The Sexuality of Breasts: Keeping Women in Their Place

Breast of Vigeland sculpture
Photo by Guttorm FulatabA

This past week, my children were excited to see their friends on television. It’s not everyday that people you know make the news. And so, my children entered into the great Time Magazine debate. My nine year old son pursued the discussion. He’s nine. He hasn’t yet reached puberty. To him and his frame of reference, breasts pretty much just have one purpose: breastfeeding. It boggles his mind that anyone would have a problem with a woman breastfeeding her child.

I reminded him of a conversation from a few months ago. Our friend Dionna had been asked to turn toward the wall while nursing her baby in the waiting area of her son’s dance class. The explanation was that there were teenage boys there and it might make them uncomfortable. As we sat in our kitchen, two mothers, one nursing her baby, and a nine year old boy (our other children playing a game in the family room), we had a discussion about the sexualization of breasts in our society and the historical view of women as property.

In my children’s viewpoint, people are people. While we have differences, we are all equal – deserving of respect and basic human rights. It breaks my heart a little each time we discuss how not everyone is treated equally – how women and people with different colored skin have been property, that in our current society, if my daughters want to follow certain career choices, they are going to have to work twice as hard as their male counterpoints, that in some families, people hit their kids. That isn’t the world I would wish for my children to grow up in, but it is the world we live in.

So on that morning last week, as we were getting ready to go to the park, he asked how it first began. Why would people ever think that women should be propoerty and sex objects rather than sentient individual?. I knew we were delving deeper and that this would only be the beginning. I asked him what the one biological purpose of every organism on the planet was. He replied that on the grander side of things, each organism’s purpose was to continue on by passing on their genetics in the form of offspring.

I reminded him that as a species, we haven’t always had the knowledge we have now. There was a time when we didn’t understand how babies were made – through the combining of a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg (yes, my children know about forms of reproduction). All we knew was that women had this magical power to make more people. “So, it’s a power issue,” he said to himself. It usually is. We often fear what we don’t understand, because we feel that we lack control. Feeling out of control is a very disconcerting feeling.

The perceived sexuality of women in society, and of their breasts, is a manifestation of control and power. Women are encouraged to focus on their appearance, to be sexual to attract men, an extension of being a sex object – a mere object worthy of being owned with no power of its own other than that which is given to them by those in power to own it. “Breasts are sexual!” cry the outraged. Yes. Yes, they are. Breasts are most definitely sexual, just as most of our other body parts are. That doesn’t negate the fact that they are also functional and that their primary purpose is function.

When we villify women who make informed choices, regardless of what those are, we oppress them. We reinforce the idea that women should not be making choices. They don’t have that power. They aren’t people to be making choices. They are objects, whose self-worth is dependent upon what others think and how valuable they are considered. Why do women stand up to this abuse? Many believe it. They’ve been told this propaganda for so long that they no longer see any other way, if they ever did. Many perpetuate it, attacking other women who choose to breastfeed or make choices other than their own – those women who dare to take their control back into their own hands, holding their self-worth inside rather then dependent on some outside person’s.

So why do some of us stand up for what we believe in? Why do you see women breastfeeding their children and even allowing others to photograph them and place them on Time Magazine or in the news? For all of us, we are just trying to do what is right for our families. However, for many it also goes deeper. Not only are we doing what we believe, through research, is the best for our family, we are also advocating for those who don’t feel, for whatever reason, that they can do so or who don’t have support. We normalize breastfeeding through solidarity. We normalize equal rights through solidarity. Most importantly for me, I advocate for others because I want my children to live in a world where people are people and they have the same rights as others.

Don’t let them beat you down. Don’t let them “put you in your place.” You don’t have to agree with someone to support them. I wish all of the mothers out there a “Happy Mother’s Day!” I wish all of the women out there, an dthe little girls who will one day grow to be women, love, support, and the opportunity to be treated equally.

7 thoughts on “The Sexuality of Breasts: Keeping Women in Their Place

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  1. ARGH! (1) Teen boys should see nursing so they will encourage their wives to do the same. If they want to stare, let them. They won’t see much of my boob when I nurse anyway. Except for the part where I WHIP IT OUT! (2) Don’t get me started on porn. Can we get a quick show of hands from the guys who are ALL INTO ONLINE PORN and it has a hold on them so badly that they feel like crap about themselves much of the time? Theory: if we were more open about breasts, maybe they wouldn’t feel like they have to be so sneaky to see them???? Just a half-assed theory, though 🙂 Happy Mother’s Day. My blog is fluffy humor; yours has the substance. Thank you for it!

  2. “I advocate for others because I want my children to live in a world where people are people and they have the same rights as others.” Well said. Sounds like you’re an amazing mom, too. Happy Mothers’ Day!

  3. Right on! Until we can see that most people aren’t bothered by breastfeeding, wherever it takes place, or however old the child is, we need to keep advocating and speaking out for those who can’t or won’t out of fear. Fear of what other people think should have no place in our lives, but it sometimes does. Keep up the good work!

  4. This is amazing. Truly. You articulated thoughts that many of us have known in our innermost self, but were unable, or did not have the knowledge, to understand. Thank you for this piece.

  5. I love how articulated and thoughtful your children are! I hope mine will be the same at that age! As your children are exemplifying, the only way to normalize breasfeeding in our society is to MAKE it normal and for the next generation to believe and know it is normal!

  6. This is an incredibly inspiring post, both from a breastfeeding standpoint and also from an equality standpoint. Shared on Facebook. Thanks to Occupy Breastfeeding for sharing this!

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