Pope Francis okays breastfeeding in public

The Prude Brigade must be very sad indeed this month. I’m a bit late to the game on this one, but Pope Francis recently told mothers in the Sistine Chapel that they should go ahead and breastfeed in public, even in holy spaces.

“If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus.”

In an event weeks earlier, he instructed a mother to go ahead and feed her wailing baby rather than feel immodest.

“She was shy and didn’t want to breastfeed in public, while the Pope was passing,” he continued. “I wish to say the same to humanity: Give people something to eat! That woman had milk to give to her child; we have enough food in the world to feed everyone.”

Of course, the comments are pathetic because people are so used to thinking of breasts as the Magical Sex Orbs of Adult Fantasies. In reality, breasts are primarily lunch spigots and only secondarily sex organs. One commenter using the name “stephen(CLT)” complains that a breastfeeding woman is a “distraction.” Really? More so than a screaming baby?

It’s odd, isn’t it? I mean, I do get the discomfort. We’re all trained from early on to think of breasts as something we shouldn’t be seeing in public… except we do. In a sexual, air-brushed, marketing sort of context, barely covered breasts are everywhere. So why do they make us uncomfortable when we see them in a breastfeeding context? Because they seem utilitarian instead of decorative? Or is it that they often look a bit more saggy when they’re not in a bikini or lingerie with cups? Or is it that they excite some people, and it feels weird to be excited by something a baby is currently lunching on?

Men run around bare-chested, and that’s okay. Why? Naked male upper bodies are pretty exciting to lots of people. And some of them are pretty saggy. What’s the difference?

Seriously, what is this weird discomfort so many people – of all orientations – seem to feel about breastfeeding in public?


  1. Cheryl H. says

    I’m assuming the contemporary attitude toward breasts and any sight of them in public being grounds for shaming is grounded in Victorian attitudes toward sex and the body, but whatever the origin, these days it has to do with the fact that breasts are seen as “Magical Sex Orbs of Adult Fantasies” and the fact that they have a very real, non-sexual function is rarely mentioned outside conversations like this. Men make the rules, men find boobs sexy, therefore they are for Sexytimes. Breastfeeding isn’t Sexytimes and we have to keep that birthrate up, so breastfeeding must be discouraged and forgotten about.

    I had the same kind of thoughts about how it’s no biggie for men to go shirtless, but a woman breastfeeding in public is OMGOUTRAGEINDECENTHORROR. I think it goes back to again, men making the rules. Men decide that it’s okay for men to go around shirtless because women aren’t turned on by the sight of shirtless men. How do they know women aren’t turned on by the sight of shirtless men? Because they’re men, and they know these things. It’s the same reason it’s okay for men to wear Speedos and muscle shirts and other tight clothing in public, but it’s not okay for women for women to do the same. Women aren’t visually aroused, men are, so it’s not immodest for men to dress like that and it’s not a big deal. If anyone wants a barf bag at this point, let me know. I have plenty to go around.

  2. Maartje says

    I always figured the No-Public-Breastfeeding was about the fantasy that men cannot control themselves when they are aroused and therefor all women should cover up all the time (and not get drunk, and don’t walk in the dark etc) because you never know when that regular Joe might get turned on and turn into a beast. That the breast is exposed for another purpose than arousing men seems, in that light, beside the point.
    A friend of mine has a newborn, she is already planning around nap-times for the kids, if she also has to plan around feeding times she would never get out of the house! So for her that would either mean taking the term stay-at-home-mom very very literally, or bottle feeding (and carrying all that around with her, iso you know, not).As for the people who get distracted by breastfeeding: A. see it two times and it’s mundane and B. you always have the option of looking the other way.
    So kudo’s to the pope for being a reasonable human being on this point.

  3. says

    I suspect you’re both right – there may be multiple reasons, but yours all sound right.

    I also think it’s quite telling that the “won’t somebody please think of the children” pearl clutchers are typically incensed about breastfeeding in public. Maybe they think 8 year olds could be more damaged by seeing breasts than the baby could be by not getting fed, or having to be taken to a filthy restroom to be fed, etc. But bodies are a fact of life – you don’t get damaged just by seeing them.

