James Akre reports on alien attitudes towards breasts and breastfeeding.

The Lactation Chronicles

American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury (b.1920) is perhaps best known for his loosely knit 1950 short-story collection, The Martian Chronicles. The norm in science-fiction writing is for Earth to be invaded, as for example in H.G. Wells’ classic War of the Worlds. Bradbury’s book is thus something of an anomaly recounting as it does the invasion of Mars by refugee humans from a troubled Earth and the ensuing conflict between the colonized Martians and the colonizing Earthlings. As in Wells’ classic, the Martians are killed off by Earth’s bacteria; in the process, a wise and ancient civilization is destroyed.

The work’s title, premise and structure lend themselves as a fertile metaphorical leitmotif for the random opportunistic assemblage of the merely interesting, occasionally encouraging, just curious, frankly weird and—in terms of who we are as a species—the sometimes-exceedingly alien accounts that follow here in log-like fashion.

My purpose is to illustrate with real-world examples many of the points I make elsewhere about attitudes toward breasts, breastfeeding and breast milk. And just as comics are fond of assuring their audiences, I swear I’m not making any of this stuff up. Or to borrow from the timeless words of political cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913–1973), who believed that we are all responsible for our myriad pollutions, public, private and political: 

We have met the enemy and they are us.

February 2004, Darwin, Australia. Top down or bottom up?

A row erupted today over a police ban on traditional Aboriginal women doing as they have always done for the past 70,000 years—dance topless in public. Aborigines are furious that a group of traditional women were moved on by police, including an Aboriginal officer, from a public park in Alice Springs last week because they were dancing without their tops. The women pointed out that dancing topless is part of Aboriginal culture, and anyway millions of people around the world had already seen them dancing like that on television, such as at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Undeterred, a troupe of topless Aboriginal dancers welcomed Britain’s Prince Charles to Alice Springs in March 2005.

Our Alien Attitudes to Breastfeeding

May 2004, New York City. Mamma mia!

The New York Daily News reported that a video installation about breastfeeding was removed from the “Sweet and Sour” art exhibition at the Fifth Avenue outlet of Italian luxury clothier Salvatore Ferragamo after a complaint from someone within the organization. Ferragamo commissioned works from selected artists inspired by objects in the store. The show promised to be “a fashionable exhibition of provocative paradoxes”. Indeed. Jenkins’ 20-minute video shows her, using a very discreet cradle hold, breastfeeding her 18-month-old daughter, who is sporting only a pair of the clothier’s red Mary-Janes.

The Audrey (after Audrey Hepburn)

May 2004, London, England. No tit for some EU tat

The headline in London read “No nipples, please, we’re British as breastfeeding film is censored” while that in Sydney announced, “Nipple causes ripple in the land that invented Page 3 girls”. Both reports concerned less than five seconds of a 45-second film promoting voting in the 2004 European Parliament elections; to show people making choices, like voters at the ballot box, it showed a suckling baby trying to decide which breast to feed from. The original version was considered suitable for nearly 400 million Europeans, and thus shown on television and in thousands of movie theatres in 23 countries.

In Britain, however, where bare breasts are a daily staple in tabloid newspapers, the breastfeeding sequence survived but shots of the offending nipple are edited out by having the baby’s hand obscure it. A spokesman at the Cinema Advertising Association defended the censorship this way: The infant was contemplating the breasts in rather an adult way.” But at least the film was shown, unlike in Ireland where the head of the European Parliament’s Irish Office, Jim O’Brien, was quoted as saying: “I decided that due to sensitivities here, this is not the right image to promote anything in Ireland, unless it is of a medical or scientific nature.” And see The Guardian report.

Our alien attitudes to breastfeeding womenshealthtoday
Belle Verdiglione

August 2004, Auckland, New Zealand. Babe in arms: adults only

Women’s Health Action in New Zealand prepared a 15-second television ad to run during World Breastfeeding Week 1–7 August 2004. It depicted a girl, probably 8 or 9 years old, pretending to breastfeed her doll. A boy of similar age came into shot and said “Yuk, that’s disgusting!” followed by a male voice-over saying, “Isn’t it time we all grew up?” The Television Commercial Approvals Bureau decided that it was “unsuitable for viewing by children under eleven” (it was permitted to run in the evening). The Bureau’s general manager described the advocacy message as being aimed at modifying adult behaviour or views; the Bureau’s concern was that it was using a negative situation to make a positive point but that many children would not understand the positive tag in the end message. On the other hand, perhaps this would have provided a learning/teaching moment by stimulating at least some children to discuss the ad with their parents.

Has the situation changed since 2004? How do you think these examples (adapted from The Problem with Breastfeeding: A Personal Reflection(2006). Hale Publishing. Amarillo, Texas) compare to current media reports?

Our Alien Attitudes to Breastfeeding: The Lactation Chronicles James Akre is an author and commentator whose focus is on the sociocultural dimension of the universal biological norm for nurturing and nourishing infants and young children, and on identifying pathways for ensuring that breastfeeding and breast-milk feeding are routine once more everywhere. His international public health and development career spans five decades, including more than 30 years with agencies of the United Nations system (International Labour Office, United Nations Children’s Fund, and the World Health Organization where he was the liaison officer (1990–2004) for LLLI), and seven years working in Turkey, Cameroon and Haiti. He is a member of the editorial board and reviewer for the International Breastfeeding Journal, and he is also a reviewer for Pediatrics and Maternal & Child Nutrition. He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of LLL France and a past member (2004–2010) of the Board of Directors of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).

See too from James Akre:

Did the Earth Move for You?

Why Breastfeeding Is in Men’s Best Interest