Missing The Point Awards, Manchester poster edition

There’s a new advertising poster up in Manchester, and the country is abuzz. Here are some excerpts from the complaints:


…The picture is shocking and it isn’t normal…

…highly offensive…


… the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid…

…poison their minds…

…sexualising of children…



…just offensive…

…such a disturbing image of a child…

….inappropriate and unnecessary…

The picture is below the cut. Stop to think for a moment about what it might be.

**[No trigger warning required.]**

The poster that drew this outrage was this one.

toddler pretending to breastfeed a doll. No skin is showing. Captioned 'it's normal; children copy their mothers'

A picture of a toddler pretending to breastfeed a doll. No skin is showing. The poster is headed “It’s Normal”, and the caption on the toddler picture is “Children copy their mothers”.

The Manchester Evening News explains in ‘Breastfeeding’ tot storm

It was put up in a children’s ward at Rochdale Infirmary – which has won prestigious Baby Friendly status – as part of a campaign for National Breastfeeding Week. [..]

Deborah Winter, 39, who spotted the poster when she was visiting her grandson, called it `disgusting’. She said: “The picture is shocking and it isn’t normal. Children copy their parents but I don’t think any little girls should be breastfeeding their dolls.” […]

Coun Jean Ashworth, who works as a healthcare assistant at the hospital, said: “The picture is highly offensive. We all know breast is best but they are going overboard.

I really hope this healthcare assistant isn’t allowed anywhere near women and children.

The Telegraph expands:

Councillor Jean Ashworth, who works as a healthcare assistant at the Infirmary, said the move was the latest in a string of unpopular measures to promote breastfeeding.

“The picture is highly offensive and everyone is up in arms about it,” she said.

And from Rochdale Online:

A mother and patient at the hospital to did not want to be named, says picture is “depraved” and fears it could be seen by “the wrong people.”

Councillor Jean Ashworth, who is a healthcare assistant at Rochdale Infirmary, says she is offended by the image.

She said: “Promoting breastfeeding is fine, but this is just offensive. “I wonder where it will stop, if these are the lengths the Trust will go to. I am in no way against mums who want to breast feed at all, but I think to see such a disturbing image of a child like that is inappropriate and unnecessary.”

Some of the less supportive comments:

I have never seen a child mimic breast feeding in this way. There are of course children who mimic sex acts, swear and use violence. What next, a child posing unrolling a condom. [RT]

It is exploitation that is being shown to the masses. It is the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid to say look it is ok to do that because it is what grown ups/mothers do. What next. Some people prefer to let children know things at the right time. … Leave breast feeding to the grown ups. [Esso Blue]

No its not its children being shown how adults do things.This is why children grow up to quickly,what is next children pretending to have sex to show them how adults have sex. Let children grow up before we start to poison their minds with adult business. [Ace Shakespeare]

Should we have male contraceptive posters on children’s wards? I think not. […] I find it a bit weird. Should kids be thinking about being mothers at that age? Early sexualisation of kids is wrong. [CorneredAllTheLuck]

whilst although breastfeeding is perfectly normal and natural, it is wrong to show a child breast feeding. this is because it demonstrates the sexualising of children far too early in life. […] Children should not be bombarded with adult issues at an early age. [scaryfairy]

Pictures showing similarly adult material that have, apparently, drawn no complaints about being “offensive” or “disgusting”:

montage of children feeding dolls with bottles

montage of children feeding dolls with bottles

I’ll leave you with a gorgeous vintage postcard from 1915. Description at the page:

“A cute little girl feeding her doll. “ We won’t starve out”.


Who knew we didn’t invent in the noughties the concept of children caring for dolls the same way they have seen babies cared for?

[News link courtesy of JakeAryehMarcus of Sustainable Mothering, via twitter]

ETA 26 May 2009: Welcome Daily Mail readers, and please note that the “journalist” misattributed the quoted statement used in their article: it was made by a contributor elsewhere and quoted here for the purpose of criticism. Please read the greeting below regarding our comments policy etc.

