Today's blog post is written by a guest blogger; a social media friend that reached out to me across many miles asking me to stand with her in support of her campaign to Normalise Breastfeeding campaign in South Africa (or Normalize Breastfeeding if you are in the U.S. like me). A popular blogger in South Africa recently posted a blog discussing all the reasons why a breastfeeding mother should cover up while breastfeeding, essentially sharing her opinion of how women who didn’t cover up were doing something wrong and shameful.
I, of course, told dear, brave Anél Olsson that I stand with her and all the women across the globe as we reclaim the right to do with our bodies what we want, not what another tells us.
As a mother of four children, all of whom I have breastfed, I find this subject matter near and dear to my heart. My breasts/boobs/tits have been on display all over the world! Sometimes because I whipped it out and didn’t care, other times because the child I was feeding decided they were done and I was left topless, milk still flowing. With my first I was so nervous to breastfeed in public and now with my fourth I feed her wherever and whenever we are (see photo above as I breastfed her as we were walking in the woods).
As a woman, it infuriates me that I have rules applied to my body that attempt to dictate how and why I need to cover because what I have is shameful to show unless I want to be seen/known as someone with indecent morals. Why can't I have my shirt off like men? Why I am I told that my body is something to hide? And I ask this question even more so while breastfeeding. WHY am I being asked or pressured to cover my breasts while breastfeeding my child? My breasts were made to feed and nourish my babes. The global society has bought into the patriarchal bullshit for so long that women's breasts are seen as a sexual piece to be bought and sold, shown only as a means to attract a mate or sell a brand. When did women become chattel? Better yet, if a woman wants to cover because that is what she feels comfortable doing, then why is there this need to tell her she should show her breasts. Our bodies, our decisions.
And the reason so many women now take photos of the glorious and primal act of breastfeeding our children is to help promote the movement of
NORMALIZE BREASTFEEDING/NORMALISE BREASTFEEDING.
Not to mention, it's BEAUTIFUL. I am literally making food and growing another being. Like that...AMAZING.
It isn’t an act of hate. It isn’t an act of war. No, in fact, it is a call to ACTION. A call to love our bodies and connect with one another in a way that says,
I see you. You are different but we are also the same.
So…without further ado I introduce you to Anél Olsson, Founder of Normalise Breastfeeding Movement in South Africa…
Dear Mom Diaries,
A couple of days ago you wrote a blog post stating your issues with the global #NormaliseBreastfeeding/#normalise/#normalizebreastfeeding movement and the breastfeeding selfies or #brelfies mothers share online.
(Here’s the link, readers):
As the founder, member and Co-Director of South Africa’s first civil society organisation (Normalise Breastfeeding SA or NBSA) exclusively addressing the issue of public breastfeeding becoming normal once again, I’d like to help you understand what the dangers are of writing such a misleading blog post…
Did you know that South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world? The World Health Organization’s stats say that only 7.4% of South African babies are breastfed.
In the commentary after your blog, Public Nutritionist Chantell Witten unpacked for you some of the reasons our breastfeeding rates are so low and commentator Andrea B helped you understand the place in those rates occupied by parents who have put off breastfeeding because of the constant stigmatisation in public and at work. Add to that the attractive marketing of formula as a lifestyle choice in areas where there isn’t even clean water, nevermind money for new teats, and people so desperately poor that they feed infants watered down pap (*pap: Ground maize meal. The staple food of South African people.*).
In a country such as ours, dear Mom Diaries, where children die every day of preventable diseases – breastfeeding is a life-saving intervention. So as the Lancet Group’s medical booklet says we have a duty to protect, promote and support breastfeeding because it saves lives.
I cannot comment on the relative privilege one must enjoy when you have never come across breastfeeding harassment in public. So, I will share some of the incidents shared with us in the short year our movement has been around…
A KZN mom is waiting for a taxi. She is breastfeeding her baby. The security guard manhandles her out of the mall.
A young mum in Pretoria is shopping for medicine for her sick baby. He screams for the boob and she’s told in no uncertain terms there is NOWHERE in that store for her to feed her child. She’s followed by the male manager to make sure she pays heed. And at the same group of stores, the in-house clinic nurse tells a mom to go breastfeed her baby in the toilet.
A Cape Town mom named Tasneem Botha is frog marched out of a popular retailer for breastfeeding her baby. She is jeered at by staff while she sits on a bench to try and calm down her child.
Look, I could sit here all day, but let’s move on. And, oh, by the way, Mom Diaries, NBSA did some breastfeeding shoots for World Breastfeeding Week last year and we had a nurse-in at the shop mentioned here after Tasneem’s ordeal. It was very peaceful and uninhibited. Covered/semi-covered moms all together basked in that lovely love of feeding a baby. We’ve never marched anywhere yet, either.
Do you know what patriarchy means, dear Mom Diaries? I’m asking if you understand patriarchy because in a patriarchal society people think they have the right to police a womxn’s body. Yes, womxn with an ‘x’ to make allowance for the fact that we don’t come from man, they come from us. And I would like to suggest you read what the feminist author, Bell Hooks, has to say on the subject of patriarchy.
Your blog post begins with the policing and judging of womxn’s rights to breastfeed as they see fit. This is very much a product of a patriarchal society such as the one we live in. In the comments section of your blog, Andrea B points out that the sexualisation of the breast is a patriarchal construct. I can see you have a problem with grasping this fact which is why I’m still on the subject of patriarchy. Even down to the comments section of your blog post you want to defend your POV that a breast ought to be concealed in public.
As you stated, we live in a diverse cultural society. I can’t help but think of my friend Sizile who started the #AnywhereAnytime movement on Twitter. In her culture unapologetically uninhibited breastfeeding is the norm. A doctor at Netcare in Rustenburg asked her to breastfeed her child behind a curtain and when Sizile questioned her request, she was told, “It’s just not done in our (Western) culture.” Sizile continued feeding her child. We as whites would do well to remember we’re not living in her majesty’s territories anymore but in Africa.
Culture aside, none of it is mine or yours or anybody’s business how much boob a womxn wants to bare in public. Nor is it anybody’s business if a mom wants to cover up and segregate while breastfeeding. We are not the police of womxn’s bodies in a sisterhood.
Which brings me to my next point, why do you think moms are angry for being told where/when/how much flesh is allowed when breastfeeding their child? Did you know that our children’s right to breast milk has been enshrined in the SA constitution since 2012? Thus, my child’s right to food is protected and going after me is going after my child’s right to eat. Construing the brelfies as angry/attention seeking/attempting to make history selfies is misguided on your part. You know what you turn into when someone harms your child. These are momma bears protecting their children’s rights. The fact that they are brave enough to share these images and blaze a trail, as Andrea B commented – is a gift to future generations. Mothers don’t want what’s wrong with this generation to remain wrong for the next.
I also want to point out that the flip title you created for the image of the blonde mom breastfeeding on a bench is quite cruel. I know you didn’t mean to be mean but look for Paa.la on Facebook and follow her journey of becoming a breastfeeding advocate. As I type this she is in hospital with her premature baby, born at 24 weeks.
There is still so much more I want to share about this problematic blog post of yours but I have run out of time today. But the door is wide open if you need any more information on the vital aspects of how we normalise breastfeeding in South Africa.
Anél and the Normalise Breastfeeding South Africa Movement .