I'm not impressed by what he said

Brendan Black is a new daddy, and he’s had an astonishing revelation. He has found that he needs to get over his semi-embarrassment, in public, about his partner breastfeeding their little boy. He’s urging all men to do the same, in an opinion piece that appears in both The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age.

Grow up men! Breasts are not public property

His ostensible purpose is laudable: he wants men to get over the idea that there is something wrong with women breastfeeding in public.

Once my son was born, I quickly realised what I had long dreaded: my wife’s breasts had to be shared with someone else, even though he had a greater need for them than me.

He sets out some fairly standard ideas about the confusion between the sexualisation of breasts, and the need to feed babies. There’s nothing new in what he writes, except that he is addressing men. And yes, it’s jolly nice that he’s supporting breastfeeding. Of course, you will note the privilege that’s on display: because it’s being said by a man, it might get taken seriously, and even get published in a couple of big newspapers, but when women have made the same arguments, that’s just those wretched feminists getting whiny and shrill again.

But what really, really annoyed me about the article was his assumption of ownership.

Nevertheless, seeing my wife’s naked breasts several times a day, even with lessened ownership rights and in a new context, is still enjoyable…*

Oh, he asks for permission before he looks, but he still assumes ownership. And that’s the flavour of the entire article. He used to own his partner’s breasts, but now he has to share them, and hey, he’s okay with that.

Dude, it’s simple. The person who owns a woman’s breasts is the woman herself. Not her partner. Not any man who cares to walk by and take a look. Not even her babies. But the woman herself. That’s one of the basic notions of bodily integrity we have in Western liberal democracies. And once you understand that notion of bodily integrity, then whether or not a woman uses her breasts for sexual pleasure, or for titillation, or for feeding a baby, is none of your business whatsoever. Start with the notion that women own their own breasts, and then you don’t even need to worry about whether your “ownership” rights have been affected, because you never had those rights in the first place.

And by the way, this sort of behaviour…

We love to sneak a peek at a woman’s cleavage, cop a feel when we’re allowed to (and even when we’re not)…*

… is not a matter for joking. That’s sexual assault. ‘Though no doubt it would be more properly regarded as stealing from the man who owns them.

Update: Check out this excellent post at bluebec.com – This is not yours.

* Emphasis mine

11 responses

  1. Ughhh that guy is just wrong on so many levels. And I can’t believe that assault comment. Totally disgusting.
    Good on you for doing a take-down.

  2. Why, why why, is anyone, in this day and age, still making a joke out of copping an unwelcome feel?

    “Some women will use them to actively gain male attention, while others will feel anger if we dare to acknowledge the existence of their breasts, while forgetting they also have a face”

    Yeah, you know what, I don’t give a toss if you look at my boobs, but if you “forget I have a face”, you can be sure I am gonna be annoyed. That stuff gets old fast. As I tried to explain to a friend, there’s a difference between an appreciative glance and leering. And it actually isn’t that hard to work out.

    And also, Deborah, yeah, what you said.

  3. Yes, that ‘when we’re allowed to and even when we’re not’ is breathtaking, isn’t it. Here’s what I want to know: what implicit subject is attached to the verb ‘allow’? Exactly who is doing (or not doing) the hypothetical allowing in this scenario? The woman, or the official male owner of the breasts?

    There’s a sort of ‘naughty boy’ behaviour thing going on in this language somewhere, too. (‘Daddy says I’m not allowed to do that.’) As though infantilising through language somehow makes bad behaviour less bad. Women do this too, of course; men ‘play up’, and women have just one more chocky bikkie.

  4. As the great Dusty Springfield said, you don’t own me, I’m not just one of your little toys.

    I think she said it quite some time ago – you’d think it would’ve sunk in by now.

  5. When I had a skin cancer removed froma breast my GP asked if my husband would have any issues with it.

    I replied that I wouldn’t have married a man stupid enough to have issues with my body and to care more about my appearance than my health.

  6. Un-fucking-believable. I do despair sometimes. Ugh.

  7. Don’t read the comments. They are even more depressing.

  8. Deborah, thanks for taking this on. I agree with everything you say. I saw the article this morning and couldn’t bring myself to blog about it because it was just so … so … so … yeah, what you said.

    As some of the others have also said: the casualness of the ‘let’s assault women!’ was horrid.

    Like stef, I did make the mistake of reading the first few comments, and agree with her: don’t do it! They are far worse than the article, all ‘don’t spoil the fun, dude, what do you mean those breasts are for something other than my delectation?’ ugh!

  9. Thanks Deborah for linking to my article. I couldn’t believe the article when I first read it, the whole thing made me very annoyed. And yes, the comments are full of fail, except for mine.

  10. Some of the comments over at The Hand Mirror aren’t fantastic either, a lot of them are defending the “allowed to or not” comment. Though at least the ratio of good comments to bad are much better than in the mainstream media.

  11. [...] Deborah from In a Strange Land and I wrote about Brendan Black and his opinion piece in Fairfax media on breastfeeding and [...]

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