Breasts: They’re for feeding babies, get over it.

Why are we as a culture so opposed to bare-chested women?

One of the most prominent feminist issues right now is the right to breastfeed in public. Culturally, many people are opposed to the idea of women using their breasts for their intended purpose, but moms are beginning to fight back. In a sex-obsessed America, where women can be kicked out of Victoria’s Secret for public breastfeeding (I know, I know), super models, celebrities, and every day ladies are trying to normalize the idea of public feedings, with everything from “nurse in” protests to Twitter hashtags such as #IWasMadeForThis and #BreastIsBest.

This CNN article hopes to shed a little light on the subject at hand.

There are many mixed opinions on the topic. State laws allow for breast feeding to be done in public, but many still shout that it’s obscene and that it should be done in private.

But the article discusses a very important point of the “Great Boob Debate”. Why is it that a mom can’t feed her child in public, but celebrities like Kim Kardashian (not trying to throw shade, I love her to death) can publish photos of themselves nearly or even completely nude, and nobody bats an eye? CNN interviewed blogger Ravion Lee for this publication, and she stated that she “believes people’s uneasiness with breastfeeding in public stems from the perception of women as sexual objects” And that is a great point, although this idea that breasts are inherently sexual really doesn’t exist outside of the western world. For example, when I visited Kenya two years ago, most of the women we met were topless and breastfed whenever their child was hungry, as simple as that. Breasts were so normalized in their culture that it would be unthinkable to see them only as sex organs. 

But, here in the United States, we don’t get that luxury. Everyone from a 30A to a 48DDD deals with the occasional unwanted sexual comment, glance, grope, or creepy eyebrow waggle. As Lee states, we need improved education in the community about why public breastfeeding is not problematic. And this is clear just by scrolling the comments on the article.

Dozens of people commented things similar to “well if women can whip out their breasts in public, men can pull out their genitals as well”. Which, first of all, you already get to be shirtless in public, calm down. Secondly, thank you, for giving me the spring board into explaining why you’re all so wrong.

Breasts are often considered to be genitals in Western Culture because they can be stimulated to elicit a sexual response, and they often react to a sexual encounter. But breasts are what we like to call “secondary sexual characteristics”. Primary sex characteristics include: whatever bits are between your legs, whether they be dangly or not. That’s it. They simply prove that you are a sexually mature adult capable of producing offspring. Every animal and most plants have them. Now secondary sex characteristics are what get more complicated. These are the things that attract a mate. For birds its bright plumes and bizarre dances, for fish it’s flashy tails, for humans its the shape and size of certain body parts.

In women, breasts, hips, voice, and stature are all secondary sex characteristics. Breasts show that you can feed your child, hips suggest fertility, voice is supposed to be pleasing to the ear, and a submissive stature is supposed to represent a desire for mating. Of course these things are all highly subjected to personal preference and some have fallen away with time, but back when Homo Erectus first became erect, that’s what mattered in a lady. Now I think retirement plans and compatible Pandora playlists should be added to the list.

For men, desirable secondary sex characteristics include facial and body hair, muscular frame, natural scent, and, well, one we won’t discuss in an academic setting  (its testicle size). Facial and body hair represent high levels of testosterone and thus fertility, a muscular frame shows a protective, dominant mate, and women are naturally attracted to certain pheromones that can help determine a mate’s virility, and also sexual orientation. Yes, scientific research has shown that women have a “gay-dar” of sorts, that allow lesbians to become aware of other lesbians in the area. But moving on, as you can see, these traits are not “genitals”. I wouldn’t consider my dad’s beard to be an obscene organ that needs to be covered and shamed. But women’s sex characteristics are often seen as more taboo as a result of a hyper-sexualized culture. Thus, breast feeding through correlation with, well, breasts, is thrown under the sex umbrella, to the point neo-Freudians consider it sexual abuse of children and blame that for future mental disorders.

Public breast feeding isn’t going away, and hopefully one day we’ll see a world where a hungry baby can be fed as soon as it’s mother picks up on what it needs, rather than when she can find a blanket or move to a more discreet area. Because hungry babies aren’t going away either, and I for one am very easily annoyed by screaming children in public. One commenter sums it up nicely. “I’m well past tired of women being attacked either way”. If you see a woman breast feeding in public and you are personally offended, keep your opinion to yourself, and just don’t watch. It’s a very simple thing to do.


About Jessie

I'm just a college student stuck in the deep south with very few plans for the future. I like to talk about new wave feminism, guns, classic cars, fish, how outrageously gay I am, and really bad jokes. I don't get out much unless its a GoodWill run or I'm out of mac and cheese. Sometimes I do cute date things with my partner, other times I just stare wistfully at all the cute snakes I'll never own.

Posted on December 2, 2014, in The Noises and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have a hypothesis (exciting, I know): Over the years I’ve observed several men react in a viscerally negative way to public breastfeeding, including men I otherwise view to be modern, rational people. Perhaps a lot of men view breasts as an important part of a woman’s sexuality and attractiveness (as you already explained above and is pretty obvious anyway), but when they see a woman breastfeeding, that woman ceases to be “potential mate” and becomes “mother.” Cognitive dissonance and/or disturbing oedipal feelings result, thus causing discomfort. When we, as humans, feel uncomfortable about our own actions and behaviors, when tend to externalize them as hostility toward those who made us feel that way or who point them out.

    I’m not excusing negativity toward public breastfeeding, merely attempting to understand the reasons for it.


    • That is actually a really interesting hypothesis, I can’t say I’ve ever thought about it that way before. I don’t necessarily believe in the Oedipal/Electra complexes, but I do see where it would prove as a culture shock and thus create discomfort. Although discomfort really isn’t justification for outward anger. Thank you for the comment and I hope you enjoyed reading!


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