One of the best parenting tips I was ever given was to save righteous indignation for things that were truly abhorrent. If you go hysterical on your children for every piece of clothing they toss on the floor, what are you going to do when they call from prison at 16 because they got caught driving drunk without a license, I ask you? It doesn’t only make good parenting sense, it also makes good common sense. My day-job puts me at the receiving end of a lot of disgruntlement from all sorts of people. Believe me: when you start questioning someone’s moral fiber because the latest press release contained a typo or because the French translation came after the English version or because your phone call was returned the next day and not the same afternoon, it affects your credibility. Somehow.
What was I saying? Yes, righteous indignation for really bad things. Everything else can be handled in a mature, rational matter.
So we live in a country that is so progressive and so in love with a “woman’s right to choose” that we can’t even discuss abortion without being labelled “anti-choice.” Our government recently thought that in order to secure re-election, it had to slam the door shut on Parliamentary debate on abortion and muzzle its cabinet. We are so darn progressive — can’t you hear my suspenders snap (that’s a French expression, se péter les bretelles, look it up) — that we can’t even handle a law on abortion thus making it legal to abort a child throughout all nine months of pregnancy while saving premature infants born as early as 23 weeks. And don’t get me started on not getting a pedicure to save a child I could still legally abort, no questions asked. But let’s not talk about all that. We’re going to get our collective nose out of joint over mothers feeding their children because *gasp* they do it with their breasts!
That’s how pro-woman we are. We institutionalize equality according to a male standard of sexual behaviour. That is, to be equal, we have to be able to have sex without having the kids. To achieve this great ideal, women have to stuff themselves with synthetic hormones, contraceptive devices and, failing that, undergo invasive surgery in the form of abortion. Then, having convinced women that they are really like guys, we will bombard them at a very young age with suggestions of proper sexual behaviour: “51 tricks that will make him jump for joy,” “Release your inner vixen” and “How Hally got her bikini body back only 3 months post-partum.” (3 months post-partum I’m still thinking up an action plan for getting out of my PJs). And that’s saying nothing about fashion images that show just about every inch of skin except the nipple. Which is really too bad for the children who depend on the poor nipple for their physical or emotional sustenance. Well, grow up kids! Society needs that nipple for titillation and had you stuck with the bottle, there would be no problem. Forget those pesky health advocates who suggest that the nipple is put to better use feeding the kids than entertaining the adults.
All it underscores is the vast hypocrisy of our society’s liberal, pro-choice rethoric. We are not really pro-choice, we are pro-Me. Me support your choice to whatever as long as it doesn’t affect Me. That’s why Me supports abortion as long as we don’t talk about it publicly. And Me support your choice to breastfeed as long as Me doesn’t have to look at a working boob (as opposed to the decorative variety which is usually bouncier and better-looking).
My point is not to start a flame war on breastfeeding in public but to question the hegemony — and hypocrisy — of choice and equality. The biological purpose of breasts is to feed children just as the biological purpose of sex is to conceive them. How can we pretend to have reached equality when we deny the biological dimension of womanhood? As for making breastfeeding into a moral issue, as I said, righteous indignation for things that are righteously abhorrent…
Brigitte disagrees: Well, in part anyway. Specifically, about whether it should be a big deal to breastfeed in public. There are ways of doing it that aren’t as in-your-face as others, but some people insist on thrusting their private parts in your face regardless, and I find that unbecoming. In this as in many other things, it’s all in how it’s done: I understand that small breastfed babies do not always send their moms advance notice of when they’ll be hungry. And that when they are hungry they’re hungry right now!!! But that shouldn’t be an excuse to let it all hang out. Yes, it’s a small thing. But small things say a lot more about a person than we sometimes think.
Véronique says: Don’t get me wrong: there is still an argument to be made about whether it should be a big deal to breastfeed in public and how. I once had a 18-month-old nursling who would start howling as soon as we stepped into a restaurant because he knew I would nurse him right away to shut him up. I didn’t like feeling like a self-serve and I like to teach my children some self-control, yes, starting at 18 months. So I stopped and got nasty looks of a different kind for a while until the baby got the message (nobody likes a screaming toddler in a restaurant more than a nursing one, believe me). I once saw a nursing mother at a public pool with her one-piece pulled down to nurse and I thought that a towel wouldn’t have been out of place.
That being said, it’s the whole “moral argument” that gets me going. Appropriate or not, sure. Let’s talk. Moral or not… Let’s not forget that we live in a country where you can abort human babies in the name of equality. If that’s our standard of morality, then the least we can do is to leave the poor nursing mothers alone.