Friday, July 09, 2010

The Double Standard

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.


With regards to breastfeeding in public, there seems to be a double standard.

Definition of Double Standard: A set of principles permitting greater opportunity or liberty to one than to another

Regarding a nursing mother, people are quick to say things such as:

"She should do that somewhere else."

"She should cover up if she's going to do THAT."

"I shouldn't have to see that!"

"She should be more considerate of the people around her who don't want to see that."

That, that, that... what exactly is meant by "that?" The act of breastfeeding itself, or the potential skin exposure?

I figure it must be the act itself which many people find objectionable, because many of these same people, when walking past a lingerie store in the mall or a group of young women in low-cut, strappy shirts, often fail to make the same comments. At least, they don't typically approach them and say, "Your low-cut shirt is making me uncomfortable." They don't express their discomfort with the waiter at the restaurant by asking, "Ugg, that girl is showing too much cleavage - could you ask her to put on a sweater or leave?" And they certainly don't complain to the authorities, asking for the police to come and stop the cleavage-baring.

But all this happens to breastfeeding mothers in public. They are told by strangers that what they are doing is inappropriate. They are approached by waiters who have had complaints from other diners. They are harassed by the police for feeding their babies. That last one happens so often, it is astounding to me. When is the last time you heard of a woman being asked by the police to leave a mall because she was wearing a low-cut top or an incredibly short dress?

The message being sent is: You may show cleavage for no reason at all, just because you want to dress that way, but it is not okay to possibly show a bit of skin while using your breasts for an actual, real purpose.

And the kicker is this: breastfeeding mothers typically show far less skin than many women wearing low-cut tops, strappy dresses, bare midriff outfits, and short skirts.

Here's about how much skin you will see on a breastfeeding mother who is dressed in an average short-sleeved shirt:
That is me nursing my toddler at a Tonic concert recently. No cleavage. Small amount of skin if you look really, really hard (and if you are looking really hard, then you must just be looking to start an argument!).

Same event in this next picture, non-nursing women this time (click to see a closer view):
I will first clarify that I am NOT picking on these random women in the above photo. It was a hot day out. I am not showing photos of their cleavage - that would not be nice of me. ;) But if you look at the clothing on several of the women here - pictured from the back - you can see that these shirts and dresses would be the type that might show a lot of skin from the front as well. More skin, at least, than a nursing mom would be showing. I show this to illustrate the point that of all the skin and cleavage seen in public, most of it does not belong to nursing moms!

So, is it the skin? Or is it what is being done with the skin?

Why is there this double standard? Why is it okay to display flesh for the sake of fashion, or to be promiscuous, or because you are at the beach or it is a hot day, but not to feed a baby???


Art by Erika Hastings at

Welcome to the Carnival of Nursing in Public

Please join us all week, July 5-9, as we celebrate and support breastfeeding mothers. And visit any time to connect with other breastfeeding supporters, learn more about your legal right to nurse in public, and read (and contribute!) articles about breastfeeding and N.I.P.

Do you support breastfeeding in public? Grab this badge for your blog or website to show your support and encourage others to educate themselves about the benefits of breastfeeding and the rights of breastfeeding mothers and children.

This post is just one of many being featured as part of the Carnival of Nursing in Public. Please visit our other writers each day of the Carnival. Click on the links below to see each day’s posts - new articles will be posted on the following days:
July 5 - Making Breastfeeding the Norm: Creating a Culture of Breastfeeding in a Hyper-Sexualized World
July 6 – Supporting Breastfeeding Mothers: the New, the Experienced, and the Mothers of More Than One Nursing Child
July 7 – Creating a Supportive Network: Your Stories and Celebrations of N.I.P.
July 8 – Breastfeeding: International and Religious Perspectives
July 9 – Your Legal Right to Nurse in Public, and How to Respond to Anyone Who Questions It


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Oh I am with you. Society celebrates the Victoria's Secrets angels shows/commercials on prime time TV, but to see a woman NIP? (sigh)

Carrie said...

that is sooooooooooo awesome!!!! I would much rather my son see a mom breastfeeding than walk by the Victoria's secret window!!!!! VERY WELL WRITTEN!!!

Maman A Droit said...

I think part of it is an anti-baby/anti-fertility bias in society. Looking like a teenage boy with long thin limbs and no curves? "sexy". Having hips and boobs and babies? Gross and inferior.

You see it in Hollywood and throughout our culture, and I think it's too bad.

Melodie said...

Can you imagine if someone actually did approach a woman showing "too much" cleavage? "Excuse me, your breasts are offending me. Please cover up." At least it would be laughable.

Erin said...

Right, Melodie... if somebody were to say that to a woman, they may very well get charged with sexual harassment!

It is so backwards... a woman can be showing tons of skin intentionally by her choice of clothing, but to say anything is considered harassment, or if a man glances at her, he's a "sexist pig," but then we have nursing moms who are not even *trying* to show extra skin who are threatened with the police - like *they* are trying to sexually harass people by nursing where they might be seen or something! It is just crazy!

Kelly said...

very well said, I don't understand how women bearing most of the their breasts in public for fashion is okay but feeding your child is a problem

Anonymous said...

The best thing I have heard you say is that people think they have the right not to be offended. And very true about the other offensive things we view never being dealt with in the same way as a mom nourishing her child. I do think some moms who wear button down shirts and expose the entire breast turn some mom's that I know off to doing it in public at all (one in particular at the mall next to her husband) but most are very discreet and even if they aren't, you are right that it is not our right not to be offended.