A Kolkata mall’s row with a new mother regarding public breastfeeding makes us wonder why is this even an issue in this day and age? According to The Times Of India, a mother had to struggle to find a place to breastfeed her child at the South City Mall in Kolkata. Most shopkeepers denied to give her a little space, so that she could feed her child in peace. Afterwards, the woman went ahead to mention this issue in the feedback section of the mall’s social media page. However, in reply, she was told that she should plan her baby’s feeding arrangements properly and that she should “do her home chores at home and not at a mall."
People who show no prudishness when asking a married woman about their “family planning” turn red when young mothers decide to feed their babies in public spaces. Keep in mind that this woman didn’t sit in the middle of a food court to feed her baby. While there is nothing wrong with that too, the reaction to her feedback shows the level of intolerance which exists in our society. People don’t even approve of women demanding secluded spaces for breastfeeding! It is too much of a nuisance for them that a mother dared to step out with her still breastfeeding child.
Women have the right to breastfeed as and when the need arises
The stigma that women shouldn't breastfeed in public actually speaks of people's disapproval of young mothers refusing to stay put at home after childbirth.
As if we still live in the eighteenth-century when women endured isolation and endless restriction post childbirth. A certain section of our society still expects women to abide those defunct practices. New moms must stay under lock and key, forever dependent on others to do their chores. Heavens forbid if they ever decide to venture out with a small child. Then they must feel ashamed of performing their basic duty of feeding the baby whenever the need arises. Because they dared to cross the line drawn for them and decided to put up an "intimate" act, which they should only perform behind closed doors, in public.
- Instead of looking into the matter as to why a mother had to struggle to find a place to nurse her child, a Kolkata mall decided to shame her.
- If the sight of a natural process like breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable, then something is wrong with your gaze, not the act.
- Objectification of women's bosoms plays a big part here. Breasts are not seen as an organ, instead they are perceived, as an object meant to arouse lust.
How much space does a mother and little child need?
Child-bearing, childbirth and nursing are a natural part of our existence. If the sight of a natural process like breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable, then something is wrong with your gaze, not the act. Objectification of women's bosoms plays a big part here. Breasts are not seen as an organ, instead they are perceived, as an object meant to arouse lust. We must keep them covered forever, even if it means running from one corner of a giant mall to another, in search of a private corner to feed a hungry child.
The solution here is to correct that gaze, which perceives the act as wrong. But our society dumps more dictates on women as damage control.
Stop using motherhood as an excuse to bind women to their homes. Most women today live in nuclear families, already making a lot of personal and professional sacrifices to bring up their children. It is unfair to expect them to stay put at home, just because they are breastfeeding. Be it to perform chores, or even to blow off some steam, there is nothing wrong if a mother steps out of her house with her child, and chooses to nurse him at a restaurant, mall or even while using public transport. What needs to change is society’s gaze, which finds a mother nursing her child as offensive or vulgar or uncomfortable or whatever.
Motherhood is a big responsibility on every woman, the least our society can do is to make it a bit easier for them, by not burdening their already broken backs with outdated stigmas. As for the easily corruptible male mindset, stop the objectification of breasts among boys and men, instead of covering it up.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.