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Simonson Says: Breastfeeding in public is not obscene

Breastfeeding, and breasts in general, is not my favorite subject. This will probably be the most I’ve ever talked about either one, because they’re just of no particular interest to me.

However, a lot of you might have seen the FOX 13 article by Nineveh Dinha about Haven Bare, a young mother who was breastfeeding her baby at the North Ogden Aquatic Center on Wednesday until lifeguards asked her to cover up, responding to complaints from other guests. Embarrassed and not wanting to cause a scene, Bare left the pool, not knowing she was perfectly within her legal rights to breastfeed in public without covering up.

The article included an excerpt from the Utah legislature’s official law, passed in 1995, which states that breastfeeding “does not under any circumstance constitute an obscene or lewd act.” Even knowing the law’s stance on it, though, several patrons at the pool said in interviews that breastfeeding mothers should still be “respectful” and sensitive to who is around them. I certainly understand and respect those views, but I’m curious as to what they find offensive about it, if they were to think about it beyond what our culture has programmed them to think is offensive.

A comment on the article said Bare should have “kept her privates private.” But who, exactly, decided that breasts were “privates”? They are just a body part, and do not have an inherently sexual or embarrassing function. In fact, they have just about the least sexual function of any body part: feeding babies. The ears have a more erotic function than that.

The fact that men are not required to cover up their nipples in public means that they are officially not private parts. You can’t change the rule for women just because men tend to find breasts erotic. If we made laws based on that (which would be horrifically sexist, don’t you think?), none of the swimsuits at that same pool would be allowed. I know men who are attracted to legs, yet everybody’s entire legs are on display at a pool. What makes breasts so special? I suspect it’s that only women have them that they are made out to be obscene or inherently sexual in nature. If you’re offended by them, even when they’re not intended to titillate, can you come up with a reason beyond the fact that our culture of pandering to the male gaze has programmed you to think they’re pornographic?

If parents at the pool were worried about their kids seeing breasts performing their natural function, they were free to leave. Bare was within her legal rights, so anyone who was offended should’ve been the one to leave, not her. Also, I remember being a child, and I can assure you children are much more casual about nudity than adults are. Children who are traumatized at the sight of breasts in their natural state are probably being raised really strangely or need a little special attention. If you’re worried about your older children, like your teenage sons and the purity of their thoughts, I’m sorry, but maybe it’s them you should be worried about instead of what other people are doing. If they are turned on by seeing women feed their children or have come to objectify women so much that such an innocent act ties them in knots, they need help and education, not coddling so that they’ll never have an appropriate attitude about women’s bodies.

No one has yet given a good reason as to why breastfeeding in public is offensive. The more we clutch our pearls over it, the more taboo it’s going to become, which in turn will make it titillating or fascinating to teens and children by nature of it being forbidden. If we’re casual about it and send the message it’s no big deal, the children will follow our lead. Let’s grow up, shall we?

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