Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bare-Breasted Warriors

It has come to my attention recently that there have been thoughtful pieces written by my colleagues here and here about whether or not a breastfeeding mother can be considered a warrior or a hero. I propose that whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior for breastfeeding obscures a larger issue: an issue of basic human rights and the stand against their erosion.

A breastfeeding mom  in our times faces opposition and conflict, which can take a form anywhere from rude stares and clucking noises of disgust, to bullying, and to expulsion, public indecency charges, or even to violence. She faces all of these for a right which was so basic in ancient times, and even in the recent memory of our elders, that no one considered breastfeeding indecent or abnormal.  If we find ourselves debating whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior, then it is a warning as to how deeply broken our society is.

A breastfeeding mother is not a warrior because she breastfeeds. Breastfeeding itself has little to do with warriorhood. She could be considered a warrior because she tries to take back the basic rights which have been ebbed away; she does this out of necessity and through the means at her disposal. Breastfeeding nowadays is a often act of civil disobedience to social mores and even to some indecency laws. What a breastfeeding mother does often takes courage, chutzpah, and a certain amount of...lactational…fortitude to face the conflict that will arise when she stands for this one normal basic right for the smallest and most helpless members of society. Usually, she is not trying to take a stand for basic rights or do anything revolutionary; she's just trying to do her job as a mother. Motherhood and raising the next generation of humans to be decent people is a monumental effort especially when even the matter of feeding babies in public is erroneously controversial.


The issue is not whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior. The issue is not about the milk or the boobs, or formula and bottles, or good mommy/bad mommy. It’s not about loving-nurturing versus violence, or the subjective good-bad labeling applied to either concept whether one values loving-nurturing or violence more. It's not about liking or disliking mothers or babies, or humanity in general. It's not about liberal values versus conservative values.  No, this issue is more about basic human rights which have been eroded in our society(s), and the fight—even the small, quiet, everyday stands—to take back these rights.

It’s absurd and pathetic to have to take a stand for the right to feed babies in public. It is also absurd and pathetic to have to fight for the right to love, as seen in the matter of gay marriage. Yet here we are. If one has to even contemplate whether or not a breastfeeding mother is a warrior or a hero, it is because it is our society is wrongheaded from the foundations up and we have erred in creating and sustaining the situations where mothers must take a stand. Because of this issue and many more, we have everything to fight for. Everything. Even breastfeeding. Even love. And we have nothing left to lose when we can’t even hold hands with loved ones or feed hungry babies in public without conflict or the threat of conflict, arising.

We are all called* to be warriors, not because the word "warrior" has been watered down, but because we must  all take a stand for human rights even in small ways; it's our responsibility. Society is us, it is our creation, all the good and ill that comes out of it a result of our actions--not someone else's actions--our own actions. As such it falls on us to take a stand when things go wrong. Our society is so deeply troubled that it requires every one of us to take a stand to restore basic rights and restore our society with the means we have available in the capacity we can do so. *(Note that just because we are all called to be warriors that doesn't make everyone a warrior automatically. Warriors are the ones who do their jobs to protect, preserve, restore, and fight for rights by rising to this challenge; as such we should all strive to be warriors. Note too, that I am not saying that "just doing your job"--as in being mediocre and not giving a rip about others' rights--is warriorhood: it's not. What I am saying is that warriorhood is a job we must all take responsibility for and we must all try to do.)

Yay babies! Yay titties! Yay love! And yay for the warriors who fight for these rights in whatever capacity they do so, be that by piloting drones to blow up missile factories or by supporting a breastfeeding mum and sustaining her rights. (Note that I am not saying that these two activities are the same or of equal value. They are simply both useful, and they are both needed in different ways for different reasons.)

Also, feel free to take a look at this lovely image of the Canaanite cross-dressing warrior goddess ‘Anatu, who is not a mother, breastfeeding the twin gods Shachar of the Dawn and Shalim of the Dusk. 

Image Notes: The Republic by Honore Daumier. Public Domain.


  1. Very well said, Ms Dawson. It can be easy for those of us who have rejected mainstream social mores for years to forget how absurd people can be today (and unfortunately, the "breastfeeding debate" is no longer an issue contained to the States), and over such normal parts of life.

  2. I am truly stunned at how dumb our society is about some things. We can send robots to Mars, but get squeemish about breastfeeding, and then try to pass off breastfeeding women as warriors! It would be humorous if it wasn't so idiotic.