Another example of feminism failing to help real women, public breastfeeding edition.

On my recent post about the vagina kayak feminist “artist”, I made the following comment:

If feminists want to be taken seriously, why do they do stuff like this? Don’t they know they are an embarrassment to serious women?

Imagine a young woman who believes in full equality of the sexes, who intends to have a serious career, and who wants to work hard and be taken seriously. What does modern feminism offer such a woman? Why should she choose to ally herself with a movement that lauds vagina kayakers?

Answer: she won’t. Feminism seals its own fate with such asinine behavior.

Not everyone rejects feminism because they are a weirdo Christian traditionalist like me. Many women reject feminism because they observe the grotesque, embarrassing behavior of feminists and say, “No thank you. I have serious work to do.”

I’m going to start out today’s related post with two personal anecdotes that will seem unrelated but which tie in to the main point here.

First anecdote: when I was a student at the University of Michigan, I lived in a student co-op called Black Elk House. I arrived there as a small-town girl who wasn’t used to anything other than very conservative behavior from other girls, but one of my female housemates was a wild-eyed graduate student feminist of the hairy-legged sort who would pass gas loudly at the dinner table fairly regularly, and she earned the rather unkind nickname Master Blaster behind her back. She felt it was her right as a feminist to act gross in public because somehow having good manners was a manifestation of The Evil Patriarchy™.

Second anecdote: I chose to breastfeed our children, including in public places if they were hungry. However, I was never any kind of lactivist, and when it was time to nurse them, I simply tucked them up close to me and raised my shirt only as far as was necessary to get them latched on, and then I tucked the shirt around the side of my exposed breast. I didn’t feel the need to suffocate the babies by putting a blanket over their heads but neither did I want to make others around me uncomfortable. Frankly, I think people only felt uncomfortable when they were trying hard to show that they were NOT ogling my breasts, not because they actually had a problem with public breastfeeding.

Recently I posted a picture of Phil holding our eldest daughter at a Detroit Red Wings game when she was still a nursing infant. During that game, we were seated right next to three cheerful blue-collar type guys who drank beer and joked around, chatting with us the entire first period while our daughter was nursing, and they never even noticed! It wasn’t until the period break when I removed her from the breast that they realized what had been going on, and they became still and nervous as they tried to show that they weren’t staring at me. I thought this was rather nice of them; they weren’t offended by my nursing, and they didn’t want to offend ME by making it look like they were trying to sneak a peek.

While I was pregnant with our second child, I used to go to Lifetime Fitness in Canton to work out. After she was born, I would take her with me and drop her off in the nursery there while I swam laps. At that time, I didn’t know about the controversy surrounding Lifetime Fitness, but shortly after she was born, I found out that another Lifetime Fitness location had refused to allow a mother to nurse her baby on the premises. I was outraged and looked in the member handbook; sure enough, it said women could only nurse their babies in the locker room and had to make it brief and stay covered up.

I had been working out there for awhile and had seen women wearing nothing but thong undies spend 30 minutes at the mirror doing their hair; my four-year-old had come a hair’s breadth from grabbing such a woman’s exposed buttock because she was enamored by the large butterfly tattooed on the lady’s rump (I grabbed her hand just in time to prevent this). I had watched a woman sit entirely nude on a bench for ten minutes breaking up with her boyfriend on her cell phone. But apparently if I wanted to nurse my baby, I was supposed to hide in a corner, cover us fully with a blanket, and make it quick so as not to offend anyone with a 1/8″ view of breast.

I dropped my membership in disgust.

So I can see how a woman was irked recently when Claridge’s, a luxury hotel in London, told her to shroud herself to a ridiculous degree while nursing her infant there. How she started out is pictured on the left and what they asked her to do is pictured on the right:

breastfeedingSome women held a nurse-in to protest, which is fine though it’s nothing I would have done personally. I didn’t feel the need to hold a nurse-in at Lifetime Fitness – I simply took my business and my money elsewhere – but I wouldn’t have thought badly of another woman doing so. Most women who hold “nurse-ins” are pretty discreet and don’t go out of their way to expose themselves, as you can see from this photo of the one that happened at the hotel:

nurse in

So here is a true woman’s issue. Feminists should shine in this area, right?

Wrong.  Here is an excerpt from a feminist essay about the Claridge’s incident and the issue of women being asked to shroud themselves while nursing their babies:

To exhibit any kind of bodily function in public – whether it’s pissing against a wall, spitting in the street, picking and flicking earwax while one waits in a queue – is still seen as a male thing to do. We might consider such things disgusting, but men can assume the right to be disgusting in a way that women can’t. It’s understood that male bodies are a part of what men are. Female bodies don’t have the same status. Even though, on a basic level, we know that they work in much the same way male bodies do – we shit, we piss, we perspire, we snore – we don’t really want to know this. A female body remains a thing to use, to own and to look at. It’s not something which does things suggestive of some real, human messiness inside.

These days the phrase “real woman” is associated with Dove adverts, not with women who fart and burp and might occasionally want to cough up some phlegm while out on a jog. I’m not saying these are pleasant things to do – nor am I proposing we organise a feminist fart-in (unless it’s held at Claridge’s) – but I do think we need to ask ourselves whether the perceived “maleness” of bodily functions is harmful to women. If we pretend that other women don’t snore, sweat or have smelly feet, how much more ashamed will we feel of our own bodies, simply for existing in their natural state?

In contrast to the female body, the male body is simply allowed to be: to fill the room, legs spread wide, adding its own sounds and scents to the air. To assume the right to be a little bit revolting – to spit on the street, to jokingly raise your arse cheek to fart – is, I would argue, a form of privilege.

