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–

Um.

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.

 

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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

 

Hugh Hefner sacrificed the human person. Catholics, beware of doing the same.

Hefner is not alone in thinking we may feed as many bodies we like into the oven, as long as we tell ourselves we’re building a fire that benefits all of mankind (and never mind that mankind is made up of individual bodies just like the last one that passed through our hands).

It’s wrong when Hugh Hefner does it, and it’s wrong when anyone does it. If we catch ourselves feeding an individual human into the flames to fuel the fire of our just cause, then we are no longer just.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Alan Light via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Parenting Dare: “We give parents the words” to arm their kids against porn

 
Last week, mother-and-son team Lori and Eric Doerneman released The Parenting Dare, an online video course designed to help parents and kids work together to resist pornography.
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Lori told me:
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This isn’t your typical “Porn is bad and you shouldn’t look”-type of course. We address our broken nature and we clearly show God’s plan of life and love. We talk about why they will be attracted to porn, but that it’s just a trap. We hit that concept pretty hard. We want to dissect the lie and showcase the truth.
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Lori has a degree in education and several years’ experience teaching, and speaking for Project Freedom, a program promoting chastity geared toward eighth graders and their parents. Eric is the oldest of the eight Doerneman children.
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Here is our conversation about The Parenting Dare. My questions are in bold.
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Lori, when we met a few years ago a the Catholic Family Conference in Kansas, you were writing a blog called “Prayer and Duct Tape.” Can you explain that title?
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Lori: I wanted it to be a Catholic blog but without too pious of a title. We had duct tape all over our house. Also, my bra was held together with duct tape at my wedding! Like prayer, it holds us together.
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Eric, you’re pretty open about your own struggles with porn addiction. What happened?
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Eric: We were super Catholic, hitting all the spiritual nails on the head, praying the rosary a lot, going to Mass every Sunday. One summer, I served at Mass every day. Mom was killing the spiritual aspect. But she completely missed the physical aspect.
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Lori: I thought talking about porn would ruin his innocence, and I wanted to keep him innocent.
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Eric: In 5th and 6th grade, I started looking at pictures on internet, masturbating and looking at porn consistently. Mom walked in on me one time, and from, there we always had a bit of a back and forth conversation. I wasn’t always transparent, but through that, we always had a real relationship.
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Lori: I want to talk to my kids, intentionally building a relationship so they will trust me.
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Eric: I told my friends my mom was helping me through it. Initially, they freaked out, but then they thought it was cool. They could never talk to their parents.
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So where did you go from there?
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Lori: The most of the year it took to get him out of porn startled me. Once he finally got out, it was through [an understanding of] the science of what was happening in his brain.
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Eric: I tried [to stop] throughout high school and college. I knew it was immoral, but I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t until college that I said, “I’m actually addicted.” After college, mom kept hounding me. She got me a book [Pornography Addiction: Breaking the Chains] which taught me about the science, and I got a good grasp on what was happening to me.
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What made you think not only of helping your kid, but trying to help other kids and other parents?
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Lori: I changed my parenting through the course helping Eric. I have five sons, and I know I have a lot to offer to other parents.  So I thought, “I want to offer an online course.” Parents need to acknowledge that porn is stealing the hearts of their kids. So we called it “The Parenting Dare.”
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Eric surprised the crap out of me by saying, “You’d suck at doing this alone. I want to do this with you.”
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Eric: We’re daring you to take your blinders off. It’s a hard course. We’re funny, but it’s not tutti frutti. It’s not Pinterest-y.
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Lori: We have made the Gospel too easy. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives.
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Tell me a little bit about what your program offers.
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Eric: There are five main sections of the course, called “modules,” and each one has videos in it, anywhere from seven to ten minutes long. The first module is background, stuff you need to know about us, and then some concepts covered in the course: the four levels of happiness, the brain and addiction, and your belief system.
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Lori: Module Three covers kids age zero to five, to get moms keyed in, and to get them to discuss things openly, like, “That’s your penis!” We get them to establish themselves as an authority.
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“The sex talk” is not a talk, it’s a continual conversation. It starts from a young age: how beautiful your body is, how awesome God is that He created this. This makes it easier to have conversations about sex, porn, lust and love.
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The best addiction is one that never starts. That means we target parents of young kids. In the last three modules, we discuss the parents as the general contractors of their home. The foundation is the understanding of god, and we describe different parts of the “house.”
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The biggest module is the fifth one, for ages eleven to fourteen. As kids mature, we get into bigger concepts. We talk about love versus lust, and about puberty. It helps them be warriors. We talk about understanding the science of porn addiction and help them reject it.
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Eric: We give parents the words to say.
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Lori:  The course is very practical. We address girls sending nudes. I interviewed lots of college girls, and I give them things to say when someone asks for nudes, so they don’t commit social suicide.
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People who enroll are entitled to any updates that will come in the future. Technology is always changing, so is this one of the parts you see yourself updating?
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Lori: Yes. Module Two is about how to protect electronics in your home and your phones. People will buy, for instance, Covenant Eyes, but they don’t install it. We hold their hands, step by step, click by click.
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Why a mother-and-son approach?
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Eric: That’s just how it worked out in our family. In a lot of families, the kids spend more time with mom, and mom has a lot more time to mold the kids.
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Lori: Women use more words, too. But throughout the course, we say this isn’t just for moms to do. We address parents, and that could be moms or dads.
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There are going to be some concepts men will understand in a deeper way because they have testosterone. And some women are so conservative,they can’t even say the word “porn” or “orgasm” or “masturbate.” We hope it will be a family thing, parents going through it together. Husband and wife sitting down together and opening up.
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What if the parents themselves have issues? Do you see this helping them as they help their kids?
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Lori: One of the beliefs we tear down is, “I can’t help my kids because I have my own issues.” No, that actually makes you more qualified. If you grew up dirt poor, are you never gonna talk about it, or are you gonna teach your kid to grow up to avoid it? Do you want your child to be better off, or not?
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I’ve learned how to talk in a different way. How not to shame our kids, to be present for them. It’s almost more of a parenting course: How to authentically connect with your kids so they will open up. We don’t talk about porn all the time. We talk about how to have fun as a family.
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Eric: It’s not even about how to talk when you find out they looked at porn; it’s for beforehand. The tone you want to give off is: If you ever look at that, I’m not gonna hate you. If you do that, they’ll never talk to you about it.
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Lori: It’s a weird tightrope, because you don’t want them to be worldly, but you want them to talk to you.
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What are some other common beliefs you refute?
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Lori: That if my child is moral, and believes in Jesus, they will never look at porn.
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That girls don’t look at porn.
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And the biggest one is: I can’t talk to my child about porn because I want to keep his innocence.

