so hard for bodily autonomy and the right to “choose” seem to often have a blind spot when it comes to breastfeeding advocacy. The comments are clear evidence of why the #normalizebreastfeeding hashtag exists!
I want to examine the most common comments found on posts about breastfeeding (and why they’re misguided and harmful!). These comments appear on all kinds of sites, including feminist ones.
“Ew, breastfeeding is gross.”
The problem is that breasts are so incredibly sexualized that when people use them for what they’re intended for, it’s seen as gross. People have been nursing as long as we’ve existed as a species — it’s literally how the human race has survived. If it were “gross,” we wouldn’t be here right now. It’s only “gross” because our society has deemed breasts as something that exist solely for the male gaze.
“I don’t care if people breastfeed their kid, but they don’t need to flaunt it.”
You clearly do care if you see someone doing something that their body was designed to do and you somehow think that means they’re “flaunting it.” Are people who eat food “flaunting” their ability to do so when they have lunch every day?
“I personally would never breastfeed, and I support someone doing whatever they want with their body, but I don’t need to see it.”
This statement is an oxymoron. It’s like when you hear someone say, “I’m not racist but . . .” and you know that everything that comes next is going to be racist. Ultimately, if we say that we believe in bodily autonomy and we say we support people’s right to do what they want with those bodies, that means that it applies to everything — abortion, body modifications, circumcision, choosing not to parent, and yes, breastfeeding.
“Keep that kind of stuff off Facebook.”
There are lots of things posted to Facebook that may or may not be someone’s cup of tea. But a nursing parent is sharing a snapshot of their life, if they choose to share it on their personal page. By doing so, they’re starting a dialogue about nursing and working to normalize it. Just like other people use Facebook to have conversations about race, politics, or other social justice issues, nursing mothers might use their Facebook to have conversations about breastfeeding. Or they might just be sharing a photo of them nursing their child because they think it’s beautiful. Regardless, if it wasn’t appropriate for Facebook, Facebook wouldn’t explicitly allow breastfeeding photos on their site.
“This is insensitive to parents who can’t breastfeed their kids!”
By that logic, the act of posting any photo of your child is insensitive to people who can’t have kids. Defending one’s own choices is not automatically a statement about anyone else’s choice.
“This mother is so smug and thinks she’s better than mothers who formula feed.”
While I generally try to be gender-neutral when I talk about nursing so as not to erase trans and gender non-conforming parents who breastfeed, I left this as “mother” on purpose. Women, in particular, are criticized for everything we do or don’t do. This is doubly true for women who are raising kids. Mothers are constantly pitted against each other in bullshit competition. And unless someone specifically says, “I think I’m a better mom than mothers who formula feed,” her decision to nurse is not a reflection on anyone else’s parenting.
The next time you see any of these comments on a piece about breastfeeding, jump into the fray and offer some mythbusting — and some support to the parent who’s on the receiving end of the garbage.