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Judging a woman for public breastfeeding is just another symptom of rape culture

Last month, a picture of a mother breastfeeding her baby at graduation, gown proudly open, went viral.

And as hard as it is to believe, there were actually people who accused this mother — who was simply feeding her baby and happily smiling over her hard-earned success — of being nothing more than yet another woman seeking attention for her body.

“Oh come on…,” one of the comments reads. “She just wants attention.”

“She Did have pre marital sex… and DID get pregnant… and DID flash her boobs in the middle of a graduation… and DID say she was trying to ‘show people,'” claims another.

Ah, yes the classic argument that women’s bodies exist solely for the judgment of others. Now where have I heard that again?

Oh, that’s right — it’s the dominant force in rape culture.

Not just about breastfeeding

In all of the public outcry over a single picture of a mom feeding her baby showing less breast than the opening scenes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, it’s obvious that none of the arguments against public breastfeeding are actually about just breastfeeding. If the concern was solely about breastfeeding, we would be talking about the best latch or the most comfortable nursing position for Mom and Baby instead of whether a baby should be seen, or how much of a mom’s breast is considered “decent” to be exposed.

Instead, the argument doesn’t center around the central fact that a mother is feeding a baby — it is based on her “reasons” for feeding the baby. Is she doing it to put down other mothers? Is she one of those “militant” breastfeeders, intent on making a scene wherever she goes? Or is she just trying to land herself on the cover of Time magazine?

Heaven forbid a mother simply can have the right to feed her baby without judgment.

Indecent exposure

Now, I’m actually a mother who doesn’t do a lot of so-called exposed public breastfeeding, simply because of the fact that, for the most part, when my babies feed, it is an “exposed” manner. They don’t like blankets, I hate making them sweat under a cover and I find it awkward to sit out in public with my breast hanging out. It’s my personal decision, but I would never find it weird or unnatural for a mother to feed her baby openly and in public, any more than I would find it weird or unnatural for a woman’s breasts to show when she’s at the beach. It’s kind of part of the deal. (And also why I don’t wear a lot of string bikinis, all stretch marks aside.)

But it’s the issue of breastfeeding alone that seems to throw people in a tizzy. A young, beautiful woman on the beach can display her breasts as much as she wants, because she is displaying them for the “right” reasons — to show off her sensuality, of course — but a mom whose breasts show simply because she’s feeding a baby?

Um, ew.

That’s not sensual. If they’re not pretty and on display for the sake of men or envy of other women, keep them hidden, please.

News flash: They’re not yours to judge

So, here’s the thing. We need to stop judging women on what we think they have the right to do with their bodies. Whether it’s thinking that a mother is “asking for attention” if she breastfeeds her baby in public or thinking that a woman was “asking for it” when she is raped in a revealing party dress, we are propagating the belief that women must exist in bodies that exist solely for the judgment of other people.

Because it’s not enough if a college girl puts on a top that she thinks is pretty — she must first consider how a university official will judge her character if she happens to be assaulted later that night. Revealing top? Too much to drink? The lines are blurry there, obviously.

Because it’s not enough if an attractive women enjoys wearing makeup and getting dressed up for the night — it’s not up to her to decide if she looks appropriate. It’s for everyone else to decide if she’s a slut with too much makeup.

Because it’s not enough if a mother simply wants to feed her baby out in public without causing a stir — it’s up to everyone else to decide if she’s just trying to attract attention with her body, yet again.

I am sick and tired of the arguments and I don’t want my daughters growing up in a world where everyone else gets to decide their merit, simply based on the degree of exposure of their breasts.

They could walk around naked for all I care and it still wouldn’t give any man on the street, any group of fraternity brothers or any online troll the right to judge their bodies or deduce their intentions. It is not our job as women to dress for others, feed our babies for others or decide if the way we are walking is too seductive for others.

So call me crazy, but the next time you want to judge a mother for public breastfeeding or secretly wonder if that reported rape victim wasn’t consensual after all, just remember:

Her body…

Is not yours to judge.

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