So as usual, I am a good mile or so behind the curve of current events. What can I say? I spend most of my time listening to people try to read i-g-h-t words, flipping pancakes and chasing laundry around. But this week I noticed rather belatedly a picture that has been circulating the internet, a picture that made me literally cry with joy when I saw it. And here it is.
The current pope , in his former diocese, kissing a baby next to a woman breastfeeding. Not breastfeeding under an enormous blanket, not discreetly lifting a baggy t-shirt. Nope, full on, blouse unbuttoned, breastfeeding her infant. She is not some screaming angry topless activist, and yet here she is showing her breast in public in front of a bishop and she is glowing with beauty and confidence. This picture I should also note appeared next to an article on how Pope Francis encouraged mothers to feed their infants in the Sistine chapel.
We live in the great age of the image. Of seeing the unseen. We have seen things that our great-grandparents never even thought possible: landscapes of Mars, MRI scans of our brains, developing embryos, the andromeda galaxy, our favorite celebrities dressed like chickens, and yet for some the image of a woman breastfeeding openly is somehow something that still shocks us, and this is very very bad.
So why I am so exited for this photo is because it incarnates for us the answer that the theology of the body is giving to the void of normalcy in our culture. The reminder that bodies are normal, so get the heck over it, pray for chastity, and move on with your life.
This photo has further raised again the disturbing debate as to wether it is appropriate to breastfeed in church. Seriously? If we are asking ourselves this question, it is a symptom of how deeply the pornography of our culture hurts us. I recently realized this while discussing this issue, with another woman. Pornography has entered the language of our culture so much that women call into question the “appropriateness” of one of their most beautiful and womanly gifts, lactating.
This is why pornography is so sinister. Viewing those images for a man changes all women in his eyes, but perhaps, even more disturbingly, changes the way women view themselves. They become afraid of their own bodies, even of the breast in its most natural and more primary function, feeding a baby. I also sincerely think pornography and formula feeding are two sides of the same industry. If we can keep women’s breasts totally covered except in a sexual way than their visibility becomes a commodity that only the porn industry can deliver.
Furthermore, women nervous and stressed out by the overly sexualized idea of the breast are inhibited from nursing in public places. Let’s face it , nobody wants to be a social outcast, especially mothers of small babies. They get out precious little as it is. And so formula companies picks up the profits neatly on the other end.
Okay, so I got derailed on my formula rant there. . . . But back to the issue, healing certainly takes time. Is every women confident enough to be that woman in the photo? Probably not. But I think we need to admit that we are wounded by our culture and admitting that is a good first step. We should see this woman not as the ideal, but as the norm. How she is nursing is NORMAL. Hiding under a blanket to nurse,unless it is to provide warmth, quiet, less distraction or security for the infant, is not. If we are nursing under a blanket for no other reason than “modesty” it is a silent affirmation that breasts are primarily sexual. Period.
I breath a silent prayer of relief that our pope, our gay-hugging, atheist loving, foot washing, audacity of a pope (to quote Stephen Colbert) has, in his own way addressed this issue. Because babies matter, dammit, and if we call ourselves pro-life, but force mother nurse on toilet seats then we have some serous hypocrisy issues. Okay, okay, I am done ranting now. I’d better go flip some pancakes to blow off steam.