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August 07, 2006

Father Knows Breast...

As much as I hate to admit it, I rather see the irony in the outcry over the cover art on the August issue of BabyTalk. As I mentioned in my earlier piece on Grrrrrrl mags, the covers of even mainstream women's magazines have begun to resemble soft-core porn: a veritable feast of surgically-enhanced boobies and butts served up with sexxxx quizzes and endless lists of 100 Things You Man Can't Wait For You To Do To Him In Bed!!!! As I've observed on more than one occasion, the West loves to deride Islamic cultures for what we view as barbaric practices like female circumcision and breast ironing. There the onus seems to be on young women to avoid male sexual attention by slicing away bits and pieces of themselves. Yet here in America perfectly healthy and desireable young women with no visible deformities go under the knife to compete for male attention. It is surprising that despite women's liberation and the feminist revolution (which was supposed to even the scales) American women so lack self-worth that they feel they must surgically alter themselves to evoke a physical response nature provides in abundance. And lest you doubt it's a self-worth issue, ask yourself why female plastic surgery patients outnumber males by a ratio of 9 to 1?

The half vast editorial staff does not condone the wanton waving about of mammaries while nursing an infant. We feel it is both possible and desireable to feed children in public with discretion and modesty; we ourselves found a blanket to be most useful in this regard. The skillful mother can feed an infant beneath a blanket without offending the sensibilities of innocent passersby; no one need be any the wiser. On the otter heiny, we find the outcry over the cover of BabyTalk rather amusing in light of the constant parade of proudly pumped-up pectorals on display on television, billboards, movie screens, and magazines everywhere one goes these days.

Why the selective outrage? We find ourselves weary of being assaulted by Pamela Anderson's oversized pecs. Frankly, it hurts us to look at them, but we don't hear anyone shouting the rafters down each time the camera lingers lovingly on her somewhat overripe charms, as it does with nauseating frequency.

Could it be the real offense here is that the breast in question is... [shudder] a natural one? Or that, heaven forbid, it is being used for its intended purpose?

We cannot say. The chorus of the outraged will know breast what moves them to a fury of denunciation. All we can say is that some people might want to take a good long look in the mirror. If they're just as outraged about the decline in modern morals, we're inclined to give them a pass.

Our guess is, however, that most of them aren't and that there's a bit of a double standard being applied here.

Posted by Cassandra at August 7, 2006 08:30 AM


In support of your lack of self-worth conclusion, it is statistically reported that women who have had breast augmentation surgery, have a significantly higher rate of attempted suicide.
These poor women have done everything they could think of externally, to supplant a sense that they are not "good enough". When that fails to change how they experience themselves, their desperation leads them to self-destruction.

Posted by: Mark at August 7, 2006 10:51 AM

What is odd to me is how tremendously important external beauty is to women, and how destructive a force it can be if they don't learn to put that into the proper perspective. What shocks, and frankly hurts me, is how truly lovely many of these young women are already. I can't for the life of me understand why they don't think they are good enough? This is a subject that makes me deeply angry, more angry sometimes than I really know how to handle.

I was lucky. I am not a beautiful woman. But I am not hideously ugly either. I was attractive enough, and smart enough, to be able to attract the notice of the men I was interested and fortunately not so pretty that I didn't have to put up with an inordinate amount of interest from men I was not interested in. I think that is just about right. When I was a young girl I can remember wishing I were beautiful and had a knockout figure. By the time I was about 16 I realized I was glad I didn't. A lot of my friends were gorgeous. As a rule, they didn't get treated very well by men. I thought a lot about why that happens and the answers, even when I was only 15 or 16, depressed me considerably.