Here was a chance for feminists to show they really care about the kinds of issues that affect real-life women, and the feminist response was to turn it into a gripe session about how women aren’t allowed to fart loudly in public the way the woman in my student co-op did at the dinner table.

But you know what? Men don’t usually pass gas loudly in public like that. This is a feminist fantasy. And the vast majority of normal women don’t want to do that either; they want to be able to nurse their babies without being harassed by hotel or gym staff, but they don’t want to offend and disgust the people around them.

Defecating is also a natural bodily function that both men and women engage in, but we don’t do that publicly either. We excuse ourselves to a private room to take care of that, and passing gas can almost always be taken care of in a similar manner. This is not because bodily functions are shameful but rather because part of good manners is not offending others with unpleasant odors when it is possible not to.

Breastfeeding, on the other hand, does not produce a foul smell. It is not socially disruptive, and women should not have to retreat under a blanket-tent or hide in another room to do it. How can feminists not see that farting and nursing are in no way equivalent? The original woman’s complaint was valid, and the feminist response was a perfect example of how feminists make real life women’s issues into an embarrassing joke that men won’t take seriously and how they distract us from finding good solutions to those issues by focusing on non-existent “male privilege” instead of the real problem, which in this case was poor corporate policy.

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6 thoughts on “Another example of feminism failing to help real women, public breastfeeding edition.

  1. YES! I have a feminist sister who farts loudly ALL THE TIME, she thinks she’s so funny and cute. Ugh. She will even fart into the phone while you’re talking to her. She use to do this to boyfriends, friends, anyone. I once knew a woman about 5 years ago, who would crap in the gutter, I swear, she would poo in the gutter, in town, in front of other people! Just drop her pants and go wherever she was. She said pooing was “natural.”
    I am a lactivist, I’ve been to nurse-ins but I usually nurse covered because I live in a very conservative area but just ONCE I would love to see feminists helping women with ANY mother issues other than the “right” to kill our babies or put them in 24/7 day cares.
    Natural birth, birth support, female centered birth, nursing, home schooling, etc. I’d love to see them fight for any one of those issues that affect over 80% of women.

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  2. I’ll bite.

    The way I read it is she’s taking it as a given that women have the right to breastfeed; her article was riffing on the topic of why people are shocked at public breastfeeding in the first place.

    I thought she was making the argument that women are supposed to exist in Photoshopped sanitised bodies, unconnected from any unpleasant processes.

    Conversely, men are allowed to be ‘real’ about their bodies – they can be fully fleshed, and that’s why they’re excused behaviour like spreading their legs, farting etc. I don’t read her as calling for the right of women to do those things. She’s making a different argument – using the Claridges incident as a stepping-off point to discuss the issue of bodies in general.

    I just looked her up and in other posts she’s said she trained as a ‘breastfeeding peer supporter’, so I’m pretty sure she’s all for women breastfeeding.

    However, I have learned through blogging that people will read the same text in an amazing variety of ways, so I accept that my version of that piece will leave others scratching their heads.

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  3. The way I read it is she’s taking it as a given that women have the right to breastfeed; her article was riffing on the topic of why people are shocked at public breastfeeding in the first place.

    I thought she was making the argument that women are supposed to exist in Photoshopped sanitised bodies, unconnected from any unpleasant processes.

    I agree that people, especially women but men too, are presented in a Photoshopped, sanitized, unrealistic way. The antidote to this is not to complain about an imagined male-privilege to fart publicly; rather, the antidote is found in pointing out that people are presented in a Photoshopped, sanitized, unrealistic way. It is also helpful to point out why this is done; it isn’t to reinforce the patriarchy but rather it is a marketing gimmick for the purpose of making people insecure so that they will purchase products and services to try to make themselves look and smell like they’ve been Photoshopped.

    This really doesn’t have anything to do with why people are shocked at public breastfeeding, though.

    So why are people shocked when they didn’t use to be? I think perhaps it is because they didn’t use to see it, so they had no opportunity to be shocked by it; I collect antique books on housewifery and child rearing and in the days before vaccines and antibiotics, women did not take their infants out with them to have lunch in a restaurant. One book I have from the turn of the 20th century exhorts women to keep their babies completely out of crowded areas all together. A simple cold could turn into a bacterial infection that we would get amoxicillin for but for which they had no treatment.

    And widespread vaccination and availability of antibiotics occurred right around the time when the bottle/formula feeding revolution happened. So really, people haven’t had a lot of experience with women casually sitting around in public nursing their babies.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t change what’s considered normal now that modern medicine and modern forms of socializing exist. But it does mean we need to be serious and thoughtful in how we approach it. The feminist who wrote the linked essay was neither.

    I have more to add but I have to go pick a kid up from basketball practice, so I’ll try to finish later.

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    • Ha, we DO read differently. I only occasionally glance at Glosswitch essays – I find them way too serious and overthought.

      But, I will stand in her corner on this one. Whether it’s because of the demands of commerce, or it’s a viewpoint that’s been handed down from the post-industrial rise of the leisure class, ideal womanhood has been presented as unrealistically delicate and decorative, and therefore the polar opposite of idealised manhood, which is all about the body and the range of things it can do.

      In any case, there’s a very easy solution to the breastfeeding dilemma, and it doesn’t involve ideological debate.

      It’s to make everyone visit a European sauna. After they’ve recovered from the sheer HORROR of seeing colleagues and neighbours stark naked, a bit of breastfeeding becomes neither here nor there.

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      • I was wondering what Clarige’s would do if they had to deal with this?

        I could have posted Momma Bear nursing but it wouldn’t be as chaotic.

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