What is women’s responsibility to men while breastfeeding?

Today, on International Women’s Day, a conservative Catholic Twitter personality retweeted a story about a gubernatorial candidate who breastfed her baby in an election ad. He added this comment:

“Lady, cover that up. Breast feeding in public is fine but cover up. No one needs to have to avert their eyes uncomfortably.” (I’ve taken out his name because it’s not about him. His sentiment is very common among conservative Catholics.)


Curious, I looked up the ad in question to see how flagrant a bit of lactivism it was.

Now, a disclaimer: I’m rare among my friends in that I have some sympathy for men who find public breastfeeding distracting. Men like boobs, and I’m okay with that. I do believe women should be aware at the effect their exposed breasts can have on men.

Of course, it’s not always possible for women to be completely discreet, and lots of babies won’t tolerate covers, and of course there is often a flash of skin that shows while you position the hungry baby, and the most important thing is that a baby get fed when he’s hungry; but it does kind of bug me when moms go out of their way to turn breastfeeding into some kind of exhibitionist statement, hanging out at Starbucks with their entire titty on display like some kind of–


Watch the ad. Here’s the footage that made this Catholic conservative fellow’s eyeballs feel so uncomfortable.


Did you even see anything? I didn’t. Just a hungry baby getting fed.

This video is almost miraculous for how unboobful it is. Margaret Thatcher showed more skin on any given day than the woman in this commercial. She’s far more modest than I ever manage to be. (For the record, my own public nursing technique was to remove my glasses. Then everything got all blurry, and no one could see us.)

So . . . what’s the deal, here? Why does this Tweeter, and so many other men (and women, too), find even the idea of public breastfeeding so disconcerting? Because that’s all there was here: An idea. We saw a woman; we saw a baby; we knew what was going on, but we sure didn’t see anything. And yet merely knowing it happened caused the fellow discomfort.

Long have I pondered over this puzzle. I can easily understand how secular men can find breastfeeding off-putting. Many men are so warped by porn that they prefer videos to living women. Actual, real, in-the-room women are unappealing to them. They only want to see women who’ve been artfully separated into parts, like a cow at the hands of a butcher.

But how is it that conservative, Catholic men tremble with consternation if they must be in the same room with a woman using her breasts as if they are some kind of, ugh, mammary glands or something? They say they are concerned with modesty and decency, but how can that be so? They’re happy to partner with Fox News, which has a “cleavage” tag on its page, and whose female news anchors routinely show abundant skin. Conservative men don’t demand draconian modesty from their political idols, male or female. Only from nursing mothers.

Truly, I believe them when they say public breastfeeding causes them discomfort. But I don’t believe it has anything to do with the woman offending their sense of modesty, decency, or chastity.

The discomfort they feel is the discomfort of being excluded. The discomfort they feel is in seeing a woman’s body in a context that has nothing to with them. It makes them uncomfortable to see a woman in a context that even temporarily excludes them.

When a woman shows half her boobs in a skin-tight dress at a gala, men feel that this display is for them (and be honest, it probably is). They understand the situation, and they are in control of it. They feel themselves to be the central actor: I am a man with eyeballs and a penis, and look! Here comes a set of breasts for me. 

But if those breasts are in use for feeding a baby, where does the man fit in? He’s excluded. He feels weird and itchy and unhappy. He feels he has to look away, but it’s breasts, so he doesn’t want to look away, but when he does look, he sees something that doesn’t have anything to do with him. And he doesn’t like that, at all.

As I said, I have sympathy for men who struggle with public breastfeeding. It’s not wrong or bad or disgusting of men to be sexually aroused by the sight of a breast.

But here’s the thing: We feel what we feel, but we’re in control of what we do next. Normal, healthy, decent men can be aroused by a breast, but then immediately tell themselves, “Okay, that’s enough, now” if they find themselves acting or thinking like a creep. Men must earn the title of “man” by training themselves to get used to the idea that breasts are not always there to turn them on.

And that is a man’s responsibility, not a woman’s.

It’s a man’s responsibility to always remember that women are whole people, and not just body parts. This is true whether a woman is breastfeeding discreetly or openly, whether she’s dressed like Daisy Duke or draped like a dowager, whether she’s starring in a National Geographic special or if she’s a woman clothed with the sun. She’s a whole person, and it’s a man’s job to remember that.

It’s his responsibility to remember she is a whole person if she’s topless because he’s currently having sex with her. She’s still a whole person, always a whole person. It is his job to train himself never to forget this, and to act accordingly, even on Twitter.

