discrimination

Breastfeeding In Public: Scandal or Right?

Women comprise 50.4% of the population of Canada meaning that up to half of the entire population will at some point in their lives be faced with the decision of whether or not to breastfeed their child. Although the law protects women against facing discrimination for breastfeeding and the laws of certain provinces allow women to be topless in public, society is still uncomfortable with breastfeeding even though advertisers feel free to use the naked or near-naked female body to sell products. For this post I will examine the history of the legality of breastfeeding and public nudity as well as the social stigma placed on the act in light of political viewpoints.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms affords protection to women on the basis that nobody can be discriminated against based on their gender, that both males and females have equal rights (Section 28). According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, this equality extends not only to the matter of gender itself but also to the biological status of pregnancy. Section 10(2) of the Code states, “The right to equal treatment without discrimination because of sex includes the right to equal treatment without discrimination because a woman is or may become pregnant.” Building on the establishment that gender includes pregnancy, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding states that, “‘Pregnancy’ includes the process of pregnancy of conception up to the period following childbirth and includes the post-delivery period and breastfeeding.” Clearly the law is decided that one cannot discriminate against a woman based on her gender, which includes pregnancy and also breastfeeding. However, this does not apply to all locations in Canada, but only parts of Ontario and British Columbia. In the rest of Canada, location-specific laws may apply. For the most part though, the consensus tends to be increasingly liberal and perhaps we may soon see similar laws put into effect in the rest of the country.

In July 19, 1991, Gwen Jacob², a resident of Guelph, Ontario was arrested and charged with indecency after walking home shirtless during a warm day, with temperatures reaching 33 degrees Celsius. Jacob was found guilty under Section 173(1)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada and fined $75. She appealed, but was dismissed by the Ontario Court. Upon this, Jacob appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal and, on December 9, 1996, she was acquitted on the basis that her act of toplessness was neither sexual or indecent. Section 173 incriminates “everyone who willfully does an indecent act in a public place in the presence of one or more persons, or in any place with intent to insult or offend any person” but since then, toplessness has been determined to not fall under the category of an indecent act provided it not be sexual in its nature or commercial (for example, a prostitute cannot use her breasts to elicit clients). Jacob’s case (R. v. Jacob) has become famous and is now taught in Criminal Law courses. Public nudity is now allowed in parts of Ontario and British Columbia. The remainder of the provinces and territories have their own laws which are usually treated on a case by case basis, but generally tend to be very liberally accepting of similar acts. Although toplessness is treated, if it is treated at all, as a minor crime in the eyes of the law, it is still seen as an unacceptable act in the eyes of society. Even though it falls within their legal rights to do so, many women chose not to go topless on the hottest of days.

Considering that the law (in certain areas) protects a woman’s right both to avoid discrimination for breastfeeding her child as well as her right to appear topless in a public location, why is it that society still places a negative stigma on breastfeeding in public? I recently conducted a Facebook survey, in which out of 20 respondents, 100% of them reported that they feel breastfeeding should be allowed in public, but 15% of them required the condition of a cover in the form of a blanket or shawl, etc (30% gave no comment about a cover, leaving 55% expressing comfort with the idea of seeing a woman breastfeed in public without using any means of covering it up). While this is but a small sample of the population, it is clear that although society sees breastfeeding as a natural act, very few are comfortable with the reality of seeing a woman breastfeed in public. Repeatedly the issue comes up in social media, with many bloggers writing about their own experiences being asked not to breastfeed openly. We would not still be talking about it if there wasn’t so much controversy surrounding the topic.

It does appear however, that the act of breastfeeding itself is not the issue at hand. Rather, the controversy seems to stem from the sexualization of women. Breastfeeding is a feminine-exclusive act in society (biologically men can lactate too) that does not sexualize a woman’s body. To the contrary, breastfeeding is far removed from sexuality. Does the social stigma stem from misogyny? Cecil Adams¹ makes an interesting case from a biological perspective in her column on The Washington City Paper, stating, “Female humans are the only primates with permanently enlarged breasts, which has led to much harebrained speculation about why… (a) male apes mount their paramours from behind; (b) female apes are only in heat at certain times; (c) as a signal that the female ape is sexually receptive, her buttocks become enlarged and red; (d) humans generally do it face to face, and women may be game at any time; (e) any billboard of human female availability thus would logically be installed permanently in front; (f) inasmuch as the female breast becomes enlarged anyway during lactation, it is the obvious candidate. In other words, men like the female breast because, at a primordial level, it reminds them of a monkey’s butt.” Her theory is clearly writ with a subtle sense of humor, but she gets more serious as she continues, “Exposure of much (as distinct from all) of the human female breast is decidedly not taboo. On the contrary, it is the basis of entire industries.” The female breast is advertised and promoted as an object of sexual desire, yet when it comes to nutrition, the breast becomes something that needs to remain out of sight. Why this is the case appears unknown, as most if not all logical conclusions gathered from the preceding evidence suggest the opposite should be true. 

