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blue milk also writes for The Guardian and Fairfax publications. You can read more about her at her own blog, blue milk.

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20 responses to “Too sexy for breastfeeding?”

  1. WildlyParenthetical

    Such a wonderful post, bluemilk! I have a few thoughts, but formulating them into coherence is a bit difficult at the mo, so consider this a placeholder til I have some time to think about it all. I think there’s something bothering me about how the ‘sexual’ is getting collapsed into sexual objectification in Furry Girl’s account. But yes; I’ll be back!

  2. Helen

    Furry Girl’s reaction also says a lot about the difficulty we have in separating the sexual function of breasts from the nurturing role, something Young was attempting to explore in her art exhibition.

    Yes! For all her radicalism, FG’s fallen into this age-old and very mainstream trap.

    Her criticisms are confused and self-contradictory as well. You quote her as saying this

    In short, Furry Girl believes they’ll be sexualising Young’s baby daughter and because of this Young is knowingly exploiting her child.

    But then she writes

    Outside of stupid feminist hippies, who sees breast feeding a baby as sexual?

    These statements appear to cancel each other out.

    I support, unequivocally and passionately, the right not to have children, but some of the hostility shown by the “childfree community” makes me see them as people to avoid, sometimes. As with HAVING children (quiverfull, etc) once it becomes a crusade, start backing towards the door.

  3. Helen

    Sorry, I did something stupid with the blockquotes there. I’m an old feminist hippy ;-)

    [fixed ~tt]

  4. Mindy

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with being passionate about being child free. More power to those who have the strength and belief in themselves to know that they are/will be happy with that decision. I have no quarrel with that.

    What shits me mightily is the people who, because they choose to be childfree, act as though anyone who has made the choice and been able to have children has done something wrong, something terrible, to everyone who doesn’t have children.

    Yes I have children, and yes I have lots of opinions. I don’t think they are necessarily better than anyone else’s and I had lots of opinions before I had children. Having children has made me re-think many of those opinions, but not moreso than becoming a feminist.

    I’m really not sure how followers of an adult actress will see something sexual in a baby breastfeeding. It is a very beautiful and discreet photo. It beautifully illustrates the difference between breasts as sexual and breasts as baby feeding devices.

  5. SunlessNick

    Furry Girl’s reaction also says a lot about the difficulty we have in separating the sexual function of breasts from the nurturing role, something Young was attempting to explore in her art exhibition.

    Not just that, but Young is also a sex worker, and Furry Girl’s response also evokes the idea of “once a sex worker, always and everything about sex.”

  6. Meg Thornton

    Helen, I’m with you about the childfree community online. I’m childfree (and plan on remaining so) but I’m moderate about it: my choice, made by me, made for my reasons. I don’t want to make decisions for anyone else, I don’t advocate the lifestyle, and I don’t see that whether or not anyone else has children is any of my business.

    At least some of the rather rabid nature of certain activists supporting the childfree lifestyle tends to come (I suspect) from the fact that so many of them are based in the USA – and US activism, shaped as it is by US culture, tends toward a starkly polarized “with us or against us” binary a lot of the time. In so doing it does tend to ignore a lot of the finer gradations which make up different people’s life experiences, and instead tends to be very “all or nothing” about a lot of things which aren’t helped by this.

    Such as the rather tricky five-way intersection between “motherhood”, “sexuality”, “body as sexual object”, “breast-feeding as feeding”, and “sexuality as career path”, which is where Ms Young is standing at the moment. The “concern” voiced by FurryGirl about the possible treatment of her child as a fetish, rather than the child as a child, strikes me as somewhat disingenuous – would there be the same concern were the child being fed from a bottle? The picture above, to me, is a good image of one of the key factors of motherhood which helps maintain my decision not to choose it as one of my own options: the conflicting time demands on a mother with a new baby – particularly a mother who has chosen to breast-feed. Baby needs to be fed, no matter how much of the first act you’re missing (indeed, seeing the image devoid of context, I’d be inclined to give it a title along the lines of “Missing the First Act”).

  7. Napalmnacey

    My heart aches for what Madison Young is going through. Reading her tweets, you can see she is quite upset about it all. I’d tweet her my support, but I don’t want to exacerbate her feelings of vulnerability. I’ll send her my good thoughts and energies from afar instead.

