Saturday, June 9, 2012

Breaking a Military Taboo: Public Breastfeeding in Uniform

Breasts are trending again. This time, the controversy comes not because the bare breasts are attached to babies, but because they are attached to babies and military uniforms. Apparently, several people were so offended by the photos posted on a Washington State blog for breastfeeding military moms  that they compared the images to public urination and defecation in uniform. Thankfully, the military had a more measured reproach. Air National Guard Spokesperson Captain Keith Kosik responded to the photos by saying that the military had no problem with female soldiers breastfeeding. He stated, however, that the breastfeeding going on in these particular photos violates “regulations to use the uniform to promote a civilian cause”. On the surface, I don’t have a beef with the military’s stance on this one. Soldiers do strip themselves of their identity and replace it with a uniform when they join the armed services. That’s why it’s called a “uniform”, right?

But then I started wondering why breastfeeding is considered a “cause” in the first place. Comparing breastfeeding to a cause is like saying that breathing is a belief. And in case you find this comparison strident, I can guarantee you that, if you pulled the offending babies in the photos off the breast for a moment, they would protest loudly enough to assure you that they agree with me. So let’s try it out: “the breathing going on in these particular photos violates regulations against using the uniform to promote a civilian cause.” It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, though, breastfeeding isn’t considered something essential in this country. It has been reduced to a belief; and the military isn’t to blame for this fact. After all, the women in the photos were promoting breastfeeding in the Mom2Mom blog. I doubt they intended to create such a stir, though. What I think they were trying to say is “hey, look how unexceptional breastfeeding is” or, in other words, “relax, it’s just a boob”. It’s ironic that women have begun calling attention to themselves precisely because they want to be able to do something without calling attention to themselves. The phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” comes to mind. If I’m not mistaken, a whole revolution started because of this principle.

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