  4. Cheryl H. says

    Someone *is* thinking of the children–Pope Francis. He’s thinking that they should be fed and that when God created women, He gave them a way to do that. Breasts are beautiful and wonderful and fabulous. There is nothing dirty or horrible or disgusting about them, that they should be kept hidden away and not discussed. I read a few of the comments on the article you linked to–I had to stop fairly quickly because the misogynistic, sexist, ignorant BS was getting too deep–and one that stuck with me referred to breastfeeding in Mass as a “nuisance”. Excuse me? That’s rude and presumptuous, and speaks volumes about society’s opinion of mothers. Mothers are supposed to be quiet and off to one side, out of the way and never actually seen unless it’s to show themselves and Baby in an unblemished picture of Doting Mother and Angelic Child. With breastfeeding, there’s also the issue of ‘OMGTHEORBSOFLUSTYSEXWILLSHOW!’ and we can’t have that because *clutches pearls tightly* we can’t have children seeing breasts! What if six-year-olds start thinking lusty thoughts like their Daddies do? BAN ALL BREASTS EVER! [/over-the-top]

    Mammary glands exist to feed the young milk. That’s where the term ‘mammals’ came from. Humans have two pectoral mammae, cats have eight mammae extending from chest to abdomen, cows have four lower abdominal, sheep have two lower abdominal (IIRC), horses have two abdominal, chimps have two pectoral. A male, if you pumped him full of enough female hormones, would develop mature mammae and produce milk, and wouldn’t that just blow the mind of Western society (which is all the reason I need to say, “Bring it on and start feeding the baby already!” Seriously, that would be an awesome sociological experiment. You could set a guy up with an aparatus to wear under his shirt, so he can feed a baby like he’s breastfeeding. Build several of those, distribute to men in different cities. Go from country to country, filming on hidden cameras).

    Thinking about breastfeeding and the larger issue of women showing flesh and the male reaction to the sight of the female body, the question of modesty came to mind. Asking rhetorically, when a woman is in public, is it unreasonable to ask that she put something over her chest?

    • Cheryl H. says

      Unless the baby is hanging over her shoulder–which makes for an interesting mental picture–the whole breast won’t be covered.

      • Bird says

        Muslim women who observe hijab typically drape fabric over their suckling child and you wouldn’t even notice that they’re breastfeeding unless you were very close! So, I guess non-hijab-wearing women could probably do the same with a light shawl or scarf type of thing.

        • says

          Sure…. but I don’t think that would solve anything. Like I said, there are barely covered breasts everywhere on billboards and so on, and nobody minds. It would appear it’s the act of breastfeeding itself that people have issues with, not the potential exposure of a breast to the eyes. It’s more like they don’t want to be reminded the body works like that. I’m wondering if it’s more akin to how people don’t want to hear about menstruation or jock itch in public. And if that’s the case, that means people think breastfeeding is “gross” and they should be protected from having to think about it. And the only way to accomplish that is for mothers with young babies to stay home and breastfeed for a couple of years. Which of course is exactly where some people think women belong generally.

  5. Cheryl H. says

    An anon left this comment in the Tumblr askbox of someone I follow:

    Penises are for urinating and supplying sperm for reproduction, doesn’t mean we urinate and fuck in public .. why should breast feeding be okay? fucking typical one sided feminist

    Her reply:

    Does your penis provide sustenance for another person? No. Can you show your nipples in public if you want to? Yes. Also, breasts are not genitals or sex organs. Only 13 out of 190 cultures world wide consider them to be sexual or even private parts. Don’t even act like this is a feminist thing. This is a babies-have-the-right-to-eat thing.

    What were were saying about breasts being viewed in a sexual way?

  6. Cheryl H. says

    From the BBC: “A mother from Staffordshire has launched a breastfeeding protest after being called a ‘tramp’ on Facebook for feeding her baby in public.”


    A man in a pub across the street where she was feeding her daughter took a picture of Ms. Slough and posted it on Facebook with the “tramp” comment. I can’t help but feeling that’s an invasion of her privacy and if Ms. Slough had been a Mr. Slough doing something ‘distasteful’ across from the pub, there wouldn’t have been a photo taken.

    • says

      I love how people think you should go into a public toilet. In a major city, you are rarely alone for 30 seconds in public toilets. So what they really want is for you to go into a stall, which means you have to touch the door at the very least, and public toilets are not exactly bastions of sanitation. I’m sure if your baby catches a disease from a public toilet, these same people will want to see you hung for negligence. Why don’t people that miserable just fuck off and die? I’m sorry, but if that’s the sort of thing that keeps you up at night, you must be a miserable little shit so it would be a mercy, right? Lol!

      • Cheryl H. says

        Over and over, breastfeeding mothers hear/receive the same message: Be covered. Do it behind a closed door. Be hidden away. It’s all about the breast being something impolite and unclean, an object of lust, dirty and shameful that should be hidden away, kept covered and out of sight, not the least of the reasons being the sight of it can turn men into mindless beasts incapable of controlling themselves. And, of course, we must Think Of The Children(!!!eleventyone!!!).

        Every time I hear about a breastfeeding mother being shamed, the mother in Texas who was banned from breastfeeding in a Victoria’s Secret comes to mind. Weekend Update did a segment on that, and their tagline was something like “We can’t have people getting the wrong idea about what breasts are for”, which I thought was absolutely perfect.

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