Free the Nipple | Teen Ink

Free the Nipple

November 23, 2015
By Nic0le BRONZE, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
Nic0le BRONZE, Hoffman Estates, Illinois
4 articles 0 photos 4 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Words without experience are meaningless." - Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Americans claim that their #1 fear is public speaking, but when people take a look at the media and how society reacts to the sight of excessive bare skin, it seems as though nudity is the real enemy. Only in America will families not even flinch at the brutal violence on their TV screens, but then instinctively order their children to cover their eyes at the sight of a naked breast. With all this social stigma revolving around the female body and painting it as this mysterious object, it only makes it harder for women to breastfeed in public. Nursing mothers are shamed publicly by the law and bystanders, who tell women that it should be an act behind closed doors. Having public breastfeeding illegal simply because it makes Americans uncomfortable to look at a bare and shameless tit is a weak reason for prohibiting a natural function from the public eye. Breastfeeding in public must be legalized in the U.S. as it is a woman's right to provide nutrients for her baby, help future mothers learn how it is done by exposure, and is a law based on the perception of women as sexual objects.

American society buys into this idea that if a woman uses her breasts for anything that is not sex related, whether it be nursing a baby or going for a run without a shirt, it should be prohibited. Women’s actions have been hypersexualized since childhood, due to the exposure of advertisements and other forms of entertainment that distort the perception of a female body to something of a sexual object. Just last year, according to Dunne (2014), “a [27 year old] mother was left in tears after being called a ‘s***’ for breastfeeding in a coffee shop” (p.1). No mother deserves to feel shame for feeding her child in a natural and safe way. The issue with breastfeeding (or lack of it) is that it’s not a sexual act at all. What is more of a perverted act than the woman discreetly nursing her baby in a restaurant is the grown man at the next table ogling her bare breasts. Unfortunately, none of these criticisms ever goes towards the type of people who creepily glare at mothers while they are breastfeeding, the judgements are always directed towards the women and how “inappropriate” it is to portray themselves like that to the public.            


Many outsiders from more liberal countries find it odd how American culture treats nudity and judge that its laws do not do enough to protect bodily functions that are limited to females only. When looking at the restrictions concerning the birth control pill and most other female related issues, they are correct. However, since women’s issues have been getting more attention now than ever, there have been many laws coming out that protect the rights of mothers and women in general. According to Gleeson (2015), “ Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person breastfeeding, directly or indirectly” (p.1). Also according to Gleeson (2015), “the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act was amended so it included breastfeeding as a specific provision [in 2007]” (p.1). Acts such as these have been made to make it clear that asking a breastfeeding mother to leave or refusing them service because of what they are doing is sexual discrimination. However, despite these acts, there are still currently only four states left, South Dakota, Virginia, Idaho, and Michigan, where mothers cannot breastfeed wherever, whenever they want. With all this lack of knowledge and respect for the female body, it seems as though private parts should not really be that privatized after all.        

In fact, private parts need to be publicized more for educational purposes. So far, the only portrayals of naked bodies in the media are when they are used to imply or engage in sex, which is why Americans have such an uncomfortable reaction to nudity. In this culture, nudity immediately implies sex. However, bodies have a wide range of purposes and are much more complex than simply being a means for reproduction. By exposing future generations to nursing mothers in public places, not only is the society teaching future mothers how breastfeeding is done, but it is also showing that people’s bodies are not something that individuals should be ashamed of. Breastfeeding is a natural part of motherhood and an opportunity for mothers to be role models to their children when it comes to being comfortable in one’s own body in its most natural form. According to Gleeson (2015), “Dr Karleen Gribble, from the University of Western Sydney's school of nursing and midwifery, said... ‘The more breastfeeding is seen about the place, the easier it will be for mums when it is their turn’” (p. 1). In some aspect, these mothers are doing a community service by indirectly teaching young women how it is done through observational learning. American public schools are censored enough when it comes to sex education, censoring a mother’s natural instincts is not producing any positive outcomes either. The more uneducated people are about sex and raising a kid, the more unplanned teenage pregnancies are bound to happen. Some people argue against breastfeeding in public, because it’s considered an indecent exposure and can lead to awkward social interactions where a child might even ask questions. According to Wallace (2014), one criticizer of public breastfeeding argued that “our choices have [an effect] on the people around us... A simple burp rag over the child and the problem goes away" (p. 1). But see, this problem can more easily go away if people were not so scared of actually teaching and giving their child an honest, straightforward answer about the human body and its functions. Rather than prohibiting certain acts, lawmakers need to think of ways where they can educate people. The problem is not the woman who chooses to breastfeed in public, it is the people around her that perceive her as this sexually deviant criminal and treat her as such. As ridiculous and unnecessary as it sounds, people need to educate the community on the fact that breastfeeding is indeed normal, natural, and okay.

As mentioned before, breastfeeding is a natural part of motherhood. There are many health benefits when it comes to nursing a baby. Most women choose to bottle feed so as to avoid public shame and/or their own insecurities. However, studies have shown that medically advised breastfeeding protects the breast and is necessary for the healthy development of the child. According to Jator (2012), “ breastfeeding provides an infant with essential nutrients to protect against illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia” (p. 1). Mothers who are able to produce milk and want to start breastfeeding in public should not feel as though they are in a too hostile of an environment to feed and care for her child. Ironically, a large majority of people who create these hostile environments are conservatives who are also pro-life; they’re essentially denying a baby’s rights to nutrients. However, once people are more exposed to mothers shamelessly nursing their child in public settings, it will lower new mothers’ anxieties and insecurities about the whole situation. It all comes down to people’s acceptance towards seeing breastfeeding in public and the ways in which people will eventually grow an indifference to this act. According to Bauchner (2006), “breastfeeding is the cultural norm in the countries of origin for many non-US-born US residents” (p. 1). For something that is so universal and a priceless tactic to help the chances of a baby's survival, there is no reason for breastfeeding to be illegal from the public eye. Generally, it is healthier and financially smarter for babies to breastfeed overall. Hopefully some day, seeing a woman breastfeed in public will be as equal of a social norm as giving a baby a bottle in public, as it does the same exact job with just a different method of doing so.

Legalizing public breastfeeding in America will be beneficial for women everywhere as it is their right to provide nutrients for their babies in order for them to develop healthily, educate inexperienced moms on one of the basic introductions of motherhood, and further eliminate sexual discrimination for future mothers. Keep in mind, however, that it no longer becomes solely a women's issue when it affects the development of the human race. Although it does make some people uncomfortable to look at a naked breast, the goal should be to educate rather than eliminate. These symbolic closed doors where many men have told women to go breastfeed in silence must be taken down. This is a message to all Americans, regardless of gender: free your nipples with purpose and without shame.

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