In my final term of nursing school, I rotated through Labour & Delivery, where I waded through a flood of boggy fundi and pre-eclampsia; but I learned how to teach first time mothers the art of breastfeeding. One of my patients, however, was having none of it.
“I don’t believe in that shit,” she said. Being a good would-be nurse, I asked her to elaborate her feelings. “These babies,” she said, pointing to her breasts, “are for my boyfriend.”
I was thinking of this patient when I read about artist Karen Hansen, whose images portraying breastfeeding Facebook deleted last April. Facebook, evidently, believes breastfeeding is obscene and offensive. Six months later, Facebook relented, and restored her account, sans one breastfeeding photo; the art work remains.
Clearly, Facebook’s operators derived their knowledge of breasts from some combination of National Geographic and Penthouse, circa 1971, which is to say, Facebook’s adolescents are both prurient and priggish. Their attitude is stupid and wrong, for many reasons I need not enumerate, but principally because this is a corporation with global reach sending the message that breastfeeding is somehow “dirty” and abnormal. But Facebook also reflects a deep cultural ambivalence and ambiguity about breasts and breastfeeding, where breasts are hypersexualized in the public domain (until, apparently, areolae are shown) but showing breasts in a utterly nonsexual way is taboo.
One thing I did notice was that Karen Hansen’s art is (consciously) well within the ancient tradition of depicting the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child, right to the visual punning of aureola/areola. So to be clear: Facebook will allow all manner of pictures of breasts, as long as they 1) are suitably sexual, but show no nipple and 2) depict the Virgin and Child.
According to Facebook, it would seem, breasts are either for whores or for Madonnas. There is no middle ground — and in 2010, after years and decades of public education about the benefits of breastfeeding, activist campaigns against the manufacturers of formula, scientific studies listing the benefits of breastfeeding from everything from increasing the intelligence of the child to decreasing the risk of breast cancer in the mother, this is, well, astonishing.