You Dirty Breast Feeding Woman

image Can there be anything more natural than a woman breastfeeding her child? For those that are successful at it, it can be a moment of complete bonding and nurturing.

Unfortunately because the female body is always, already sexualized this natural act has taken on an air of perversion to some, thus forcing women to hide away from public view as though they are performing a shameful act.  Manuela Valle discovered how shameful when, she was ushered into a change room at at an H&M store in downtown Vancouver, for fear that her breastfeeding in public “might make some customers offended“.

According to CBC, “Valle said she was politely hustled off to a change room by staff, as they chatted with other staff on radios, making her feel like a shoplifter paraded in front of the other customers.”

“It seemed as if I had been stealing or something, so I was very humiliated. Everybody in the store was looking at me as if I’m getting arrested, and I said out loud, ‘I am getting arrested for breastfeeding my baby,'” Valle said.

“They were actually pushing her into it. I became upset at that point,” said Francisco Valle, her husband.

It is not the act of breast feeding that people have objection to, it is the breast they find offensive.  What is at issue is what body parts have been socially constructed as existing for sexual gratification.  The female breast has been constructed as  sexual, largely due to the male gaze.  Though women can, and do receive sexual gratification from them being caressed, kissed, etc, their primary function is to feed children, and that is what is overlooked in the social construction of female breasts.

Female genitalia are considered dirty by society, whether it is the supposed smell emanating from our vaginas, or our multi functioning breasts, the fact that men receive sexual excitement, and or gratification makes them dirty.  Consider that menstruating is still considered taboo despite the fact that it is part of our natural biological process.  We are taught to find shame in our bodies and restrict any display for fear that the dirtiness of womanhood is offensive to all. I submit that it is not womanhood, or womens bodies that are dirty and foul, rather it is how they have been constructed that is ultimately the issue.

When H&M forced Manuela Valle  into a change room they effectively converted a natural biological process into something filthy.  How dare she as a woman believe that she had the right to publicly breast feed when the world “knows” that breasts are for male pleasure.  Even at the risk of breaking the law and not following their own policies the desire to police women came naturally to them. It seems that unless the body is on display for the sexual gratification of men it is simply inappropriate.  Breast feeding is an act of gender performance is actually uplifting to women and to deny us that right only serves to sustain patriarchal control over female bodies. If men can say where and when we reveal our breasts, then ultimately we have no control over our physical selves.

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