Steve’s note: Like most of my essays, the events mentioned in here are slightly fictionized and anonymized. If it seems like I’m talking about you, I probably am not.. but it should make you think about your own situation, huh?
She puts the sign on the breakroom door: “Do not enter.” It’s her second child, and we know why it’s blocked off. I suppose that someone could hear the whirring from outside the door, but the machine is quieter than you might imagine. Regardless, we know why the door is shut, why the door is locked, why the sign is up.
There be boobies in there.
She only works part time so that she can spend more time with her children; I can only presume that she breastfeeds at home. Here, though, she pumps and saves it for her kids. It’s a good thing, and she’s been surprisingly open about it.
Which is why it’s all the more asinine that a male co-worker is pawing at the door and pretending to mew like a kitten. Nobody – well, besides me – will call that sexual harrassment. But I tell him to quit acting like a tool of the patriarchy; maybe sheer annoyance at my ranting will get him to change his behavior.
“I adopted my first child, so I didn’t breastfeed her.” I’m not sure how it came up, but there it was. The customer wanted to talk about breastfeeding. And helpful me, I had to share all the bits of information I had.
“Oh, it’s actually possible to breastfeed if you’ve adopted a child. I understand it’s not fun and it’s quite a bit of work, but it is possible. Actually, I even think that guys can breastfeed.”
Her incredulous expression ratchets up several notches. I continue, oblivious: “The biology is pretty much the same, though I believe it’s even harder than it is to get a woman to start lactating. But it is possible.”
As we continue the business transaction, she keeps saying that she wants to hear more, but there isn’t more to hear. It can happen, even though we normally don’t force it to. But she keeps coming back to it, an itching scab on the surface of her reality.
“Oh, was she one of those breastfeeders?”
I was walking through the common room, but slowed down slightly. The two women continued to talk.
“No, no. She would breastfeed when out places, but she kept herself covered up.”
I wanted to stop and ask why. I wanted to stop and ask why any breastfeeding mother was responsible for someone else’s purient acts. I wanted to ask how this was different than the craptastic “She was asking for it” excuses rapists keep trying to use to shift the blame away from thier own behavior.
I wanted to ask, but I didn’t. How do I bring it up in a conversation I wasn’t a part of?
Really, does any more need to be said to illustrate our society’s irreconcilable views of breasts? That we try to see them as utterly sexual – but also somehow maternal and outside the realm of sex – simultaneously? Yet, despite all the “problems” being the behavior and expectations of men, the ones who bear the cost of this are women.
Women, (not pornographic, but probably NSFW) here’s a site that illustrates what real breasts in a non-pornographic situation look like. Variation and difference are all normal – the real freaks are the people out there who think all women should have the proportions of a Bratz doll.
The sexualizing of breasts and breastfeeding could clearly contribute to incidents of sexual harrassment and discrimination. Should this be more visibly prosecuted? Why or why not?