It was intermission at the self-publishing workshop and before I could leave my seat and mingle, another participant apparated Harry Potter style right next to me. With a self introduction slim on details he immediately began sharing a peculiar anecdote. It went something like, “blah, blah, blah – co workers at the restaurant. Blah blah blah – lady breastfeeding. Blah blah blah – what do you think?” I listened politely, hesitated and asked about the gender of the co-workers. He started to retell the story using character names and poor impersonations. Like a movie with an obvious twist it was revealed that the women employees were the ones against breastfeeding in public places while the men were in full support. The women argued that men who are in support of public breastfeeding are perverts and just want to see women expose their breast. The men questioned why is it so hard to believe that a man can be in support of breastfeeding without being perceived as a sexual pervert.
The conversation left me wondering, “What do men really think about breastfeeding, and how are their beliefs shaped and influenced?”
At work students were huddled around the front desk talking about the babies they had on the way. The receptionist asked one of the female students if she was considering breastfeeding. Simultaneously, the boys and girls expressed their disgust with a chorus of “Eeewwwww! That’s nasty!” My students’ ages range from 16-20. The receptionist followed up with, “What’s so nasty about it?” No one could answer the question. After a gentle coaxing she finally got them to say something. What students described as disgust turned out to be plain ignorance. Both genders understood women’s breast as objects reserved for sexual activity. Breastfeeding is perceived as a sexual act between the mother and child. Which is understandably why they see breastfeeding as “nasty”.
The receptionist lured me way from the copy machine and asked, “Mrs. Patrick are you still nursing your daughter?” One student immediately shouted, “Naw see, you changing the subject. We talkin’ bout breastfeeding.” I joined in on the conversation and explained the different terms, the benefits of nursing and so forth. We captivated a rowdy group of kids with a conversation on breastfeeding. One young man said, “I’m gonna go home and tell my baby mutha she need to breastfeed.” Another young man harped, “Yo, you want everyone to see your girl’s business.” I explained that yes, breastfeeding involves breast but it doesn’t need to include full exposure. I told them that they probably have seen a few women nursing in public and didn’t even realize it.
I searched the internet for data about men and breastfeeding and of course found next to nothing on the subject. I have known women who said they did not breastfeed because the father became jealous, was uncomfortable with the idea, or was not supportive. So, it leads me back to my original question. What do men really think about breastfeeding?
I do not believe that men are against breastfeeding. It just that people don’t like what they don’t understand. People say certain foods are nasty even though they have never tried it. People say certain activities are boring or stupid and they have never participated. It is normal, but unfortunate, that many people fear or reject the unfamiliar instead of trying to educate themselves about it. Breastfeeding is not the exception.
Men, are strategically kept out of the mothering loop. There are no father magazines. There are no breastfeeding support groups for parents, just moms. There are no k-12 textbooks that address breastfeeding. There are no images of men supporting women while nursing. There are few women who even nurse. There are no government, non-profit, or faith base breastfeeding initiatives that includes the entire family or community. Everything is geared toward the mother. But, if women are going around calling men in support of breastfeeding perverts what do you think he’ll teach his son? If a son hears his mother complain that someone is breastfeeding in public, what will he think about nursing when he is older? If women are telling their child’s father that breastfeeding is nasty, then how will his opinion ever change?
If I had a breastfeeding initiative it would start with K-12 education addressing nursing the same as menstrual cycle, puberty, and reproduction. I would welcome whole families in the nursing process to foster support. I would create advertisements that show positive images of nursing that include the father. I would spread up to date information about breastfeeding such as benefits, public displays, federal laws, and testimonies. I would encourage more women to nurse in public, for fathers to be active and for society to be open to what is one of the most nature things on earth – eating.