Where No Militancy Is Necessary: Breastfeeding Battles

Last week, a woman with the improbable name of Nirvana Jennette was berated for breastfeeding in church. I wrote a post for Christianity Today’s women’s blog, her.meneutics, in response; you can read it here.

Basically, I wanted to point out that God is pictured, in Scripture, as a nursing mother. And that in other cultures–notably, cultures that lack the excessive, well, sexualized-boobage-on-display of ours–no one bats an eye when a mom feeds her hungry baby in full view.

Well, given some of the hyper-masculine trends in churchianity these days, I thought people might get upset over the whole “biblical-imagery-God-nursing” thing!

But no. Nope.

For some readers, my article seemed to:

  • attack modesty
  • refuse to recognize that seeing a woman breastfeeding makes some people uncomfortable
  • defend bf’ing in public on the grounds that ‘it’s natural!’

Because “don’t I realize” that…

  • seeing breasts triggers sexual thoughts for people–and, yes, Ye Olde Argument “Don’t Cause a Brother to Stumble” (see Romans 14:13-15) was dragged out, too*
  • sex and pooping are natural but we don’t do them in the church pew
  • and other fallacious comparisons

I wrote the following in response:

“It is worth considering the possibility that plunging necklines, Victoria’s Secret, and (I’ll say it) porn have exaggerated breasts’ sexual meaning at the expense of their other, God given function; whereas, perhaps, a culture without constant exposure to images of glorified, sexualized breasts might be more likely simply to shrug off whatever skin they might see in the act of nursing.

This seems plausible.

It’s POSSIBLE to create a *different* culture around the natural act of breastfeeding–one that, like many cultures elsewhere–recognizes it as simply another part of community/church life in mixed-age settings–ie. the body of Christ in all its beautiful diversity?. Because that is what it is.

You don’t like what you perceive as the ‘militant’ attitude of some breastfeeding moms? Consider what attitude might have given roots to that one.

It’s possible to create a culture where no one feels that militancy is necessary.

A baby’s need to be fed shouldn’t (can’t!) be dictated by schedules or strangers’ preferences. You’re uncomfortable; you want to look away? You are free to do so.

What I’m saying is that it may be possible to look/see *in a different way.*”

P.S., re: sexualizing nursing breasts, see Annie Young Frisbie’s excellent post here.

P.P.S., on why breastfeeding is more than just a topic of the mommy wars, read my post here.

*I’m not trying to belittle this line of argument. Okay, maybe I am, just a little. But really, this line of argument belittles itself. Men have less control over where they point their eyeballs than infants or their mothers do over the when and where of infant hunger?  And women should therefore be banished to the bathroom with their infants? How ’bout we make the men go sit in the bathroom?

4 thoughts on “Where No Militancy Is Necessary: Breastfeeding Battles

  1. Rachel, you did a great job at her.mi and this follow up is pure bonus material. The church should be doing what it can to remove the occasion for anyone to feel the need to be militant on the subject, no matter which side they fall on. Of all the things to get wigged out about, mothers nursing their kids is not on the list.

    Quick anecdote: Soon after our first child was born we took a flight to visit my wife’s parents. Having read up on kids and airplanes, we tried – and succeeded! – timing a feeding for takeoff. As the plane pulled away from the gate, I leaned across my wife and asked the older woman by the window if she minded that our son nursed. She said something like, “Not at all! Please go ahead.” Take off and landing both went exceedingly well (and quietly).

    This was the first time she’d tried nursing in close proximity to a stranger, and since it went so well it wasn’t the last. I think we even stopped asking if they minded. My wife’s modesty meant that she was always fully covered, but as you know that doesn’t mean those nearby can’t figure out from the noises what’s going on.

    Before we had kids, there was another time when we were out to dinner with a couple of my wife’s friends, both young women. One I knew fairly well, but the other was a woman I’d never met, the wife of a pastor. She had her new baby with her, which thrilled all of us since we’re all kid-people. My wife and I sat on one side of the table on the outdoor patio, the two women on the other. The baby got hungry, mom picked him up, raised her top and nursed. No covering. My reaction wasn’t shock or embarrassment but more like, “Well, that’s one way to nurse your kid in public.”

    Tim

  2. Years ago I remember my Grandmother shaking her head about a woman getting in trouble for public nursing. She said something along the line of I don’t know how I would have fed my babies without nursing in public. She lived in the rural south in the 1950’s apparently nobody in her community cared. Those who think they are being traditional by insisting M

    1. Oops hit the post button and my comment got cut off.

      It isn’t traditional to insist women not nurse in public it is a sad reflection on how the church reflects society at large not standing out and making a difference.

      I go to a church that is very accepting of small children and nobody thinks twice about the multiple mothers breast feeding during Sunday morning worship.

  3. I went back and read the Annie Young Frisbee piece (and its comment thread) after seeing it linked here. It reminded me that the only time I have ever seen a woman nursing was when I was very young – my aunt feeding a baby cousin at a holiday celebration of some sort – and I was quickly shoo-ed out of the back bedroom to give them the “privacy” necessary for such an act. This is all I know about breastfeeding, really. (And I’m 26! and I don’t think I’m unusual, at least here in the Midwest!) But I have certainly heard negative talk about women who breastfeed in public from male family members, and have seen mothers with noisy children called out by pastors, mid-sermon…and I’m afraid at the time these sorts of things haven’t seemed all that unusual to me. As I commented at the Christianity Today article, I think that there needs to be some recognition that there is quite a large population in this country whose paradigm shift (in regards to the public breastfeeding issue) needs to shift in such an extreme way, that the talk around the issue requires sensitivity and compassion. I am reconsidering my thoughts around this issue now as I consider having my own children – so thank you for the food for thought – but sometimes, not compassionately and carefully considering where those without your own experience are coming from might cause your way of communicating to be somewhat alienating. That said, I really do appreciate your thoughts on this issue as well as the spiritual message which, I suppose, was your original goal to communicate.

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