Marc Barnes is a college student who writes with admirable boldness (sometimes heading down a path of "oops, I tried to make a really clever, shocking analogy but it all went wrong" in my opinion) over at Bad Catholic. Sometimes I think Marc blogs what G.K. Chesterton might have penned if he hadn't had the good fortune to have an editor. It falls on his combox readers sometimes to push back and say "dude, what you just said? No, and here's why" and to his credit he listens to them and often corrects himself.
His latest is called "Is Female Purity Bullshit?" and it is shaping up to make some good points. I am looking forward to the promised followup posts. However, what I wanted to point out today is to pull out a complete comment from an anonymous commenter who signed herself "a mom." Responding to a male defender if public breastfeeding who argued that men "should not always consider breasts as sexual," she wrote:
As a woman and a mother, I'm really grateful to see/read guys defending public breastfeeding as a chaste action :-) But I do have a recommendation, and that is to not balk at the idea of breasts always being "sexual." They are. Accepting that is one step closer to rightly integrating one's sexuality.
I'm going to make my case short and sweet:
"Sexuality" is the quality of being either male or female.
Women have breasts that are able to nourish a child. Men don't. Breastfeeding is, therefore, an inherently "sexual" capability. In other words, it differentiates one sex from another.
The essential difference between the sexes points to our complementarity, and our complementarity points to the fact that we are called to sexual unity. This is the logic built into our sexual -- male and female -- bodies.
So yes, it's perfectly "natural" that that which differentiates us helps to attract one sex to the other. It's perfectly "natural" that there would be an element of awe, an element of attractive beauty attached to what is "other" or outside of our own experience of life. "I'm made for you. You're made for me. We see this in our bodies. We belong together."
But that logic of complementarity, in the mystery of its imago dei, does not simply feed one into the other, as if it were a matter of filling a mutual void. No, the logic of complementarity that we read in our bodies necessarily pours outward in new fruitfulness, increasing wonder upon wonder.
Thus, when men (or women) make the argument that mothers ought to cover up when breastfeeding "because their breasts are sexual," my heart aches for the vision they lack.
By reducing "sexual" to "that-which-arouses-me," they have reduced complementarity to an exchange of self-serving use, and have severed its fruitfulness. In saying the "erotic" value of the breasts trumps the nurturing, self-donative value, they have shown their ignorance of the meaning of "sexual" in the first place, and in doing so have shown their poverty. And those who insist upon this poverty, as if it is "just how God designed men," are missing out -- not just on the full beauty of the sexuality of women, but in the dignity of the sexuality of men.
That child breastfeeding is the crown of our sexual complementarity -- a gift that completes the sexual logic of our bodies and showcases it in all its glory. That child is a reminder to a man that a woman is his equal in dignity, not his object of pleasure or his toy. That child reminds man that together he and she have poured their lives out to one another for neither simply his sake nor hers, but for that of another.
A man who is truly attracted to the full sexuality of a woman should see in the act of breastfeeding the epitome of her sexuality -- and his response should be awe, gratitude, and respect. It should be the same awe and gratitude with which a father watches his wife gently tend to any of their child's other needs with the special grace bestowed upon her.
It should never be a jealous, "I wish I were in the child's place," nor an uneasy battle with an interior desire to "have" or "own" her, nor disapproval or disgust. The latter, sadly, are too often the reality for those who make the argument that women ought hide themselves away while breastfeeding. They are the mark of a man who wants to keep woman for himself.
Yes. Breastfeeding is sexual. It is something only she can do. And we should thank her for it, as it is a reminder that we all exist for the good of the other.
I really loved this.
I think sometimes people point to the relative comfort and ease that it appears (from our perspective) other cultures have towards breastfeeding and assume that our culture's leering, mocking horror of it results from "they don't think it has anything to do with sex, and they're right and we're wrong, because breasts aren't for sex, they are for feeding babies." I think the relationship is a little more complex than that, and I don't recommend pretending to read the mind of any other culture so that we can make noble-savage assumptions about it. Every human culture has its own gifts, but also its own insidious pathologies, and I doubt any of them have the perfectly correct attitude toward human sexuality, which is to say, the correct attitude toward human-ness.
Part of it is, I am certain, our culture's insistence on refusing to acknowledge the connection between sex and babies. The act of breastfeeding is a squirming, snorting reminder that the reason humans have sex is because sex makes babies and sex prepares a home for them, and that is where they come from. The culture rejects this public, explicit, naked sign.
Some reject it from the "babies are good, but we don't want to talk about sex, because sex is private and fraught with danger" end. Some reject it from the "everything about sex is good and wonderful and should have free expression, except for making babies from it" end. Both of those ends tend to be disgusted and/or alarmed by the public, united mother-baby pair. Hide them away. They're embarrassing us.
There is, perhaps, an argument to be made (from the babies-are-good end) that, though open breastfeeding is good and in a perfect world there would be no problem, the poisonous culture has created an environment where it isn't "safe" to openly feed babies in public. The culture with its ambitions ("your-sexual-identity-is-for-my-pleasure-and-profit") has declared war, of a sort, on the brazen, public nourishing of children.
I wonder if the divisions between those who say "hide it away to protect mother/baby/onlookers," and those who say "do it anyway because it's right," could be summed up as a difference between battle tactics. One, an impulse to retreat; the other, an impulse to advance.