I've heard a lot of people say young girls shouldn't date. I don't think that's true. I had boyfriends from a very young age, but my parents also made sure I was supervised at all times. I learned an awful lot about boys and how they think, and that knowledge helped me to choose a husband wisely. It also forced me to think about relationships and what I wanted in life. There's a lot of give and take in relationships, and one good thing about dating early is that hopefully sex isn't involved right away, so a lot of what you learn is actually about how to get along with the opposite sex.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 11:10 AM

In our defense, there was a lot of outrage over the Janet Jackson incident as well.

Posted by: Masked Menace© at August 7, 2006 11:12 AM

That's why I put in the qualifier. There was a fair amount of outrage.

And there were also plenty saying, "What's the big deal?", which I didn't quite get, but I suppose is a point of view too. I think you can take either stance, but you have to be consistent, and people often aren't. They aren't bothered by their kids' (or poor grandma's) eyeballs being poked out by Pamela Anderson but don't your dare assault their senses with a nursing mother.

That just kind of strikes me as a silly. At least the second serves some useful purpose.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 11:46 AM

And frankly, FWIW, I don't really want to see either :)

I don't really see why people have to impose their sensibilities on one and all. If you are into nursing (and I am - I am 100% enthusiastically pro-breastfeeding, but don't expect the rest of the world to endorse my private enthusiasms), more power to you! You go, grrrrrl! If Playboy mag is what floats your boat, well that is just as special as all get-out, but let's understand that some people (for instance, those with pre-schoolers, or devout Muslims) don't share your excitement and respect their feelings, just as I do. This is how people get along in society - by not inflicting their tastes on everyone in public where they can't escape.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 11:50 AM

'attempted suicide.' Would that include third marriages as well? Just asking.

Pamela Anderson's endowments are the subject of much speculation and wonderment as to how they actually 'look.' I opine that if a man has seen one pair, he has seen them all. They do not differ in function, just size, firmness, color and either are organic and natural to the womyn who has them attached, or are supplemented, much in the way an infant would be should maternal desire to nurture au natural be lacking.

I never waved my mammaries in public. I might have knocked people unconscious were that to have happened. So, being a thoughtful earthy type (being a Virgo does have its advantages when one is being natural), waving was not part of the infant nutrition program at Chez Engineer.

I applaud Vin Diesel's going public with his in
'The Pacifier.' At least men were now being oogled by teenyboppers and asked about their pectoral portions as well. That is coming full circle.

Posted by: Cricket at August 7, 2006 11:51 AM

I have occasionally encountered young mothers breastfeeding in public (although discreetly). While it is a healthful and natural practice, the mothers always seem terribly embarrassed about it, and other observers seem embarrassed to have seen it. One of the primary goals of etiquette is to avoid mutual embarrassment, of course, and so this is a problem of that type.

The chief thing to remember about etiquette is that it is folklore -- that is, it's not a scientific or a rational structure, but a natural one that has grown up for reasons that may not be clear. (Indeed, visit your local library to get a sense of how closely allied they are -- etiquette is listed at 395; Fairy Tales, I can tell you as a father, are at 398.2). Nevertheless, like all folklore, it is deeply rooted and cannot be trifled with without serious consequences.

Miss Manners -- my own favorite authority on such matters -- holds that the American folk tradition of etiquette says that breast-feeding is "only done among intimates."

Thus, you're probably on the wrong track by asking "why" people are made uncomfortable about it. There probably isn't a reason why -- it's not like this is a considered philosophy. It's just that this is how they were raised, and the way it's always been, and so it's just done that way. In order that we can all move among each other comfortably, there have to be some standards of behavior that are that way just because they are, not because they make sense or are the rationally-best way.

In cases of serious social interest, we can change those customs -- but it's not easy, and it causes real disruption and bad feelings in society. You can think of your own examples of forcing changes in custom and etiquette through laws and public policies. Is it worth it at this time, with wars to be fought and all the Red/Blue division, gay marriage, abortion, etc?

