Friday, December 30, 2011

Excellent article about nursing in public

So I was moseying around the internet today and found a three-part series that said everything I said yesterday, only better. It starts here. It's long, but really worth the read, and I'd love it if you'd come back here when you're done and tell me what you think.

The first part points out that in the Middle Ages, women weren't breastfeeding in public because they weren't in public at all, they were at home. This made me a little annoyed, because isn't that just upper-class women? The poor and rural women couldn't manage to stay home all the time because they were working.

The second part admits that yes, poor women have always nursed in public. Which is why perhaps breastfeeding in public isn't just a gender/modesty issue, but a class/decency issue. A good, decent, middle-class woman wouldn't dream of doing That in public. Because she can avoid being in public. It might be tremendously inconvenient for her to do so, but she will lest it seem that she can't afford to do what the wealthier women can. Only those women who have no choice will appear without stockings, be out without an escort, or be seen breastfeeding.

The third part ties it all together beautifully. Feminism allowed women, and then almost required women, to take part in society alongside men. We had to work, be in public, and participate in society. But, we are also the ones who bear the children and do most of the raising of them. The inescapable conclusion is that if we are to be allowed into the public sphere, our children must be too. Otherwise we are not accepting of women, just of women who are willing to turn their backs on motherhood. As a woman who has happily and successfully worked with a baby in tow, I think this may be the only solution to the dichotomy between "liberated, working, voting, thinking woman" and "traditional, cloistered, submissive, mothering woman." Why do we have to pick one of these two choices? Can't I work, vote, think, and raise children, too? It seems the only real obstacle to my doing this is society's discomfort with the mothering aspect of my female nature ... and that is an obstacle that may be overcome.

I have been accused lately of being "tainted with feminist ideals." Well, why not just come right out and say it: call me a feminist! I am not a radical feminist. I don't believe in sexual liberation or abortion or a lot of other things feminists are "supposed" to believe in. I believe that women should be free to participate in society ... while still being women. I think that women shouldn't have to disguise that they are female in order to be considered an equal human being.

And most of all, I think that respecting women means respecting mothers. That being anti-child is being anti-woman. That as long as we consider it justified to lash out at women for being mothers, for nursing babies, for bringing children into the spheres where they could otherwise be, we don't really respect women. We only respect them as long as they are willing to give up their motherhood -- something that is important to most of us. So most of us walk this balancing act of trying and trying to be good parents as well as participating in the public forum, and it's really, really hard. It's relatively easy for me. I am able to stay home; I don't have to work. I have a husband who pulls his weight and is willing to stay home so I can go out. My friends and family all respect what I do and treat me as a person completely equal to them. They are not offended by the presence of my child when I show up to their parties. They don't demand I get a babysitter or a nursing cover or stay home.

But other women don't have what I have. Let me tell you this: most women who have abortions do not want them. A large proportion of women who wean early, wanted to nurse longer. Many women who go back to work after six weeks want to stay home longer. Many women who never have children wanted to have them.

Can we really say women are liberated now if we're still over a barrel?

Okay, go read the articles and tell me what you think.

1 comment:

Tawny said...

A very interesting reflection, and I have totally been accused of being a closet feminist too! I keep telling people I'm not closeted, I am a feminist! And being a feminist includes breastfeeding where ever I happen when I have a breastfeeding baby :)

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