The photo of lactating military moms doesn’t normalize breastfeeding; it demeans the soldiers’ achievements

military breastfeeding

Lactivist are waxing rhapsodic about a photo of military moms breastfeeding.

The picture was conceived by photographer Tara Ruby, a former member of the Air Force who was on active duty between 1997 and 2001…

In a Facebook post displaying the picture, Ruby said her aim for the photo was to normalize breastfeeding in the military.

“To my knowledge a group photo to show support of active-duty military mommies nursing their little’s has never been done,” she said on Facebook.

How do breastfeeding stunts like these normalize breastfeeding? They don’t. They demean women and make it even harder than it already it to gain respect for their real achievements.

[pullquote align=”right” color=”#5d5a31″]Would a group photo of male soldiers whipping out penises and urinating in public normalize urination?[/pullquote]

For most of human existence, women’s worth was restricted to three body parts, breasts, uteri and vaginas. Their intellects, talents and character were ignored. Only men were deemed to have the intellectual capacity to make scientific discoveries, the talent to paint great art and the character to lead nations. It has only been in the past 100 years and only in privileged parts of the globe that women have been “allowed” to find intellectual and professional fulfillment.

Unfortunately, the dominant mothering ideology, natural parenting, encompassing natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting, rests on reducing women once again to these same three body parts, breasts, uteri and vaginas. In the world of natural parenting, women are judged, and judge each other, by whether their children exited the uterus through the vagina, whether they feed their children at the breast, and whether they maintain constant physical proximity to those children. In other words, their intellects, talents and character are rendered invisible.

I am old enough to have experienced the undiluted sexism that pervaded medicine when I began my training. Women were routinely subjected to male surgeons who pressed their bodies against them during surgery, judged them by their appearance, and demeaned them as not being “real” doctors capable of the same achievements and talents as men. It was a constant struggle for female doctors in training to gain and maintain respect for their intelligence, surgical skills and ability to innovate.

The sexists among doctors would have liked nothing better than to reduce women doctors to a group photo of lactating breasts, so as to deprive them of the admiration and respect for their achievements that was their due.

No doubt it’s worse in the military where women are still limited in their ability to protect their country by serving in combat and are still subject to rampant sexism and sexual violence. They are forced to claw for the respect that is their due.

A photo of female soldiers that reduces them to lactating breasts undermines their ability to demand and gain respect for their military achievements. It’s the equivalent of a wet camo T-shirt contest that purports to normalize breasts. It no more normalizes breastfeeding than a group photo of male army soldiers whipping out penises and urinating in public normalizes urination.

The biggest problem that women face today is that they don’t receive the same pay, recognition and respect for the same work. In an age where women’s breasts are still groped in the workplace, the idea that this problem is somehow eclipsed by the “need” to normalize breastfeeding with a public display of lactating breasts is deeply sexist and retrograde. Many of us have spent far too long being judged by body parts to let women once again be judged by their breasts.