The feminist movement has been fighting for the desexualization of breasts for years, with movements such as the #freethenipple campaign and the breastfeeding movement, which looks to normalize breastfeeding in public. There are many reasons why women are constantly having to fight to change the narrative about breasts, with one major reason being that breasts are wrongfully seen as being primarily a sexual organ, which they aren’t.
Anatomically speaking, the breast is the tissue overlying the pectoral muscles, and both females and males develop breasts. Women’s breasts are made of specialized tissue that produces milk, with fatty tissue being one of the differences between female and male breasts. The other societal difference is that one set of breasts is highly sexualized and regulated by patriarchal norms, while the others are not.
The clear double standard is that a picture of a topless man isn’t considered inappropriate, but a woman’s is. There is an unending amount of issues that stem from this perception of the female breast, but we’ll focus on one precisely: The stigmatization of breastfeeding in public.
A woman should have the right to feed her baby whenever needed, and we all know this can happen at any time in any place, but because breasts are sexualized, many judge or inappropriately stare at a woman for taking out her breast to feed a baby in public, claiming it’s “immodest,” amongst other things.
Many people take a harmless and very natural act and turn it into something lewd, which is extremely problematic as it contributes to the constant and unnecessary sexualization and regulation of women’s bodies.
As the narrative continues to change to accept public breastfeeding as normal, one proposed solution has often been to create secluded areas in airports, offices, and other public places exclusively for breastfeeding. While some women appreciate the privacy, many others have pointed out that this creates an inconvenience for them instead of a solution. Is this a solution that centers women and their comfort? Or is the true intent rooted in thinking of the public’s comfort instead of women and their children’s needs?
The shaming of public breastfeeding is another patriarchal rule that women are forced into obeying in order to avoid making others uncomfortable and to avoid the male gaze. As is the norm, women have to adapt to something inconvenient to ensure that these unreasonable norms continue to make others feel comfortable.
The fight seems never-ending, but advocacy must continue for the de-stigmatization of breastfeeding in public, and the de-sexualization of the female breast in general.