Commentary: It's Time to Stop All Attacks on Breastfeeding Women

Why we need to normalize the most normal thing in the world. 

Posted: 06/12/2014 02:59 PM EDT
woman breastfeeding

A truly sad thing happened this week. Even sadder, it was prompted by a joyous occasion, the graduation of a woman from college.

Karlesha Thurman, a 25-year-old student at California State University Long Beach, had to feed her baby who was fussy during the graduation ceremony and not interested in anything but food. And so she fed her, while still in her cap and gown, but without shrouding them in a blanket. Someone from her family took a photo that Thurman posted on the Facebook page Black Women Do Breastfeed. The page is focused on celebrating breastfeeding and babies and Black women, and it shows a lot of photos of women feeding their children, without shame, without bottles and often without cover-ups. Lots of photos go up and most cause little to no fanfare.

But because this picture showed a breastfeeding woman in her cap and gown, it caught the attention of people who are more interested in being salacious then celebratory. They reposted her photo on Twitter. And then Chad Ochocinco got involved, reposting it on his Instagram account with the caption "Breast feeding & graduation (nice combo)." Was he being sarcastic? Seems like it, but whether he was or not, his post helped the image to go viral. And that led to the graduate being called a slut, a ho and every other nonsensical, sexist, hateful insult that could be hurled at a woman who was doing nothing more than using her breasts for what they are intended to do.

This is so deeply sad because it shows just how misplaced our priorities have become. Beyoncé is practically nude in a lot of her newest videos and people cheer and buy enough copies of her album to make it number one. Rihanna accepts an award and gives interviews on the CFDA red carpet in a dress that is fully see-through and people congratulate her for being daring and bold. Nothing against either of those women, this isn’t the place to judge what they did or the clothes they wore. But it is the place to examine the positive response of their nudity—done for scintillation and shock and sexiness—against the attacks on a woman whose breast was out to feed her child.

Have we come so far from a place of just basic humanity that we will attack a woman and call her a ho because she is doing the most natural thing ever with her breasts? Also, since when did the image of a breast—not even a nipple, but the rest of a breast—give cause for such scandal and outrage if a baby is attached—why does that take it to a place that a lot of people can’t handle?

Thurman decided not to slink away and hide out during the uproar. Instead she reached out to Black Women Who Breastfeed and asked them to post this message: “I found out I was pregnant my last year of college, had my daughter one week into my last semester, she was my motivation to keep going, so me receiving my BA was OUR moment, so glad I captured the moment and so glad you shared it with the world so thank you again.”

If anyone should be thanked, it is Thurman—one, for not responding to her attackers with hatred (a feat many of us could not have pulled off if the cyber world was talking about us and our baby). And two, and more importantly, for hopefully helping us to get one step closer to acting like people with sense, who realize that breastfeeding and breasts with babies sucking at them is the most normal thing ever. And that if we see it any other way, we have the problem, not the mother.

(Photo: KidStock/Getty Images)


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