ETA 23 May 2009: Hi, Salon folks, and welcome to Hoyden About Town! Please check out our comments policy. If you’re interested in some of my previous writing on breastfeeding and feminism, just whack ‘breastfeeding’ into the search box in the sidebar in the middle column.

Categories: gender & feminism, media

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25 replies

  1. “Early sexualisation of kids is wrong” yes it is. But that’s certainly not what’s going on here. And they say England has a reputation for not being child friendly, I can’t think where that’s come from.
    Ahh, kids pretending to breastfeed. Its only as normal as kids walking around in Mum’s shoes. Which is to say, its totally fracking normal. What’s wrong with you people?
    The postcard – gorgeous.

  2. Dammit, I knew that I forgot to forward the memo. You should know that “Boobies are for teh sexes now, not for teh feedz”. Ok, are we all on board with this? Any child, male or female pretending to feed a dolly will be taken as evidence of inappropriate sexualisation of children. And what is a boy doing with a doll anyway? Girls feeding dollies with bottles will be taken as evidence of them learning to be good little mothers. /sarcasm

  3. You know what? Both of my sons have been enthusiastic breastfeeders of toys. The youngest, nearly 2 1/2 has been so polluted by my prolonged breastfeeding of him that he likes to pretend I’m feeding the toys as well. Sleepy cat is a particular fan of “lala”.
    But here’s the shocking bit – his father and I have been known to hold him down on the floor and nom him on the boobal area JUST BECAUSE IT’S FUN! At least that’s what you’d guess from his hysterical laughter, if you didn’t know Teh Psychological Damage that was occurring.

  4. I remember that I used to pretend to breastfeed my dolls when I was playing house w/ neighbor kids. It never occurred to me to use a bottle b/c everyone in my family breastfed primarily, and bottles were used only if someone had to go somewhere. I remember the neighbor kids freaking out and telling me that I had best not let their mom see me, and I remember I could not figure out for the life of me why they would worry about this.
    Stayed w/ me. I was well known to answer the door w/ baby in arm who still had breast in mouth. I routinely fed wherever/whenever, and fed and pumped at the same time often, at our kitchen table when Baby and I live w/ my grandparents. The outrage over this seems so silly to me, b/c I grew up thinking that it was default to breastfeed. It wasn’t until I met The Kid’s bio father that anyone implied I should do otherwise. He was gonna “let” me breastfeed for a couple of days, but that was it, see, b/c he didn’t want anyone else playing w/ “his” boobies. There is a reason that relationship didn’t survive the first trimester.

  5. Hell- I don’t know a child who does NOT breastfeed his or her toys.

  6. FFS! I’m just flabbergasted by this. I breastfed my dolls, my daughters breastfed theirs, even the younger two who haven’t seen women breastfeeding much because we just haven’t been around babies and toddlers much (dunno how things worked out that way, but they just did). It’s NORMAL, and it’s DESIRABLE. That is, both breastfeeding in the first place, and children breastfeeding their dolls.

  7. Oh FFS. My boys breastfed their dolls on occasion too.
    In all the time I was breastfeeding in public, it never occurred to me anyone could be viewing it as a sexual act. That is weird in the extreme.
    I’ve seen my kids role play parents having arguments, at least breastfeeding is a good example I was setting. 🙂
    shonias.blogspot.com/’s last blog post..Is consent a furfy?

  8. I guess the reaction does show the need for the poster in the first place – way too many people do think that this isn’t normal.

  9. I distinctly remember breastfeeding my doll. I assume if my parents thought it was weird, it’s because they were raising me as a boy.
    Though reading some of the comments above, this might actually have been quite normal regardless of my future gender identity (I’m told, and accept, that many young boys play with dolls before society has conditioned them and that it is not considered an indicator of gender variance).

  10. Wow. I… honestly don’t understand the outrage. I’m genuinely baffled.
    I don’t think I ever breastfed dolls, but I’m a youngest child.