Could then, the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, simply be a matter of Puritan tradition? Where modesty is enforced strictly upon both genders (albeit more fiercely upon women) to the point that any possibility of public nudity, including breastfeeding, is considered taboo, would it be fair to expect that most people’s feelings of discomfort simply come from unconscious social rules that they pick up in early life? If this is indeed the case then it is simply a matter of negative reinforcement that perpetuates the myth that there is something inherently dirty or shameful about breastfeeding in public. After all, in much of Europe, no such stigma exists, and women openly breastfeed their child without giving it a second thought. Could negative connotations about breastfeeding have simply become the product of American culture itself, or even extending back to the Victorian era? 

Who then benefits from these recent protests? Does it truly serve the public at large to allow women to breastfeed in public, or to go topless, as opposed to merely being a neutral side-product, neither helping nor harming anyone? This of course is where the issue turns from being a matter of public nudity to an infringement on free rights. If men can take their shirt off at the beach without facing judgement, then women ought to be able to do the same, or else we have an inequality. It may inconvenience women to have to leave public sight to breastfeed their child, but if none embrace the protest then it may seem like women ought to accept this as reality. However, this would be a very short-sighted conclusion to arrive at. We cannot as a society expect to get away with forcing others to inconvenience themselves so we can avoid taking responsibility for our own reactions. This would be cruel, unequal, and inhuman. If the tables were turned and men were expected to wear shirts on a hot day and women were not, would men everywhere protest? No doubt many of us would accept that as a fair trade, but that speaks further to how far we have sexualized the naked feminine form, that men would gladly suffer a mild inconvenience to leer at a woman’s breasts. In reality, the tables are not turned, yet men still leer.

In conclusion, the law protects a woman’s right to avoid discrimination for breastfeeding as well as her right to go topless in public (with restrictions), and the social consensus remains that breastfeeding should be allowed (although again, often with restrictions), but the fact remains that it is a topic that still makes many people uncomfortable when faced with reality. In theory, everyone would like to appear to be more accepting than they are, and this could contribute to the discontinuity of what people say they feel and what they do. I will leave you on a positive note, with the story of Julia Wykes³, who was defended by a barista at Starbucks in Ottawa after being scolded by a customer for breastfeeding her child in public. As long as there remains people who help to defend the rights of those being discriminated against, society may hope to change for the better after all. 

¹ http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/45459/why-are-women-expected-to-keep-their-nipples-covered-breasts/

² http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/women-s-topless-court-victory-20-years-later-1.1026403

³ http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/barista-defends-woman-after-complaint-over-disgusting-breastfeeding-1.1895566

Do Your Boobs Have Magical Powers?

Why are boobs such magical things?

Answer: they’re not.

Okay, mammary glands produce milk and milk, as well all know, never stops. It’s full of calcium and vitamin E, and… well, cow milk is anyway. We don’t exactly drink human milk after a really young age.

(okay, “mammary glands” makes me think of sea lions and that makes me giggle and I need to be able to actually work right now, so I’m just going to say “boobs” from now on because somehow that doesn’t make me giggle so shut up)

But somehow boobs are magical. Boobs are mystical orbs of wonder and imagination. They’re like Willy Wonka if Ol’ Will was a set of twins and actually did something useful instead of torturing children with succulent goodness but demanding them not to touch and slowly weaned out the weak until only one survived.

Kind of takes on a different meaning now, doesn’t it?

 

“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” Oh dear God…

All jesting aside (I’ll never look at Willy Wonka the same way again), boobs occupy a special place in society. You can watch someone stab a needle through a human’s eye on network television or you can watch men strip off all of their clothes until they’re down to underwear that really doesn’t leave anything to the imagination and nobody bats an eye. But a woman’s nipple? They’d riot in the streets.

But we all know this. The double standard is nothing new. Boobs are bad, right? Jesus doesn’t approve, or whatever they taught you in Sunday School (that’s what they taught me but my childhood was pretty messed up that way so I don’t really know what normal is).

So let’s start debating the issue, beginning with CON-BOOBS!