    I find her ideas for her exhibition compelling. It might even be something that I myself may need to explore one day in my own art. I am constantly inspired by the many aspects of womanhood. I think the most terrible thing is the world’s attempts to compartmentalise women, when we are all these things, complex and adaptable.

    I’m also thrown by an avowed feminist using the word “hysterical” without irony. And “bitching”. I hope to be a feminist mother one day. You bet your arse I’ll continue my great appreciation of sex-positive non-exploitative porn.

  8. Tamara

    For what it’s worth, Furry Girl is not a feminist – see http://www.feminisnt.com. My other thoughts on this are in comments at bluemilk’s.

  9. Napalmnacey

    Oh, you’re right, Tamara. That had slipped my mind. I have the worst memory on the planet sometimes. :(

  10. Keira

    Being a mother apparently makes one more qualified than everyone else to form opinions on any subject

    Really?

    Since when has feminism stopped recognising that people’s lived experience of a thing really does make them experts on the experience of that thing? Yes, motherhood does in fact make someone more qualified than everyone else to talk about motherhood, just like being a woman makes you an more qualified than any given dude on the issue of womanhood.

    I’m child free too, but I found Furry Girls comments hurtful. Not as a mother, but as a woman. Too much misogyny for me. “Hysterical”, “bitchy”, as NapalmNancy pointed out, but also the “blah, blah, blah”, the “stupid feminist hippies”. Ick.

  11. Napalmnacey

    Well, she can call me a feminist hippy all she likes – it’d only be true! LOL! I wear my love beads and jasmine with pride!

    I can understand not seeing the subject the way we do, I just don’t understand the misogynist vitriol. It’s quite unneccessary.

  12. Napalmnacey

    Man, I totally goosed that word. Unnecessary! E double E double S double I double TTT! /Charlotte’s web.

  13. fuckpoliteness

    Bluemilk, I read this yesterday and I really wanted to thank you – it’s a beautifully written post and it gets at a lot of things that have bothered me about the perceptions and assumptions around motherhood/female sexuality etc.

  14. fuckpoliteness

    I’d like to know a couple of things – I went and looked at Furry Girl’s post on why she objected to the photo and she seemed to be saying ‘Young has created an entire existence about sex; Young put the photos on a site for masturbation’ etc.

    For one thing, the photo, I had thought was up at Femina Potens, not at MadisonBound? If I’m wrong about that then I’m open to hearing that. But Femina Potens does not appear to be a site for ‘masturbating’ by any stretch of the imagination. It appears to me to be an art site, a site for artists and viewers of art, and a safe and empowering space for women/GLBTI artists to show/view artworks that examine questions of gender/sexuality etc? Nothing ‘porny’ in that mission statement, and no masturbation fodder that I could find when I went looking for it.

    So if it’s an art space, then is it a/ because Madison Young is also an adult performer and it’s what SunlessNick called out of saying that because young *is* an adult performer that everything she does, and everywhere she does, it is about sex, and about providing masturbation fodder? Isn’t that kind of an odd line for a pro-sex-worker-sex-worker to draw?

    Does it also have something to do with the LGBTI-ness of the art space? That queer activism/art involving inviting LGBTI exploration of sex and bodies and gender through art automatically makes the art about ‘sex’? Again, isn’t that kind of an odd line for Furry Girl?

    So yeah I wholly fail to comprehend her assertion that the photos are in a space where people go to masturbate.

    Am I being dense? *Are* the photos on a site designed for masturbation? Or is that what FG is saying about Femina Potens?

    I also don’t see that photo as sexualised at all – I see the vulnerability that BlueMilk is talking about – there’s something in that overly made up look (not a look I’ve seen in the videos in which Young *is* performing sexually) that doesn’t say ‘sex’ to me so much as draw a consideration of the multiple expectations on women/mothers/young mothers. There’s something bewildered about her expression and nothing at all to my mind ‘come hither’-y.

    Unless I’ve missed a rather large step (a possibility I’ll grant you as I wasn’t familiar with either Young or Furry Girl previously) I just can’t see how you get from one (an art exhibition around motherhood/breastfeeding) to the other (this is presented as wank-material/is risking being seen as that because it’s a space *for* wanking).

