“Breasts are a scandal because they shatter the border between motherhood and sexuality.”
― Iris Marion Young
And therein lies the truth about the difficulty people have with breastfeeding (especially in public), & we have to face our culture’s inability to see women, men, & our body parts as prismatic, multi-functional, multi-dimensional. Boobs are the boundary between the sexual (woman) & the sacred (mother), the Madonna & the whore. Think about why calling someone a “motherf*cker” is such an insult…
It all started with Eve, all naked & that damned apple. Message: Being smart makes you a wicked bitch.
And then Mary, with her spontaneous reproduction. Message: Good girls don’t have to have sex to have children. Well, that’s helped a lot of young people practice safe sex (*note sarcasm*).
And so we come to breasts, that attract our lovers, that are erogenous zones, that have admirers for every shape & size, that are worshipped, augmented, encased in spandex, framed in sequins, that are soft, & weighty or perky & small. They are sexy or supposed to be sexy.
And when people have a problem seeing them in the mouth of an infant or toddler, those people confuse the sacred with the sexual. For those of you who see a breastfeeding mother & are repulsed, I know why. There are only two explanations: You are either imagining yourself as the mother with the breast being suckled, or you are imagining suckling her. It is the nature of human beings to project themselves onto others, & also to “mirror” those we see in order to understand or to judge. And yes, this is confusing the sacred with the sexual. And yes, this is YOU being confused. And yes, this is YOU being unable to fathom that this part of the body, like the mouth, or the hand, has more than one function–some sexual, some sacred, some just purely biological. The mouth can kiss, curse, pray, or eat. The hand can heal, hurt, or hold.
Most breastfeeding mothers will tell you there is NOTHING sexy about your breasts while you are nursing for those weeks or months or years. The cruel joke is that these full breasts, larger than they ever are when not nursing, are not for playing, not for husbands, not for touching. They belong to baby. They don’t even belong to the mother. They let down milk when your baby cries–completely independent of your own thought. Or, in conjunction with your thoughts about baby, your milk lets down. The mind-spirit-body connection is so clear when you’re nursing; & in that, the woman can embody the sacred & the biological all at once.
The breast is life. The symbol of the nursing Madonna is exactly that–the breast, the heart of mother is life. And life itself is at the nexus of the sexual & the sacred. Many years ago, during one of those long, oh-so-deep conversations that takes place in a roomful of college friends, someone asked, “Why does everything come down to sex?” And a friend answered, so simply, “Because it’s where we all come from.”
And when you say that breastfeeding is “disgusting” or “profane” or “indecent,” you’re saying that a mother is doing something sexual with her child. Anyone who thinks that is the disgusting one. Our entire culture needs group therapy to re-frame the breast in the collective mind.