WHY BOOBS ARE BAD!!! [Or: Why Society’s Boob-Standards Are Totally Fine The Way They Are]

  1. A woman has a right to cover up whatever parts of her body she wants. If she wants to keep her boobs private, that’s her business. This has a flip side that I will address later.
  2. Society determines standards. As much as we’d like to think that we’re all rebels who “don’t do what society says,” if that were actually the case then we wouldn’t have a society to begin with. You can’t rebel against something that nobody even follows. So if society says that boobs are stigmatized, then they are, and really, as a society we’re under a bit of obligation to uphold that stigma.
  3. Boobs do not play a role in reproduction, but they are still a large erogenous zone and we generally think of erogenous zones as areas that should be kept “bedroom-ized” (thumbs up for making up words).

Okay I’m wracking my brain to come up with good reasons for this list because I want to give each viewpoint a fair shot, but I’m having a hard time taking myself seriously. You see my points though, right? Boobs are “scandalous” because… well, because they’re “scandalous.” It’s going to take a psychological overhaul of an entire generation in order to change that. I just want to point out that there really are some legit reasons why we put so much stigma on boobs, and that’s okay.

Now, for the other side, the PRO-BOOBS!

WHY BOOBS ARE GOOD!!! [Or: Why Society Needs To Let Go And Love The Bosom]

  1. A woman has the right to be treated as a human being, not as a sexualized object just for having a physical body. If a woman is confident with her body and doesn’t feel that she should have to cover up her chest, then she shouldn’t have to cover up her chest. 
  2. They are much better looking than their floppy counterparts, the ball sack. Yep, I went there. The guy equivalent of boobs (man-boobs don’t count) is that floppy package in their pants. Nobody judges men for having floppy things, but we judge women for that? #logic
  3. I don’t know what idiot came up with the idea that men are hormone-enslaved lust machines (I’m looking at you, Christians), but the idea that women have to cover up their chests because it’s “modest” is a bunch of BS. It doesn’t matter how much clothing a woman wears, some dude or dudette (holler at me, lesbians) out there is going to be getting turned on. The same goes for the reverse: a woman could walk around stark naked and there’s going to be people (who are totally attracted to women, by the way) who don’t feel a thing. Modesty has nothing to do with the amount of clothing you wear.

Well, I tried. I tried to make some sort of compelling argument, and I think I addressed the ideas that I wanted to, but I just can’t keep this up with a straight face. There’s too much potential for comedy here and I’m getting confused. So let’s bring the list to a close and just chat a little bit, yeah? It’s cool, we’ll just shoot the breeze for a while.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m in favour of women being allowed to do whatever the hell they want in regards to their bodies. But I do understand that there’s a huge amount of stigma attached to the way we as a society view women, particularly when it comes to sexuality, and that stigma isn’t just going to go away overnight. It must come from somewhere, and I think we need to understand that before we can find a solution.

If it wasn’t for the ENDLESS DISCRIMINATION against women, this wouldn’t be such a big deal. A simple health class in grade 6 could get rid of the stigma once and for all. But we’ve got to face the centuries of oppression and that’s something a little bit more difficult to undo. How do you educate young girls and boys that boobs are completely natural and not automatically sexual if everywhere around them the world screams the opposite?

And that’s the key difference.

Are boobs magical? No. Are boobs sexual? Sure.

But not automatically. Not intrinsically.

Sexuality is fluid and subjective. That’s where our problem comes from. We’ve got to convince far too many people that boobs are not in fact the bane of sexual purity (whatever that means anyway) for this to be easy.

Let’s play hypothetical situation. I’ll put myself up as a target.

I’ve never been to a nude beach, so I imagine if one day I did, I would probably spend the whole time staring at people. There, I said it. I’m sorry, but it would just be such a weird situation to find myself in.

But I also think that’s a completely normal response to new situations.

After a while (I hope not a long while) I would stop staring, right?

THIS DOES NOT MEAN I’M DESENSITIZED!

This just means I’ve adapted to my surrounding and realized that there’s nothing bizarre about seeing naked people all around me. It’s only bizarre because I make it so, and once I stop doing so, it becomes pretty normal. But I’m still a sexual creature. I haven’t been damaged somehow because I reached my boob-quota or whatever.

This seems to me like a pretty simple hypothetical. Can we agree on that?

But can you see how this would be such a huge undertaking on a societal level in order to get people to the point of accepting nudity as normal?

(by the way, I’m not saying we should all walk around naked, the line has to be drawn somewhere I guess)

And yet, we still haven’t solved the problem, because we’re still making one tiny assumption that rottens the whole thing.

