Even as someone committed to the social, political, and mental liberation of women, I never thought about how shaming women for publicly breastfeeding affects women on a global scale. But Hollie McNish delivered a riveting spoken word performance about the absurd double standard with breastfeeding on Upworthy that will bring anyone up to speed with its effect, and how it hurts not just women and their children, but society at large.
Of course, at this point, if you're actually allowed to sit with the select feminist/womanist reserved seating, you know that shaming a woman for breastfeeding in public is entirely inappropriate — included on a very lengthy list of things you should not do to dehumanize women. However, McNish isn't talking about an oppressive behavior that isn't en vogue anymore. She's sharing a tide that women fight against trying to be mothers, women, and human beings.
We've heard this unfortunate story before — women being banished by looks and or ignorant words to bathroom stalls to feed their baby. Breastfeeding in public is still taboo, though it's impossible to ignore that breasts are still quite visible and socially acceptable in sexualized ways. McNish says, "Female Breasts banned — unless it's just for show — 'cause in this country covered in billboards covered in tits. And family newsagent magazines full of it. WHSmith top-shelves for men? Why don't you complain about them then?" Not only is the question powerful, but it points the finger right back at shamers. But nothing sums it up as well as her this question: "What exactly are we so offended by?"
But what's even more challenging to swallow is McNish's comparison between policing women's bodies and capitalism, which frequently takes advantage of the same aspects of the female body to sell products, so that people are far more barraged with those images than they are of "inappropriate" public breastfeeding mothers. Yes, she went there. Her piece offers a macro perspective on how this all plays into the grand scheme — shaming women for naturally producing a healthy feeding option for their baby contributes to an ugly narrative about "the system."
So the next time we try to debate about what the right thing to do is about creating a culture that empowers and affirms women's bodies, consider just what the cost is for women if our society doesn't — not just the shame of trying to feed their own children, but the effects it has on those children as well. From unhygienic feeding environments to forcing women to forego breastfeeding altogether to confirm to "social norms," the shaming of public breastfeeding hurts everyone — and few manage to get that message across as succinctly or powerfully as McNish.