It’s his job to train himself never to forget this even if, when confronted by a woman feeding her child, he has to “avert his eyes uncomfortably.” The man who whines about having to avert his eyes?  Barely a man. If shifting his eyeballs is the hardest thing he’s is ever required to do, this is a soft age indeed.

And so I’ve changed my mind, in recent years, about women’s responsibility to breastfeed discreetly. I used to think she should do everything she can to cover up as much as possible, out of charity for men who struggle with chastity. But now I see that behavior as potentially propping up a culture of pornography.

As I said above, I do believe women should be aware at the effect their exposed breasts can have on men. But I’ve come to understand that that effect may very well be to help restore our culture to sexual health. Public, uncovered breastfeeding reminds everyone that women are not isolated parts. They are whole. They have a context of their own, and that context sometimes has nothing at all to do with men’s desires.

My friend Kate Cousino said it well: “I firmly believe public breastfeeding is a blow against pornography culture. Context is precisely what porn omits. And the context of sex and breasts is real human beings with lives–and babies.”

As I said in my conversation with Claire Swinarski, extreme modesty culture is just the flip side of pornography culture. Both are obscenely reductive. Both rob women of their personhood. Both say that women are valuable only insofar as they do what men want them to do.

And men say the same thing, when they rage and sneer at women who breastfeed in public. It’s especially scandalous for Catholic, conservative, family men to behave this way, making a huge show of huffily leaving the room if their daughter-in-law begins to nurse at a family gathering, or complaining bitterly to the pastor when women dare to feed their infants in the pew without a cover.

When men do these things, they’re saying, “It’s more important for you to protect me from passing hormonal inconvenience than it is for you, who haven’t slept in four months, to just sit down and feed your baby. My obligation to exercise self-control is too hard for me. All the obligation is on you, breast-haver. Because I’m a man, you must make my world easier by caring for me, too, as you care for your new baby.”

It’s International Women’s Day. A very good day to be a man by taking responsibility for your own eyes, your own brain, your own hormones. A very good day to start your training. Women are whole people. If you work at it, you can learn to see them that way, even if they’re feeding babies.


Maria Lactans image By Wolfgang Sauber (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


The tree of life, the Skeptical OB, and the idol of outrage

Skeptical OB Amy Tuteur, own-foot-shooter extraordinaire, continues to blur the really quite bright line between living one’s life and cheering for the death of others.

She took her post down after a well-deserved angry backlash, but here’s the image she posted this morning on her Facebook page:


Need a little background? I’ll try, but hold onto your butts. It’s stupid.

A bunch of breastfeeding moms have been using some art app to add a “tree of life” overlay to photos of themselves feeding their babies.

It doesn’t quite, quite make sense to me as an image, in part because I don’t like to think of things growing inside my baby’s head. Too many “a spider crawled into her ear when she was sleeping” stories in my youth, maybe. Also, the root part on the breast reminds me of varicose veins, which are completely non-heartwarming.

Anyway, whatever, whatever, breastfeeding is good and beautiful, overall, and when we show pretty pictures of it, it helps moms and others feel less weird about doing it and living alongside it; and that’s a good thing, especially since breastfeeding is still seen in some quarters as weird or sexually perverted or immodest or gross or backward or too much of a hassle to stick with.

So, in response to this photo trend, a bunch of bottle-feeding mothers decided to share images of a tree growing in their babies’ heads, too, with the message “FED IS BEST.” This message is also fine and good, because in some quarters, women say in so many words that formula is poison, and that there is no excuse for not breastfeeding; or they say that there is sometimes an excuse, but it’s something that should only be resorted to once you’ve basically come within five inches of dying through your pathetically failed efforts to breastfeed. Which is all repulsive, dangerous nonsense. I’ve spoken before about what a wretched, miserable thing this is to do, especially when it’s presented by as a moral issue by Catholics who claim some authority.

(And of course some smartasses have been making images of their babies drinking Pepsi and eating Cheetos, because that’s their tree of life. As someone whose very first blog post from eleven years ago featured my toddler eating out of the kitchen garbage can, I must recuse myself from commenting further on this trend.)


Now, I am quite sure that some women have been sharing images of of their baby’s milk-tree-heads with the overt intention of shaming bottle-feeders. Lots of women really allow themselves to tell other women: This, and this alone, is beautiful. I am doing the one and only right thing, and anyone who does otherwise should have the title “mother” forcibly removed from her, since she is a calorie-provider at best, like one of those auto-feeders you leave with your hamster when you go on vacation. 

But there are plenty of other breastfeeding women who are just . . . showing pictures of their babies nursing because they love their babies, love nursing, and have discovered that when you sit down to breastfeed, you still have one hand free, and can do things like take pictures and apply overlays to them. And that’s it.