We’re assuming that women want to walk around topless all the time.

Because maybe they don’t. Or maybe they do. Or maybe some do and some don’t. Or maybe… no, that’s all the possibilities right?

It’s not a matter of should or shouldn’t. It’s a matter of could. If given the opportunity, I would be that most women would not opt to be topless and it would have NOTHING TO DO WITH SOCIETY. It’s a personal matter, as it should be. And thus the opposite should also be personal. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH SOCIETY AT LARGE.

We’ve just convinced ourselves that it does.

And so the cycle continues.

“It’s inappropriate.”

“It’s natural.”

“It’s sinful.”

“It’s an infringement on free expression.”

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

 

So why does society sexualize boobs? I don’t know. Some people try to argue that it’s because men breastfeed but women also breastfeed, so that doesn’t make sense. Maybe we should just blame marketers, but they just prey off trends, so it’s not entirely their fault either.

I think we just dropped the ball over many years. A collective shrug. One unconscious decision after another where we gave a little ground at a time until we forgot we used to occupy an entire country.

 

I’m not saying we should all go topless. I’m not saying we should wear more clothes. I’m just trying to raise the public consciousness so we can ask ourselves why we value the things we value. Why do we consider modesty to be what it is? Why are boobs sexualized?

And if your boobs do have magical powers, do let me know because I love being proven wrong.

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this free-form rant of a post. I enjoy talking about controversial topics in controversial ways, but I don’t want to offend people for no reason. Please realize a lot of what I say is meant to be taken either with a grain of salt or a regular dose of laughter. I’m on your side.

Stop Telling Other People To Stop Complaining That Other People Are Judging Them (Did You Follow That?)

We’re all aware of the prejudices that happen in our world. We have protests popping up everywhere against progressive, rational thought, preventing people from getting equality, and hindering the development of our species.

We also have a new generation that is more accepting than the one before it, more open-minded, more kind.

And yet this generation also tends to be a little bit self-focused and forgets about others. Not necessarily selfish, keep in mind, but just a little bit ignorant about the fact that there are other people who see things differently than them.

Maybe it has something to do with the widespread apathy that runs rampant through society in the age of the Internet. I don’t know, I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I get the impression that people tend to care about far less things than they used to.

All of that leads to us kind of losing our ability to recognize that others might think differently. It’s strange to think that in the cultural melting pot that is the Internet, that we wouldn’t be exposed to the viewpoints of others, but somehow we’ve gotten too good at filtering things out and we’ve reached the point of filtering out too much. Surveys show that millennials just don’t care about homosexuality or government or race the way previous generations did. It’s not so much that they accept it (although many do), it’s that it doesn’t register to them as an actual issue.

As a result, we seem to have lost the ability to deal with issues of oppression when they do arrive. Why is it that when someone speaks out about discrimination against them, instead of taking them seriously, we tell them to stop complaining because, “everyone suffers, you are no different”?

EXCUSE ME???

When I first started coming across this kind of reaction, I was angered. How dare you minimize the suffering of one person by trying to puff up your own suffering in comparison.

That’s fair on both sides of the issue. But that’s not my point.

I started thinking about how come this seemed to be such a common response to discrimination.

We’ve lost sight of what it means to actually be different. I think we’ve forgotten, in this era of “acceptance” that there are people out there who are not like us. Even though we have access to every culture via the Internet, we don’t take advantage of that. We still hang out with the same kinds of people online as we do in real life, to a certain extent (and speaking generally).

Someone speaks out about women’s rights, and suddenly we have the Men’s Rights Activists telling women to stop complaining because men have problems too.

Someone professes to be an Atheist, and the Christians tell them to stop complaining because Christians are prosecuted too.

Someone comes out as homosexual and the straight people tell them to stop complaining because straight people are prejudiced too.

None of these are necessarily untrue. Men have problems, Christians are prosecuted, and straight people have to deal with stereotypical gender roles as well.

But all of them are completely missing the point.

It’s not about you in that moment, it’s about the person who feels they are being oppressed. Listen to them, they deserve that at least. I promise you, they’re not lying to get attention. Even if they are, it’s still probably an issue that needs someone to speak out about. They know firsthand what they’re talking about so take them seriously.

If we could all stop trying to minimize everyone else’s difficulties because we feel our own aren’t getting their proper due, and just start listening to each other, we could all start solving things together.

Wake up a little bit. The Internet is amazing, but it works for us, no matter how much we’d like to believe The Matrix has already happened (is that what we want to believe?).