Hey, here's a really stupid controversy that shouldn't be a thing: photos of two women serving in the Air Force breast feeding their babies while in uniform have gone viral — not because the photographs captured a beautiful moment when femininity and physical strength intersect, or because one of the women is a famous celebrity. Nope. People are upset because they're afraid that breastfeeding in uniform is disrespectful to the military. Fucking really?
The shot heard 'round the world features Terran Echegoyen-McCabe and Christina Luna, two active duty servicewomen, breastfeeding their infant children on a military base. The tasteful, professionally shot photo was part of a collection of images to be used for August's Breast Feeding Awareness Month, according to Today. Apparently, this was a grievous offense to the respectability and professionalism of the military, and, by extension, to America and freedom and Jesus. These colors don't run! Or lactate!
A nice cross section of shitty reactions to military breastfeeding can be found on the blog of ex-military mom turned breastfeeding advocate Robyn Roche-Paull, who has spent much of her post-military career trying to convince the sausage fest that is the US military that they should really think about drafting a policy that allows women to breastfeed while in uniform. As it stands, there's no such policy, and as a result, women like Echegoyen-McCabe and Luna face criticism and reprimand should they choose to breastfeed.
So, what's the big deal? According to comments on Roche-Paull's blog that frequently begin with "As a... " (general rule of thumb — if a sentence starts with the words "As a..." then 75% of the time, the implied third word is "shithead know-it-all"), breastfeeding is akin to peeing in your uniform in front of everybody. One commenter said,
As a former Marine, Active Duty, I am appalled by the notion that any service woman would feel it is appropriate to breast feed a child while in uniform. I believe it is an utter disgrace to all women before us who made many sacrifices for the roles we have today. I believe it is an honor to be a woman, a mother, and a Marine. I believe those who chose to breast feed in uniform are only making a joke of the hard work and dedication of service women in the past. You wanted to participate in a career that is slightly more demanding than that of say a receptionist, housewife, lawyer, doctor, writer, etc. so you should adhere to a more professional standard and take your job more seriously.
Because the natural process of feeding your damn kid that you made with your body isn't serious.
Another commenter added,
I feel very strongly that respect for both the uniform and for women would be compromised should women breast-feed in uniform in public. Women have fought the battle for equal rights and must be cognizant of the fact that they are still in the stage of proving themselves as equals in society and should always remain professional while in uniform. Professional women do not breast-feed in public, and female soldiers, who are professionals, should not either.
And now they drag feminism into this. Advocating for equal opportunity for men and women isn't the same thing as demanding biological sameness — being granted the right to serve in the military alongside men doesn't erase the fact that women are still the ones who bear children, still the ones who feed children.
Others echoed the concern that they're worried that breast feeding in uniform could lead their male counterparts seeing them as less worthy of respect. To this I say: if the sight of a woman breastfeeding leads men en masse to think that women are inferior or not worthy of respect, then the problem isn't with the women or with breastfeeding — it's with a rigid culture that encourages acting like a dick. Why accomodate that?
For her part, Echegoyen-McCabe continues to expose her lactating breasts to air and wave them around like she just don't care,
I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park ... and I pump, usually in the locker room. I'm proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding. I'm proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breast-feed whether they're active duty, guard or civilian. [...]
...if you don't want to breast-feed in your uniform, you don't have to. But you should have respect for those who do. ... If anything, it should make people look at you as someone who is able to multitask.
I'm not sure when or where someone decided that breastfeeding while wearing a military uniform was the same thing as menstruating all over the American flag, but here we are in 2012, and this is a thing that people are debating. I'd love to see similar internal military outrage about all the men who rape female soldiers while in uniform — rape's pretty unprofessional, yeah? — but I'm not holding my breath. Or my breasts.