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.
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