If not, we're left to accept it for what it is. And what is it? I don't think you should judge this as if it were a moral decision of society that says something deep about who we are -- it's not. It's a point of folklore, like whether we celebrate Halloween or the Latern Festival; or whether men who shave only the tops of their heads are declaring themselves to be priests, or just fashionable gentlemen, or people who don't mind being laughingstocks. It might have been different if we had different traditions. We don't, so there we are.

One of the problems with the feminist critique of society, if I may say so, is that it can't accept that etiquette issues aren't deeply meaningful and in need of REVOLUTION(!). As a result, it ends up starting a lot of needless fights and causing a lot of disruption and bad feelings, for no practical improvement in women's lives or society at large.

That understanding is -- to use a feminist metaphor -- false consciousness. The truth is that it isn't deeply meaningful at all. It's just how things are done, because they have to be done one way or another. Why this way and not some other? It just happened that way. Nobody needs to be offended; there are similar points of etiquette restraining all of us in different ways. None of us inherited a society in which the rules of etiquette are exactly what we'd want.

Posted by: Grim at August 7, 2006 11:51 AM

Actually Grim, I think you might be surprised at how many young mothers feel about this subject. I would wager any embarrassment they feel is more for the other person than on their own behalf.

One of the weirder things about childbirth is that you very quickly lose much of any sense of "shame". Most nursing mothers feel quite comfortable about what they are doing, in fact, some feel a bit too comfortable! :) I covered up out of consideration for others, not, frankly out of any real sense of embarassment for what I considered a very normal and natural act. It was mere good manners - if there is ever the slightest chance of making another person uncomfortable, a person of good breeding errs on the side of caution.

That said, I can remember talking with other nursing Moms - there was generally a good bit of eyerolling and laughing about the trials and tribulations of feeding a baby on the go. There was also, frankly, not inconsiderable resentment at some of the lengths we had to go to when women were literally winging their boobs out left and right for all and sundry.

And this was from women who were all conservative by nature. Go figure. If we didn't appreciate it, imagine the conversation in more liberal circles...

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 12:04 PM

I have always liked well fitted women's bathrooms. Ones with couches and comfortable chairs with which to rock and feed a fussy baby. No one I know would eat their dinner sitting in a toilet stall.

I guess what had me angry was having to go out to our lovely van (aka The Mothership) with our babies instead of a comfortable place being provided in the ladies'. The van was great with curtains, a bed, etc, but it was hard to get in and out.

Just saying.

Posted by: Cricket at August 7, 2006 12:13 PM

I am not an exhibitionist, but in my view a woman should not have to be ashamed to nurse in front of other women, provided you are not in a business setting. Cricket's example (a locker room or a rest room, where you are already expecting to encounter people in a state of semi-undress) shouldn't bother anyone. Frankly there are lots of other places I don't think people need get their underwear in a knot.

The workplace is another thing entirely - I have MAJOR problems with that. One of which is that you are there to work, not take care of children. And it is, socially speaking, somewhat unnerving to suddenly encounter a breast when you are thinking of spreadsheets. I may be old fashioned but I am a firm believer in compartmentalization.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 12:28 PM

I'm coming at this from a graphical standpoint primarily. From the quality of the photo link, that photo could just as well be of a baby teething on someone’s forearm, let alone a breast. But if it is a breast, as I suspect and everyone assumes, the editors have taken a clue from Walt Disney, circa Fantasia, and not shown a nipple nor it's surrounding area, thus neutralizing any sexuality implications for anyone deviant enough to be aroused by such an image. The image is neither offensive for gratuitous reasons, nor for, hell I can't think of any reason why it would be offensive. My wife breast fed all three of our children at home, and in public, while being modest, she also employed a baby blanket to cover up; though I think that is equally ridiculous, but it's the culture and the times we lived in three decades ago. Times have not changed, so it seems. The real offense I fear is that the culture of abortion and thus anti-propagation is behind all of this hue and cry.

