Odd stares, vulgar comments and awkward moments, these are some of the problems a woman has to go through if she is breastfeeding in public. Considering the fact that it is the most natural thing in the world and yet, breastfeeding continues to be treated as something shameful that should be kept out of sight. In fact, healthcare professionals all over the world promote mother’s milk as the best nutrient for newborns and India is no exception. The ministries of Health & Family Welfare and Women & Child Development advertise the advantages of breast milk on a regular basis.
While it’s true that people are getting better about providing safe, sanitary places for women to breastfeed, it’s still unfortunate that a breastfeeding women is expected to nurse in a bathroom — which isn’t the cleanliest environment for a new-born to eat and also not comfortable for the mother.
But as a woman I couldn’t help but wonder if exposed cleavages are no longer offensive then why is attaching a baby to the breast is suddenly a cause of embarrassment. In India, men can urinate in public, but a woman breastfeeding her baby will have to face a lot of criticism.
In 2016, You Tuber Joey Salads conducted a “social experiment” to see how people would react to a woman displaying cleavage and a woman breastfeeding a baby. Joey places the two women on a bench at a shopping mall at different times to capture the reactions of people walking by.
The model displaying her cleavage gets hit on by men
The breastfeeding model got negative comments like, “Seriously, ma’am? You have to do that here? That’s disgusting.”
This March, the wonderful aesthetic cover of Grihalakshmi magazine, featuring model Gilu Joseph with a baby at her breast was widely applauded as it was a very iconic and beautiful moment. The only provocative thing about it was the caption: ‘Don’t stare, we need to breastfeed’. The moral police made a huge issue over the portrayal and promptly went to court. The Kerala High Court wasted no time in throwing the complaint out. In fact, it found the image unexceptionable.
Recently, Canada’s Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould made headlines and is receiving praise for breastfeeding her 3-month-old son during a Parliament session.
— Karina Gould (@karinagould) June 20, 2018
In UK, the debate over breastfeeding in the House of Commons has spanned two decades. A recent study concluded that a third of British women are embarrassed to breastfeed in public. This is even truer for Indian women. Till this day, new mothers in India are warned that breastfeeding is a private act even if you are at home.
I believe the controversy over public breastfeeding highlights the pervasiveness of patriarchal expectations. With all our progress on women issues, how can such a simple biological imperative remain so stigmatized?
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