Sometimes people are just living their lives. They’re not always living their lives at you.  It’s not “shaming” to simply do what you do in public, even if what you do is different from what other people do.

When we see “shaming” and aggression when there is no such intent, it makes it all the harder for everyone to simply live, because sensible people throw up their hands in frustration and refuse to waste any more time sending rational discourse into a howling whirlwind of outrage. Dr. Amy has made a nice living pushing back against the nonsense that goes sloshing around the world of women’s medicine; but all too often, she and her more strident followers make an idol of their outrage, and end up discrediting themselves and their cause.

Perpetual victim status quickly becomes an idol, and it makes us cruel and self-centered. Idol worship is wrong for many reasons, not least of all because it blinds us to the things and people that really do deserve our time, energy, devotion — or, in some cases, our outrage.

And that’s why Dr. Amy wins the Super Not Helping award for the day! Pbbbbbt. Here’s the real deal: If you’ve suffered some kind of injustice at the hands of others, it should make you more sensitive to the suffering of others, and not less.

Just so we don’t end on an growly note, I have to tell you this: Yesterday, Corrie was nursing, and then popped off, smiled at me, put her ear up to my nipple, and said, “Heddo?”

No response yet from the nipple, but I expect it to have its own Facebook page soon.

FYI, you can buy your own horse’s ass trophy, and personalize it if you like, here.


Netflix, Microsoft, and the Working Mom


Certainly Netflix and Microsoft are thinking of their bottom line, but they also seem to realize that their employees are people, not just cogs. Women (and men, of course) are capable of giving real attention both to work and to their children — but work and children can both be done better if working moms feel less torn, less rushed, less guilty, and less like every aspect of her life is getting short shrift. These are not impossible goals.

Women can’t have it all, and neither can men. Working and raising a family means making sacrifices — but, if employers are willing to be more flexible and imaginative, those sacrifices don’t need to be intolerable. The goal of making life easier for working moms is a very pro-life goal.

Read the rest at the Register. 


A Few, Simple Rules for World Breastfeeding Week

Hey, now. I guess World Breastfeeding Week is a thing.

Here are a few simple rules to follow:

If you’re a breastfeeding mother, yay! That’s great. Enjoy hearing people say nice things for a change.

If you’re a non-breastfeeding mother, ask yourself, “Am I feeding and caring for my kid?” If the answer is, “Yes, duh, I love my baby,” then you are good to go. If you have friends who try to make you feel bad for not breastfeeding, those are not your actual friends, and you can do better. Maybe find some friends who are, you know, friendly.

If you’re a breastfeeding mother who feels the need to educate people with your consciousness-raising nipplitude at all times, maybe take a step back and remember that nursing is about feeding and taking care of your baby, and clinical studies show that elevated levels of self-righteousness can pass into your breastmilk and will make your baby grow up to be an asshole. Maybe have a glass of wine and relax. (It’s fine for the baby!)

If you’re someone who feels the need to REPORT ALL THE SKIN  as nudity even when, come on, it’s clearly not supposed to be nudity, then maybe get off social media, because geez.

breastfeeding madonna


If your coworker or employee needs to pump breastmilk during the workday, rest assured that she is not doing it for fun, because it is not fun. It is hard work, it kinda hurts, and it’s tiring. Skip the jokes, skip the raised eyebrows, skip the mooing noises, and get her a room with a door that locks.

If you’re Donald Trump and think that the only conceivable reason a woman would want to take a break is because she’s  being tricky, (even though she’s prearranged to take a medically necessary break to pump milk for her very young baby) and that if women were meant to be lawyers, they’d just take their mastitis and blocked ducts like a man, then maybe you should reconsider whether the word “human” ought to be associated with your name at all, you disgusting little

[Here the MS. breaks off and is resumed in a different hand.]

In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary. Happy world breastfeeding week.

Mother to one, mother to all

In-between shifts, social worker breastfeeds babies in Zamboanga evac center

MANILA – For literally giving all she can, Evalinda Jimeno, a social worker of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), has earned the admiration of evacuees sheltered at the Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex in Zamboanga City.

According to the DSWD, Jimeno was hailed by the refugees evacuated from the chaos and violence wrought by an ongoing standoff between the military and a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, when she breastfed a hungry baby of one of the evacuees.

Over the past week, she has breastfed far more than one child, and far more than her own. Jimeno, a social worker of Zamboanga Sibugay has been breastfeeding in-between her official hours tasked with registering evacuees for the family access card.

(read more)

Once you become a mother,  you become everybody’s mother.  Where have I seen that happen before?  Ah yes –

For more images of Mary nursing baby (or toddler!) Jesus, see here.