‘I do not respect women.’ —A work colleague.
‘I’ve been put off my lunch by a woman publicly breast feeding!’ —An acquaintance, who went on to state he was most offended by the sight of the woman’s nipples.
These two statements were said this week in my hearing by two men who, to my knowledge, do not know each other, yet I can’t help but feel that they express similar sentiments and are somewhat linked. This post will attempt to dissect exactly what is meant by the above statements and the impact they have on society’s view of women.
Firstly, to be put off your lunch by a woman breast feeding seems wrong, doesn’t it? I mean, you’re not the only person eating—the baby’s hungry too, right? It is exactly this kind of fascism, body terrorism, or whatever you want to call it that makes women insecure about their bodies and furthers the incorrect idea that they should somehow be ashamed of themselves for doing something completely natural. In a society where women are constantly informed that they are not pretty enough, not intelligent enough (or, rather counter-intuitively, they are too intelligent, and this is also seen as a bad thing), and not good enough, I tip my metaphorical cap to women with the bravery to breast feed in public, to stick two fingers up in the face of society and put the health, safety, and comfort of their children before adherence to the ridiculous demands placed on them to look the way they’re ‘expected’ to look. I did point out to the person who said this that had it been a man whose nipples were visible, he would not have provoked such an incredibly strong reaction in my acquaintance and would certainly not have merited such unapologetic disgust, so why should it be different for women?
There was no response to this.
Surely this display of disgust when faced with the sight of a woman breast feeding shows a fundamental lack of respect for women and their bodies and their right to act as free agents? If you’re offended by something, don’t look at it. It’s really quite simple. Of course, the next argument inevitably posed by the body fascism fraternity is that parent-and-baby rooms exist, so why can the breast feeding not take place in there? Well, let me tell you something. Due to fears of judgmental reactions from passersby, it often does take place in there, amidst other parents changing their children’s nappies and cleaning up faeces and vomit. Would you eat a meal surrounded by this? No. And you certainly wouldn’t want to expose your child to anything harmful or unsanitary while they’re eating, would you? They’re not called breast feeding rooms because women aren’t expected to breast feed in them. Why people seem to have this need to grossly overreact to the simple sight of a baby having a meal is so far beyond me that I struggle to even process it. It’s not harmful, it’s not illegal, and it’s not even unnatural. Yet people seem hugely shocked by a baby having the unmitigated gall to require sustenance.
Although actually, that’s not quite true. It’s not the baby’s fault for needing sustenance; it is invariably the mother’s fault for daring to brazenly flout societal expectations and discreetly bare a breast so that her child can eat. Which kind of begs the question, when did bare breasts become the international symbol for indecency, and why?
That’s really a topic for another post, so I’ll leave that for now. My point, however, stands. Why are we indoctrinated as a society to instinctively shame women and terrorize their bodies? What is the point of doing this, and why does it not happen so much to men? The answer to that final clause is fairly simple: it doesn’t happen so much to men because there is not a society known that is not dominated by male opinion.
It all comes back, as mentioned earlier, to a fundamental lack of respect for women. And people are quite open about this. When my colleague stated he did not respect women, he was not shy about this, he did not seem embarrassed, and it was mentioned almost casually, just thrown into the conversation. (A side note on this: after disclosing his lack of respect for women, he did then say that he had not had sex in six months, and I was quick to point out that perhaps these things were related.) How can people be so blasé about disrespecting their fellow human beings? What purpose does this lack of respect serve? People won’t think you’re cool because you don’t respect others. Women are already universally dominated – why make it worse?