Posted by: Esbiem at August 7, 2006 12:30 PM

Hear hear! If there is one thing I could change it would be to make ladies' rooms more compatible for that purpose. There are changing tables in men's rooms. I agree about the workplace. There is a time and a place and work and some social venues are just not where you nurse babies. Bottle feeding is acceptable anywhere, so express and store or bottle feed.

Posted by: Cricket at August 7, 2006 12:33 PM

It's a very powerful image.

There is no doubt about that. Nursing stirs up some really bizarre emotions in people - they really get their fannies on their shoulder about it. I was very surprised with my first how much opposition there was to my choice only made me more determined, in my quiet way, not to quit. I had people put pressure on me to switch to bottle feeding and I really didn't appreciate that. There were even some who insinuated that I was being selfish, which just really frosted me. Luckily my parents and husband supported me, because back then there weren't a lot of resources around.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 01:04 PM

I think that is the one thing I will never forget, and that's what that image really conveys. My babies were also on the bottle later on, and it's possible to feed a baby a bottle without every making intense eye contact.

It is, on the other hand, extremely difficult to nurse an infant without gazing into its eyes. You almost always find yourself holding the baby tightly in your arms, often you'll find a baby will reach up and grab one of your fingers (at least both of my boys did at almost every feeding and I loved that) and they usually maintain eye contact with you the whole time. I usually ended up playing with their hair, or gently stroking their faces or rubbing their shoulders. In many ways it was a continuation of pregnancy - the closest you will ever be to another human being in your lifetime. Perhaps that explains this.

It is such a different experience from bottle feeding, or at least it was for me. I actually went through a bit of a mourning process when both my boys were weaned to the bottle.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 01:10 PM

Funny you should mention eye contact. Yesterday, I had to take my daughter to the mother's lounge during church. I knocked on the door first, even though I had BTDT. One of my friends told me to enter, after I heard her tell the other moms to cover up. Heh. There are husbands and sons who look for their wives and moms so discretion is exercised with a bit of humor. I was told to enter, and when they saw who it was, they relaxed and 'came out' again. None of them ever assume it is going to be their husband or another family member, so instead of asking who it is, they just cover up until it is okay.

Most churches do have a place where mothers can go to feed their babies unless they are on the bottle. I always enjoyed my time with them, and now that those days are gone forever, I am so glad I did take the time and trouble to breastfeed them.

I loved holding their hands, hearing them slurp and sigh with content, watching their eyes roll back in ther heads; all the indicators that that was what they wanted and needed. I think nursing makes most people uncomfortable because it is such an act of love and rather intimate. It is no accident that a baby's range of vision is about 18 inches, the approximate distance between mom's face and their own. That is one of the sweetest things on earth.

Posted by: Cricket at August 7, 2006 01:43 PM

Babies are so precious. I agree - I don't think we're really comfortable with that kind of closeness and trust. It's sad, in a way because it is the most wonderful thing on earth.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 01:52 PM

I think nursing makes most people uncomfortable because it is such an act of love and rather intimate.

I think this really plays a part of it. There's a sense of intrusion on the part of the observer. If you were out with another couple and at some point during dinner they just stared longingly into each others eyes, most people reactions would be something along the lines of "OK you two, break it up before I ask the waiter to bring be a barf bag."

They're not actually doing anything in the physical sense, but there's an emotional "act" (for the lack of a better word) going on.

And as Grim notes there's a little arbitrariness to our culture. There's no difference between a bikini and women's underwear as far as coverage goes (if anything, bikinis are often more revealing), but which one is more acceptable to walk down the street in?

Posted by: Masked Menace at August 7, 2006 04:10 PM

That reminds me of a story.

I guess there is something wrong with me, but when I was in eighth grade, we were sitting at the bus stop one morning and one of the high school boys came up and said, "Hey, I was walking through your yard late last night and I saw you through your basement window. I saw you in your bra and panties." Like he's Cornholio or something.