  15. Lauredhel

    I love that this photo can be read so many different ways, and I love blue milk’s interpretation. My first thought when I saw it was that she is saying something about the expected public/private divide, and about how it feels to be caught in between. To me it looks a little like she’s taken time out from a big event to breastfeed, and she is worried someone will maybe have a go at her, or suddenly expect something from her (like it’s her turn to give a speech at her big event).

    She looks a little startled, exhausted, proud, loving, harried, calm, glamorous, defiant – so many things at once – and for me the piece is saying something about how it feels to be juggling all of these roles and hats that society thinks should be so separate, motherhood and work and sex and glamour, and about how it feels when they all come together and you realise that you are this whole entire person and that all these things are parts of you, not separate parts, but all parts joined into a whole. This is very difficult to express!

    I wonder how Furry Girl and any other critics respond to Lucy Lawless’ breastfeeding photo? Is it different because she’s not a sex worker? Because her legs are posed primly? Less makeup? Some other reason?

  16. WildlyParenthetical

    Mmm, thanks for thoughts, everyone; they’ve helped me work out what I was thinking. Which is basically: I find it really troubling when someone’s sexuality is reduced to *what others make of it*. As in, I *do* want to allow that picture to be sexy, even sexual, but as a depiction of the fact that, as Lauredhel says, she’s many things all at once, and those parts are consistently expected to not coexist. You can be pure sex worker, or pure mother, or pure artist, or pure glamourous woman, but you cannot be all these things at once. In this sense, for me, she’s playing that line, reclaiming her sexuality as something complicated by motherhood and sex work etc, but it’s hardly an image that screams ‘I am exactly what a pr0n-seeking person would want of me.’

    The reason I was troubled about that, I think, is that while I get the ‘breasts are for nurturing, they’re not sexual’ line, especially in terms of resisting the bullshit about public breastfeeding, I get a bit edgy about reducing women’s sexuality to how it’s perceived, and suggesting that women who are mothers aren’t sexual on their own terms (as Arwyn suggested over at bluemilk). Or that the way to resist the sexualisation of this image is to claim it’s not sexual. Or something. I guess it’s the exhibitionism thing that bluemilk was talking about. #needmycoffee!

  17. fuckpoliteness

    Yes – I’d like to be clear that I’m not saying the photo is *not* sexy – it’s just there’s something weird at play here in the outrage over that photo as ‘sexualised’ in some problematic, or at least ‘NO CHILDREN ALLOWED because it’s *dirty*’ way. Like all sexuality is ‘furtive’, or something?

    So I’m bothered by the photo being presented as problematically ‘sexualised’ when in fact I don’t think that’s necessarily the ‘point’ of the photo, but rather the photo is rather a complex and beautiful piece of art with an interesting and important social commentary.

  18. tigtog

    What I find most odd is the idea that the body being sexualised is that of the baby rather than that of the mother. In what other images of bare-breasted women having their breasts touched by another person is it ever considered that the person doing the touching is the one who is being sexualised?

    This is what makes FG’s critique fundamentally incoherent for me.

  19. Anya

    Yo, Furry Girl! Camille Paglia called. She wants her tired, boring-arse old shtick back.

  20. SunlessNick

    In what other images of bare-breasted women having their breasts touched by another person is it ever considered that the person doing the touching is the one who is being sexualised?

    I wonder if it might be an active/passive thing. Digressing into comics for a moment, one of the frequent markers expressed for finding art to be sexualised rather than sexy is a sense of passivity in the pictured character – back over here, most images involving breast-touching are constructed with the idea of the one doing the touching as the active party – but a baby is harder to picture as the active one. So once the idea of sex is imposed on the image, the baby is seen as the one sexualised. Maybe.

    But to me, there might be sex/sexiness in the image, but it doesn’t come across as what it’s about – certainly I find it hard to picture it as uppermost in Young’s thoughts from the expression she’s making – more like remaining awake for the next hour (something any new parent can empathise with). It’s more like, to me, an image of how becoming a parent has to be mixed in with the existing demands on a person’s life – and how the parent, especially a mother, is supposed to make it look effortless.

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