  11. I sure hope all these outraged brits are there protesting the availability of leopard print push-up bras in the Lil Miss section.
    That this is automatically seen as “sexualisation” is nothing but a social indicator. Women and girls are sex, nothing more.
    Like everyone here, I could rattle off a million anecdotes about children breastfeeding dolls and toys and never once have I ever witnessed an adult respond negatively to it.

  12. Maybe as well as the “IT’S NOT SEX, IT’S RAPE” graphic you need one for “IT’S NOT SEXUAL, IT’S BREASTFEEDING”.
    DeusExMacintosh’s last blog post..Hoist by his own canard

  13. God – this just made me depressed to be British. So depressing given the ridiculously low levels of breast feeding in Britain and the constant bad press indicating that it is somehow “shameful”.

  14. whizz for atoms (great username!): I come from the town with the bloke who compared breastfeeding to the sight of bloodied corpses, so you’re in good company.

  15. @ DeusExMacintosh:
    what a great idea:

    Share as you will.

  16. Ridiculous. I am amazed what people choose to react against.
    My younger son used to rpetend to give “num nums” to his toy airplane. It was normal and adorable.

  17. Just… Gahhhh!!!
    Wizz for Atoms, I heart your nickname also.

  18. There are some charming photos of my partner as a little boy breastfeeding his toy monkey.

  19. I think I may have figured out where the “early sexualization of kids” reaction is coming from. See, young girls really do feed babies with bottles. I never realized before, but I process those images as “child helping take care of younger sibling”. So a child bottle-feeding a doll looks like a straightforward representation of something they could do for real at that age.
    In that framework, a child with a doll half-under her shirt seems to suggest a child breastfeeding now, having given birth and had a sexual history while still in preschool. Hence the squick.
    With my reasoning mind I can classify it as role-playing adulthood, just like wearing toy firefighters’ helmets or driving toy cars. But if you’ve never seen a child play at breastfeeding before, your subconscious may process it through the wrong framework. And I hadn’t ever seen a child do that before, even though I and my younger siblings and cousins were breastfed. Luck of the draw, I guess.

  20. rozasharn: If breastfeeding is common in your environment, I’m surprised you haven’t seen the children around you fake-breastfeeding. Perhaps you haven’t recognised it? (Unless you know what you’re looking for, it usually just looks like a kid cuddling a doll or other toy.)
    As you say, children imitate adult activities constantly. They stuff pillows up their shirts to pretend they’re pregnant, they play house, they pretend to be doctors, teachers, shopkeepers, pilots, parents. Children who have seen birth pretend to give birth, too. None of these things is any more “adult” or “sexual” than the next.

    But if you’ve never seen a child play at breastfeeding before, your subconscious may process it through the wrong framework.

    That’s what your conscious is for, I reckon. Going through life without a filter between your subconscious and your mouth (/keyboard/etc) is a recipe for disaster.

  21. “and the country is abuzz.”
    Please! This is a small reaction from some people in Britishland – not indicative of the whole country’s attitude towards breastfeeding/toddlers playing at breastfeeding/etc.
    As any fule kno, there are a lot of people in this country – many of whom would smile or not think twice about this poster.

  22. The UK’s Daily Mail has picked up the story and mis-cited Hoyden About Town in the process: [link] – they have quoted Lauredhel’s quotation of a contributor to Rochdale Online (… the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid…) as if the statement came from a contributor here. Daily Fail yet again.

  23. Sheesh, tigtog, the Daily Male will do whatever they can to smear feminists, won’t they? I’ve comment on the article asking for a retraction.

  24. Lauredhel wrote: “That’s what your conscious is for, I reckon. ”
    Agreed. I wasn’t trying to excuse anything, just tracking down the origin of the response.

  25. Still working on getting through to the Mail, having tried several methods. No luck yet. Am getting badmouthed on internet forums who haven’t bothered going to the source. Unsurprised, but unimpressed.

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