This incident, rather ironically happened to me during World Breastfeeding Week, so wishing all the mamas out there doing it, trying to do it and supporting those that can’t a belated happy World Breastfeeding Week! Find out more in the link below:
The reason it is ironic for me is I had a debate (read argument) with my partner over a photo on social media of me breastfeeding. Now I’m British and he is Indian – I am totally happy to respect and adapt to his culture in regards to most things and take care to quiet my angry inner feminist to keep the peace in our family and wider immediate society (to a point whilst not-so-secretly fighting for social change obviously). However, this is something I feel rather strongly about and we have had to agree to disagree, both of us walking away with rather hurt feelings.
I won’t publish the offending picture here but what is shows is me in a hospital gown, moments after my daughter was born with the biggest smile on my face, gorgeous little newborn clasped to my breast and the tiniest bit of booby showing. This is the first picture taken of us together after she entered the world and it was taken by my dear friend Jo who was my birthing partner. It means a great deal to me and I should imagine her also.
Social media can be a minefield for intercultural and long distance relationships. It is certainly not the first time it has caused problems in my relationship. When my relationship became serious and inevitably I became cyber friends with my partner’s friends and family, I removed any pictures that might be deemed a bit ‘too sexy’ for an Indian audience. I was fine with this – I didn’t want to be giving any aunties a heart attack!
However in the UK I have been an activist for the right of women to breastfeed in public, to remove the stigma and sexualisation of it. I feel there should be no shame, no requirement to cover up, no embarrassment. I don’t feel it should be kept ‘private’ any more than feeding a baby with a bottle or adults eating their lunch.
I have been assured that I am fighting a losing battle if I ever imagined this ‘lactivist’ movement will ever take root in India, that I should not push my foreign views on a country and society that is not my own, that covering up is not ‘a big deal’ etc etc. When in India I do indeed cover up to breastfeed and respect the culture here and quite frankly, I don’t want the attention. Yet I still feel I am betraying my own beliefs.
Here are just a few of the things I have been told regarding public, uncovered breastfeeding in India:
‘You wouldn’t walk down the street naked! Why is it ok to get naked just because you have a baby?’
‘It should be done in private!’ (what like in a public toilet? Yuk!)
‘It is something only labour class women do.’
‘Aren’t you ashamed that men might see your boobs?’
‘You should cover up so men don’t feel uncomfortable.’
‘It is unhealthy for the baby, they could get sick because of germs in the air.’
‘Most women breastfeed in India and they all cover so why is it such a big deal? it’s not like anyone is stopping them from breastfeeding?’
So I’m putting it out there to my Indian family, friends and readers (and anyone else in the world for that matter) that maybe the problem is not with the act or the photograph but with the attitude towards women and their breasts.
Breastfeeding is for everyone regardless of class. Breastfeeding is not about sex. Women don’t do it to tease men and be sexy. It is about a baby eating. It is not sexual. If you find breastfeeding sexual then you have some serious issues! And if you were eating would you want your face to be covered up by a stuffy sweaty bit of cloth? Bottles feeding vs breastfeeding is cleaner and builds the immune system of the baby – this is a scientific fact. Breastfeeding is not a ‘dirty’ bodily function like going for a shit so why suggest women to do it in private in the same place where you shit?
Being told to do it in private means shame.
Covering by force means shame.
Objectification of women means shame.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting the women of India burn their dupattas and should all refuse to cover. I’m not under any impression that things will change here anytime fast and I know it is not my place to tell anyone what to do or what not to do. In the same way I support women who choose to wear a hijab or the famed burkini I support women who choose to cover. The point is it should be a choice and women should not be judged whatever their preference.
Anyway I will leave this all on a lighter note, with a very funny spoof film from India offering a solution to women who find tharki men constantly staring at their breasts. Enjoy!