The Soapbox: Why Is Facebook So Against Breastfeeding?

For all the pomp and circumstance of having nursed my son until he was three-years-old, I’ve only ever dealt with somebody negatively commenting on it twice. The first time happened when my son was around 18 months old. We were visiting family in southern Connecticut and ended up at a Johnny Rockets for lunch. A few minutes after being seated, our teenage waitress came over and said that somebody had complained about me breastfeeding my son and informed me that I “couldn’t do that here.” I let her know that, actually, I could, since the state of Connecticut protected my right to nurse my son in public wherever I wanted. She then told me that the restaurant had a special room for nursing, and that I should use that. It turned out that the “special room” was the questionably clean bathroom, and I let her know, again, that I was perfectly fine where I was. She finally left, only to stare at me while snarking behind her hand with her fellow waitresses, and I continued to nurse my son while sipping on my delicious milkshake. Nothing more was said by anyone on the subject (except for my sister-in-law, who ate lunch with us that day and later emailed Johnny Rockets headquarters to let them know what transpired — they sent us free milkshake coupons as an apology).

The second time someone felt the need to let me know that they had an issue with me breastfeeding my child was this past weekend, when two old pictures of me nursing my son were posted on The Feminist Breeder’s Facebook page as part of a 72-hour campaign to normalize breastfeeding on Facebook. The reactions to my photos were mostly positive, with tons of “likes” and sweet compliments. Only few folks tossed out some choice slurs and one person likened my photo to somebody snapping a picture of themselves dropping a deuce. Classy.

The campaign itself came about when The Feminist Breeder, A.K.A. Gina Crosley-Corcoran, was banned from Facebook for 72 hours for posting this picture of her daughter nursing while clutching some bacon. Crosley-Corcoran’s photobombing campaign drew mostly supportive and positive remarks and shares from folks — but not entirely. The number one complaint most people gave was that they “didn’t want to see that stuff.” Well, I don’t want to see pictures of every single one of your dinners, and yet that doesn’t stop you from posting them repeatedly! From a number of angles! With a number of filters! And, while we both have the right to be annoyed or exasperated at each others’ photos, nobody has the right to claim that pictures of breastfeeding are offensive.

Thank to various forms of media, breasts have become so highly sexualized in our society that using them for nourishment makes people all squicked out. But honestly? That’s not my problem. As a new mother, I was already dealing with sleepless nights, worries about whether my son was absorbing all those hours of “Lost” that I watched while he napped, and fretting over whether or not I was a good enough mom to care about if I was offending somebody while I fed him.

I nursed my kid whenever and wherever I was if I had to, yet I hardly ever showed more visible boob than somebody wearing a bikini top (and if you think I would have voluntarily flashed my postpartum stomach, you have another think coming). I just can’t understand the claim that breastfeeding is offensive. It’s a mama feeding her kid and nothing more, nothing less. Clearly, not everyone feels the same way and while it shouldn’t be my problem, the fact that Facebook has been targeting these sorts of photos turns it into something I care about.

This wasn’t the first time a woman has been banned for posting pictures of breastfeeding; Facebook has had a tenuous relationship with nursing moms for a while now. In fact, there has been a growing murmur of dissatisfaction with the way Facebook has treated a variety of women-centric issues. Blogger Trista Hendren has been documenting various instances on Facebook that have led some to believe that many of Facebook’s policies are anti-women. While Facebook targets pictures of women nursing (despite having a policy in place stating that photos of breastfeeding are allowed), the company seemingly turns a blind eye to actual harmful pages that promote rape.

Since starting her campaign, Crosley-Corcoran has been allowed back on Facebook. But due to this incident,and the ones Hendren has been documenting, The Feminist Breeder will no longer have the same vibrant Facebook presence it’s been known for. Crosley-Corcoran has decided to only post links to her blog on Facebook and will not be engaging in the myriad of daily conversations that could be found on her page.

When will Facebook truly understand that some women won’t stand for this type of targeted treatment? With a growing movement calling out Facebook for its misogyny, perhaps the message will finally sink in.

In the meantime, I’m not holding my breath for any special apology perks … like free milkshake coupons.

Avital Norman Nathman is the blogger at The Mamafesto.

[Photo: ThinkStock]