Breasts. In western culture, they seem to be the most sexually captivating object of heterosexual desire. Male-targeted magazines are filled with images of women in bikini tops and lacy bras, their breasts pushed up to create a perfectly round set of twins to enjoy.
Heterosexual men seem to have a fascination with breasts more than most parts of the female form. Some schools of psychology say this has connections to biologically innate concepts of motherhood and fertility. However, there seems to be a lot more comfort with breasts in settings where they are not physically acting out the motherhood role they have: breastfeeding.
Biologically, breastfeeding is completely natural and for most mammals, necessary for healthy growth. Culturally, it has become taboo for a number of reasons, perhaps similar to the reasons menstruation is meant to be kept discreet and taboo. Women are free to have natural bodily reactions, so long as they do it where men don’t have to see it.
"When a woman’s body is softened and represented in the media as an object of heterosexual male desire, it is safe. When a woman controls her own body to be powerful, strong, and life-giving, it isn’t sexy. It’s threatening."
Why are these natural phenomena that represent the biological powers of a woman’s body such uncomfortable issues in western society? Maybe for the same reasons why women who weight-lift or run are now facing the possibility of requiring hormone therapy to level out high testosterone if they want to compete internationally as women. When a woman’s body is softened and represented in the media as an object of heterosexual male desire, it is safe. When a woman controls her own body to be powerful, strong, and life-giving, it isn’t sexy. It’s threatening.
In the mouth of an infant, breasts become powerful life-giving representations of strength and femininity. For women to have strength and control over their physical forms creates a threat to the ideals of patriarchy, wherein women are physically expressing that they maintain a power that men cannot take away from them. Patriarchy feels it can take away a woman’s ability to make an equal wage, her choice to abort a pregnancy, her perception of what makes her look pretty, to suit its cause. In the same vein, patriarchal advertisers have actively tried to remove the need for breastfeeding by developing artificial powders and bottles to replace the woman, while encouraging the sale of push-up bras.
So, the next time you are breastfeeding in public, as your little one is twirling their little fingers through your hair, flip that tiny little middle finger up, and don’t be ashamed.