And I just stood there for a moment and looked at him. And I know I was supposed to dry up and blow away with horror, but all I could think was, "For cripes sake, you could see more in my bathing suit" (because you could - the basement is pretty dark and that was a small window - that guy must have been on his hands and knees). And anyway I was a gymnast so every day I was in the school gym parading around in a leotard that was pretty revealing if someone was interested in my general contours, not that anyone had betrayed an all-consuming desire to memorize them. So I looked at him and said, "Umm... okay."

Try as I might, I really could not muster the requisite amount of shame.

So you're right. People are strange.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 04:26 PM

I agree with the earlier comments, Cass, that physical beauty isn't everything. I would much rather be with the girl you mentioned that knows the 100 WAYS TO DRIVE YOUR MAN WILD IN BED! than the most gorgeous cold fish. Do you have her number, by the way?(oink):)

Posted by: a former european at August 7, 2006 11:15 PM

No, but I hear she reads a lot of magazines...

Posted by: Cassandra at August 7, 2006 11:26 PM

It took all day to find a source for the story I'm about to quote. I didn't want anyone who hadn't heard it to think I was making it up. :)

The story concerns Jack Bolt, a USMC double ace (WWII, when he flew the magnificient F4U Corsair, and Korea, in the F-86). In later years, he became a rider of commercial aircraft. On one flight, he sat next to a young mother who was breastfeeding. He politely pretended not to notice, until the flight was over and they were leaving. Gallantly, he offered to help her with some of the things she needed to carry in addition to the baby.

As they were leaving the aircraft, he said, "That's a good looking baby -- and he sure was hungry!"

The mother blushed and said that child's doctor had told her that the pressure in the baby's ear could be alleviated in that way, as the plane was descending.

Bolt snapped his fingers and replied, "Dang! And all these years I've been chewing gum."

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2006 02:57 AM

Oh dear Lord, Grim... :)

Well, I will admit to having nursed one of my babies (for the exact same reason) for an entire flight once. And having sat through I can't tell you how many long flights next to a screaming infant, I didn't feel the least bit bad about it, nor was it at all hard to conceal what I was doing. In fact, several passengers remarked to me as we left the plane, "Wow - he just slept through the whole thing, didn't he?".

And I thought, "Yeah, you just go right on believing that." I was just happy he didn't cry.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 8, 2006 05:25 AM

Be discreet while you're eating. And recognize that those were my toys for years before you got here, and I will want them back as soon as you get teeth.

Posted by: New Daddy To Baby at August 8, 2006 10:17 AM

Why does this sound vaguely familiar?

Posted by: Cassandra at August 8, 2006 10:53 AM

Is there something KJ and Pile aren't telling us?

Or MM? Guys? Dish.

Posted by: Cricket at August 8, 2006 03:39 PM

Thanks for the laugh, Grim.

Posted by: Unkawill at August 8, 2006 04:00 PM

Oh, he's a funny one...

Start running.

Heh :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 8, 2006 04:08 PM


I don't think that babies are that picky about manners, do you?

Besides, wouldn't the ceramic be kinda cold?

Posted by: Masked Menace at August 8, 2006 06:59 PM

You asking me? Heh. Just today, as I was taking my youngest to the re-education day care center known euphemistically as 'school,' I noticed a sweet little guy crying his eyes out. Our 'day camp' has a pre-k program, which I think this little man was attending. He was standing his ground in the hall, asking for the teacher's aids to take him home to his mother, since she wanted him home, and the ladies, trying to be nice were telling him that his mother needed to have him at school for a bit. They were very patient, very kind, and they did get him to go with them, but he drove a hard bargain. "If I walk with you, will you take me to my mom?"

You have to love a lad like that. I nearly wanted to take him to his mother myself, but not being a judgmental bug, just said a prayer for his mental and emotional well being.

There is no substitute for the real thing. So, to answer your question, yes.

Posted by: Cricket at August 10, 2006 11:29 AM

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