Let’s talk about the policing of women’s bodies. From fat-shaming to thin-shaming to slut-shaming to virgin-shaming, we need to learn to leave women’s bodies alone.
As a woman with a body, having to have this conversation over and over and over again is exhausting.
I want to emphasize that the policing of bodies is not limited to cis women. Oklahoma is currently contending with a spate of legislation attempting to police the bodies of transgender and nonbinary folks. The policing of male bodies is real, however it is different in that men have a historical advantage over women.
Certainly, historical precedent is part of the reason this trend persists—the policing of bodies serves to emphasize the role of women as objects. It serves to silence us and to keep us below men in political and social situations.
By far, the most egregious and absurd form of policing women’s bodies comes in the form of shaming women for breastfeeding in public or for shaming women for choosing not to breastfeed or being unable to breastfeed.
The most obvious form of this is certainly in limiting women’s access to spaces—social spaces, business spaces, service spaces—because they need to breastfeed.
Newborn babies are literally built to breastfeed. The physiological design of their swallow mechanism is totally built for breastfeeding. It is completely different from an adult’s swallow mechanism, because it has an entirely different and adaptive purpose.
And, in much the same way that a baby’s swallow mechanism is designed to breastfeed, the breasts on female bodies are designed to lactate and feed babies. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a female-bodied person who cannot or will not breastfeed. It is their right to make whatever choice they feel is best for themselves and for their families. However, the idea that it is acceptable to shame and ban women who breastfeed in public is absurd.
It is not shameful to use your body to keep your baby alive. It is not shameful to have breasts or to use them.
If a female-bodied person cannot breastfeed in public—literally sustaining life with their breasts—why is it acceptable for a male-bodied person to mow their lawn without a shirt?
I was going to give a recent example of a breastfeeding controversy, but when you google that phrase you get an overwhelming number of responses. Women being thrown out of restaurants, forced to leave gyms and even my favorite place in the world, Target. There are so many stories of female-bodied people trying to take care of their children in the way they think is best, and being discriminated against because of that.
Every mother deserves to make choices about what is best for her baby without judgement from others—especially when that choice is empirically supported. No one should be policing female bodies, which certainly includes sexualizing a female body without the occupant’s consent.
Babies need to eat, and often the best way for that to happen is through breastfeeding. The act of feeding a baby should not be sexualized and women ought to be able to make their own choices about how they use their bodies.