Why Breastfeeding Is a Feminist Act

There’s certainly a lot of strange debate going on about breastfeeding. It's World Breastfeeding Week, and on Tuesday, Olivia Wilde, new mother and breastfeeding advocate, posted a picture on Instagram from her photo shoot with Glamour magazine in which she’s breastfeeding her 3-month-old son, Otis, in — GASP! — public. Although it was a staged shot, and very likely done in an empty diner, the photo wasn’t just beautiful, but an act of feminism.

After all, not only does public breastfeeding still have a stigma attached to it, but in addition to the fact that your breastfeeding photos could still be banned on social media outlets like Facebook, your right to breastfeed in the open doesn't even have legal protection in some states.

In Virginia and South Dakota, they are kind enough to consider breastfeeding moms exempt from nudity and public indecency laws, but there is still nothing on the books that protects as women's right to breastfeed in public. And don’t even bother with Idaho, where breastfeeding has zero legal protections.

But when Bustle wrote about Olivia Wilde's photo Tuesday and put the post on our Facebook page, many commenters failed to see what’s so feminist about breastfeeding.

One commenter wrote, “What the hell has breastfeeding got to do with feminism?” Another said, “Breastfeeding doesn’t make you a feminist. It makes you a MOTHER.” And then there was one that boggled my mind: “A feminist? Really. Sooooo I’m a feminist because I have a period?”

There were very few, in the 40-plus comments, who understood that breastfeeding is a very feminist act indeed. So we thought we'd clarify why breastfeeding is, at its core, feminist.

No, women who do not to breastfeed are not somehow less feminist than those who do. But here are four reasons breastfeeding is — both in public and in private — in its very simple way, a radical feminist act.


Body autonomy for women is still a fight. As long as politicans think they have some sort of say in our reproductive rights, our bodies will never truly be our own.

By breastfeeding, women are exercising our right to do with our body we choose, despite a society that frowns upon women taking control of pretty much anything. Because even though breastfeeding doesn't pose any sort of risk to others, it still makes some people uncomfortable: it flips our notion that women's bodies should only be presented in a teasing way, as objects for consumption. And that's a notion worth subverting.

Forty-seven states may allow breastfeeding in public, but that doesn’t change what other people in public will do or say about it. Oh, and there’s a good chance you’ll be kicked out of some places for “nudity.” If taking a stand against a patriarchy that winces at the breast providing food for a baby isn’t feminist, then I don’t know what is.


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I feel like this one is obvious, but let’s break it down, shall we?

Breastfeeding is the perfect illustration of women’s right to choose in what ways we will use our body. By breastfeeding, we exercise our ability, without the reliance upon anyone else, to be the difference between life and death. This tiny baby that you brought into the world needs you and, as its primary food source, it's hard not to feel empowered when you see just how important your body is to its existence.


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When my sister had her first baby, her husband resigned himself to the fact that her breasts, as he knew them, would never be quite the same. He’d joke that he "lost" her breasts to their son, Jackson, and he hoped to have them back someday. But then her second son, Elliot, was born, so he had to wait even longer. Their purpose was no longer sexual, in his mind, but rather a source of nourishment and life for his sons.

Since my sister was the first person close to me to have a baby, I had never thought of it that way. It never crossed my mind that breasts could be viewed as sexual at some points in a woman's life, then shift to a more functional role. It was an interesting perspective my brother-in-law had, but the feminist in me was somewhat aggravated when he called my sister's boobs "his."

Somewhere along the line (I blame the puritanical views of the Pilgrims, honestly), breasts became associated with sex. Breastfeeding, which most people don't define as “sexy,” is basically saying, “I’m more than my body. I’m more than my breasts. I will not be objectified and only be viewed in a sexual light.” We may be sexual beings, but we’re not sexual objects put on this earth as some sort of prize or toy for men.


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As the ones who bear children, we are automatically seen in a different capacity than men. But every time a woman breastfeeds or pumps in an office setting, she's proving that we can be both mothers and career women. Or as Feministe so perfectly put it, it proves that a woman can still "get shit done in her life — it makes a statement that women belong, that women’s bodies belong, that women are here.”

By openly breastfeeding, we’re emphasizing that though we have unique powers, we’re not some special group that needs to be coddled — far from it, we do the coddling and then some. So get your laws and judgment off our bodies, and let us do us, OK? We have things to do and we’re masters at multi-tasking.

Images: Glamour