By talking to them, you teach them innocence. They are kind of grossed out when they hear about porn, and that’s kind of good. You catch them before they’re in it. Talking to them gives them this huge protection.
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Eric: In the part for the 6-10 year age range, we discuss a study that says if kid sees porn, he’ll go back to see if it’s still there, out of curiosity. So parents can ask them if they saw anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
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Lori: Priests say the heartache is that there are young kids looking at porn, and their parents don’t even know. We have to shake up the tree a little bit.
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You touch briefly on the topic of modest dress for girls, which is such a hot button topic.
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Lori: A priest told me, “Don’t go there!” But I saw a woman in the park, and the way she was dressed, she was turning me on! We just raise the question, comment, and say how we handle it. We’re not telling you what to do.
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What is your ultimate goal?
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Lori: It’s our vision to get rid of porn. It won’t happen in the next hundred years, but I want to be able to raise men and women who are porn resistant.
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Eric: The things we’re talking about can be overwhelming. We’re going to help you through every step of the process.

Protected: Podcast 27: My interview with Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists

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If you watch garbage, you will get dirty.

darkness

We are in denial about how vulnerable our hearts really are. Watching brutality makes us brutal. Torturing our emotions inevitably makes torture seem more normal, not less.

Read the rest at the Register.

A beautiful, courageous, somewhat nervous-making idea: naming your victims

Darren Cools (husband of Anna Cools, the proprietor of Roots Soap Co.) has foundedHer Name, a website built to honor women whose dignity was wounded through pornography.

It’s a simple, anonymous project:

If you want to add the name of a girl you have victimized by lust, please click the Add a Name button and enter her first name. If you remember her face but not her name, give her one. The form is completely anonymous and non-trackable. Use first names only.

Pornography is a grave affront against the personhood of the girl, woman, boy, or man on display — yes, even if he or she is willing and compliant.  I used to think this sounded like some kind of abstract sophistry — almost as if the Church wouldn’t admit that, deep down, it just has a big problem with sexy sexy sex, and is trying to come up with some kind of intellectual excuse for why porn is so bad.

I get it now, though. Porn is just one of the handier tools that the devil is using in this particular era to exterminate, to x out, to deny, to quash, to empty out souls. Even better: to get us to do that to each other. It is bar none the worst thing you can do to another person, to deny their humanity.

I am not sure if Her Name is the best possible way to remedy this. It won’t, of course, matter much to the actual girls and women who have been used; although I suppose they might see their names on the list and realize that at least one person out there recognizes what he has done. Anyway, it could be a great and powerful, genuinely humbling exercise for men (and others) to write down that name, to enter it in the rolls.

At the same time, it feels like there could be the tiniest grain of continued exploitation involved, even if the most benign and well-intentioned kind.  I’m not completely comfortable with the idea of assigning a name to an unknown girl, even if the intention is to honor her.  Naming is powerful, as this project clearly acknowledges — and implies control over the person named. Or am I thinking about it too hard?

Well, what do you think about Her Name?