Dear Mom Diaries,
A couple of days ago you wrote a blog post stating your issues with the global #NormaliseBreastfeeding/#normalise/#normalizebreastfeeding movement and the breastfeeding selfies or #brelfies mothers share online.
(Here’s the link, readers):
As the founder member and co-Director of South Africa’s first civil society organisation (Normalise Breastfeeding SA or NBSA) exclusively tackling the issue of public breastfeeding becoming normal once again, I’d like to help you understand what the dangers are of writing such a misleading blogpost…
Did you know that South Africa has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world? The World Health Organization’s stats say that only 7.4% of South African babies are breastfed.
In the commentary after your blog, Public Nutritionist Chantell Witten unpacked for you some of the reasons our breastfeeding rates are so low and commentator Andrea B helped you understand the place in those rates occupied by parents who are put off breastfeeding because of the constant stigmatisation in public and at work. Add to that the attractive marketing of formula as a lifestyle choice in areas where there isn’t even clean water, nevermind money for new teats, and people so desperately poor that they feed infants watered down pap*… In a country such as ours, dear Mom Diaries, where children die every day of preventable diseases – breastfeeding is a life saving intervention. So as the Lancet Group’s medical booklet says…we have a duty to protect, promote and support breastfeeding…because it saves lives.
I can’t comment on the relative privilege one must enjoy when you have never ever come across breastfeeding harassment in public. So I’ll unpack some of the incidents shared with us in the short year our movement has been around…
A KZN mom is waiting for a taxi. She is breastfeeding her baby. The security guard manhandles her out of the mall…
A young mum in Pretoria is shopping meds for her sick baby. He screams for the boob and she’s told in no uncertain terms there is NOWHERE in that store for her to feed her child. She’s followed by the male manager to make sure she pays heed. At the same group of stores…the in-house clinic nurse tells a mom to go breastfeed her baby in the toilet.
A Cape Town mom called Tasneem Botha is frog marched out of a popular retailer for breastfeeding her baby. She is jeered at by staff while she sits on a bench to try and calm down her child. Look I could sit here all day, but let’s move on. Oh by the way, Mom Diaries, NBSA has done some breastfeeding shoots for World Breastfeeding Week last year and we had a nurse-in at the shop mentioned here after Tasneem’s ordeal. It was very peaceful, serene. And uninhibited, covered, semi-covered moms all together basked in that lovely love of feeding a baby. We’ve never marched anywhere yet, either.
Do you know what patriarchy means, dear Mom Diaries? I’d like to suggest you read especially what bell hooks, the feminist author, has to say.
I’m asking if you understand patriarchy because in a patriarchal society people think they have the right to police a womxn’s body. Yes, womxn with an ‘x’ to make allowance for the fact that we don’t come from man, they come from us.
Anyway, this blog post of you starts off policing and judging of womxn’s rights to breastfeed as they see fit. This is very much a product of a patriarchal society such as the one we live in…also the sexualisation of the breast, as Andrea B commented, is a patriarchal construct. I see you have a problem with grasping this fact so that’s why I’m on and on about patriarchy. Even down to the comments section you want to defend your POV that a breast ought to be concealed in public.
As you stated, we live in a diverse cultural soicety. I can’t help but think of my friend Sizile who started the #AnywhereAnytime movement on Twitter. In her culture unapologetically uninhibited breastfeeding is the norm. A doctor at Netcare in Rustenburg asked her to breastfeed her child behind a curtain and when Sizile questioned her request…she was told it’s just not ‘done’ in ‘our (Western) culture’. Sizile kept feeding her child. We as whites would do well to remember we’re not living in her majesty’s territories anymore but in Africa.
Culture aside, actually it is none of mine or your or anybody’s business how much boob womxn want to bare in public. Nor is it anybody’s business if a mom wants to cover up and segregate while breastfeeding. We are not the police of womxn’s bodies in a sisterhood.
Which brings me to my next point…why do you think moms are angry for being told where/when/how/baring how much flesh they should breastfeed? Did you know that our children’s right to breast milk has been enshrined in the SA constitution since 2012? Thus my child’s right to food is protected and going after me is going after my child’s right to eat. Construing the brelfies as angry/attention seeking/attempting to make history selfies is misguided on your part. You know what you turn into when someone harms your child. These are momma bears protecting their children’s rights. The fact that they are brave enough to share these images and blaze a trail, as Andrea B commented – is a gift to future generations. Mothers don’t want what’s wrong with this generation to remain wrong for the next.
I also want to point out that the flip title you created for the image of the blonde mom breastfeeding on a bench is quite cruel. I know you didn’t mean to be mean but look for Paa.la on Facebook and follow her journey of becoming a breastfeeding advocate. As I type this she is in hospital with her premature baby, born at 24 weeks.
There is still so much more I want to unpack about this problematic blog post of yours…I’m afraid I’ve run out of time today.
But the door is wide open if you need any more information on the vital aspects of how we normalise breastfeeding in South Africa.
Anel and the Normalise Breastfeeding South Africa movement .
*pap: Ground maize meal. The staple food of South African people.
(Thank you my darling friend Tsholo for sharing the beautiful pic of a mama breastfeeding her baba xxx – source unknown)