A woman was barred from breastfeeding in a store in Austin, Texas recently. This should not come as an earth-shattering news flash; despite most of the country slowly beginning to join the 21st century, there are always pockets of resistance. The interesting part of the story was the store that was involved. Victoria’s Secret.
How ironic is it that a store that specializes in exposing women’s breasts to the most provocative degree possible somehow develops an aversion to that same body tissue? And how ironic that it occurred in an establishment almost exclusively managed by women? Because the public breastfeeding debate is clearly a women’s rights issue. It is about our culture’s objectification of women as sexual beings and our inability to reconcile that characterization with any other identity for women (nurturer, provider, mother, leader, etc). Victoria’s Secret is at the top of the pantheon of Objectifiers of Women- just walk by their store and see the 15 foot tall scantily clad buxom female bursting out of the skimpy brassiere and evidently angry about something (I think I know what). Americans’ uneasiness with breastfeeding in general is a ridiculous cultural idiosyncracy tied in with our myopia concerning women and sexuality. We are poorly educated and indoctrinated into the multidimensional quality of women’s bodies. Our hypersexualization of women has created such a powerful psychic gradient that any other purpose to those delightful orbs generates a crossing of the wires in our brains that many people just cannot deal with.
Few other countries struggle as we do. Breastfeeding rates in most other industrialized nations are far higher- and longer- than ours, making this issue a public health issue as well. Inadequate breastfeeding is associated with increased risk of immune deficiencies, cancers for both mother and child, allergies, asthma, and a host of other serious health problems. It has been suggested, in fact, that we should treat breastfeeding more like other safety imperatives for children- in the context of high risk behavior. We don’t say, after all, that “using a car seat when driving with your child is better”- we say, “driving with your child unsecured in the car is dangerous”.
You would think that, of all places, Victoria’s Secret, a company whose CEO, Sharen Jester Turney, is one of the world’s highest paid female executives; a company whose over 1,000 retail outlets are staffed almost exclusively by women, would be the first to join the “lactivist” movement. You would expect them to hire a breastfeeding woman to be placed in the store at all times as a permanent installation! Yes, breasts are beautiful and sensual and sexual, but, like women, they have other facets and purposes. Just keep that in mind. Have a nice day, thank you for shopping…
A Victoria’s Secret employee asking a nursing woman to retreat to the end of an alley outside the store (literally, this is what happened) in shame is like the NRA refusing to admit police officers as members. They are banning the image they need the most. The timing of this story is particularly unfortunate, as it coincides with another mention of breastfeeding in the news. The pope, at a recent mass, declared that any nursing women present who needed to breastfeed at any time during the mass should not hesitate to do so. Steven Colbert quipped that this broke the sacred rule of mass: no snacks! He added that he should be allowed to eat buffalo wings dipped in ranch dressing from the communion water vessel.
When a modern woman-owned U.S. company is made to look outdated and backward by the Catholic church it’s a wake-up call if I ever heard one!