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Chapter 22 259 Breastfeeding mothers must cope with the dominant notion of the sexual breast that pervades the culture of the United States.1 Even though laws have been passed clarifying the right to breastfeed in public in forty-four states as well as on federal property, breastfeeding in public is still debated, sometimes discriminated against, and is commonly perceived as embarrassing for many mothers.2 This chapter explores mothers’ experiences of living with the sexual breast and the mother-led political struggle to establish a right to breastfeed. Ideological influences on individual and corporate behaviors are insidious, as most often they are not recognized on a conscious level.3 Breastfeeding difficulties, especially around public breastfeeding, have prompted active resistance strategies from mothers. Demonstrating the impact of patriarchal ideology as a breastfeeding constraint can point public health strategy into new territory. Specifically, this chapter examines a central cultural dualism behind inhospitable attitudes toward public breastfeeding that is personified on one hand by the virginal Madonna and on the other by the seductive harlot. As women pick up the echoes of these polarized and moralistic views of women in the culture, they absorb a message implying that good mothers are not active sexual subjects. Re-membering mothers as fully embodied sexual beings suggests a possible transformation of public health advocacy of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in Cultural Context Sexual connotations tied to breasts and breastfeeding constrain whether, where, and how long mothers breastfeed.4 Mothers express concern about turning men on and feel vulnerable to social judgment when breastfeeding in Sexual or Maternal Breasts? A Feminist View of the Contested Right to Breastfeed Publicly Carol Grace Hurst public. Some women even express reluctance to breastfeed openly in their own homes due to their own codes of modesty or strictures placed on them by spouses, boyfriends, or significant others. Open breastfeeding, especially with older babies, is not yet a well-accepted cultural norm.5 Some studies suggest that a mother’s internal reticence to be subject to social judgment due to breastfeeding may be more constraining than actual experiences of negative interactions while in public.6 Choosing to breastfeed should not be understood as a simple act of individual volition, although breastfeeding promotion messages sometimes seem to imply that infant feeding is a simple choice. Feminist social critique maintains that economic and social structures impinge on women’s freedom in many spheres; breastfeeding is one of them. Mothers do choose whether or not to breastfeed, yet this choice is conditioned by complex cultural understandings of the meaning of breastfeeding and mothering and of breasts and sexuality.7 The choice to breastfeed is made within a net of relationship circumstances where the desirability of breastfeeding and a mother’s prerogative to enact the practice may be disputed. Frequently, conflicting advice and expectations are placed on the mother. Opinions of her intimate partner, mother, sisters, and friends are influential.8 Public health recommendations encouraging breastfeeding are filtered through primary support persons and professional helpers (nurses, midwives, doctors, and Women, Infants, and Children personnel). The choice to continue breastfeeding day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year is made by the mother only as she negotiates her way through this maze of advice and expectations, as well as her ongoing experience of success or frustration with what is occurring at the breast with her baby. Mothers’ rights to breastfeed are under continual negotiation, as well, in the broader milieu of society.9 Skirmishes in the battle over breastfeeding in public have played out within the media; on buses, planes, and trains; in restaurants; on social networking sites like Facebook; and within state houses and Congress. Health recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for six months, to continue breastfeeding for a full year and beyond, and to meet Healthy People 2010 goals are tidy pronouncements on paper. It is messier by far to be the mother deciding how to explain herself—messier by far to claim an uncontested right to breastfeed wherever a mother and baby have a right to be in public. Mothers’ Voices Mothers’ own explanations of their situations can teach us about the impact of sexual perceptions of breasts and breastfeeding on mothers’ perceived options. 260 Carol Grace Hurst The following short excerpts in mothers’ own words show a range of experiences coping with the sexually defined breast in infant feeding. These excerpts are a data subset of a larger mixed-methods study of breastfeeding...


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