What we have here is a tempest in a porn star’s breast pump — and it reveals just how discomfiting some find the overlap between sex and motherhood.
Just weeks after adult actress Madison Young gave birth, she launched an art exhibit titled “Becoming MILF.” The idea was that she would explore how she now embodies a contradiction, the dichotomy to end all dichotomies — that of the Madonna and the whore. At the show’s opening, she served up self-made breast milkshakes and displayed a baby quilt made of burp cloths and “porn star panties.” Surely it goes without saying that this sort of art doesn’t appeal to everyone, or most, but it’s brought about criticism from the unlikeliest of sources: a fellow pornographer.
I’m less interested in the sex worker Twitter war that has ensued than in how the controversy taps into culture-wide mommy issues, but the details are like so: Sex worker activist Furry Girl (presumably a stage name) took to Twitter to criticize Young for publicly breast-feeding — in a recent photograph, video blog and at a live event. She tweeted that only “creeps & pedophiles” are interested in seeing a porn star breast-feed and insinuated that exposing her child to such an audience was abusive: “It’s funny to see how many feminist kinksters don’t think consent matters when it comes to creating erotic art w/ a baby.” She called Young “a revolting person” and dubbed her defenders “baby fetishists” and “pedos.”
Given the degree of vitriol, you might be imagining a debauched scenario in which Young breast-fed her child in a freaky fetish film — but nothing of the sort took place. Her alleged crimes are as follows: She posed for a black-and-white photograph dressed up like Marilyn Monroe while clutching her daughter to her bare breast. (The symbolism is not too subtle.) Then, in a video clip posted to her blog, she nonchalantly breast-fed while announcing that she would nurse live and in-person at an upcoming event meant to promote “health awareness for our queer, kinky and sex positive communities.” Then, at said event, Young delivered on the promise while talking about … breast health. Other presenters talked about such titillating topics as breast cancer, antiretroviral drugs and safe sex. It wasn’t a sex party; it was an adult sex-ed class hosted by sex workers.
The emotional response to her public breast-feeding conveys the Madonna/whore dichotomy better than Young could ever hope to do with her kitschy quilt and breast milkshakes. The idea that there is something inherently prurient about a porn star breast-feeding plays right into that classic either-or thinking: Her breasts are erotic in one venue, so they can’t be wholesome in another. It’s a wonder anyone lets her breast-feed at all! On the one hand, it’s surprising to see this attitude coming from a pornographer; on the other hand, it’s perfectly appropriate given the way motherhood is fetishized in porn.
It isn’t just porn stars who are chastised when their breasts suddenly become utilitarian, though. We Americans love us some boobs, until they’re desexualized — then they seem obscene. Just think of all the moms who have been kicked out of restaurants for flashing a wee bit of cleavage while trying to feed their fussy newborn. That isn’t to mention the disgust directed at women who dare talk about the physical pleasures of breast-feeding. We don’t like to think of moms as sexual beings — except for in the taboo-busting world of porn (paging Dr. Freud). It’s fitting for a porn star mama, the rare industry “MILF” who is actually a mom, to remind folks that, generally speaking, one has to have sex in order to become a mom.
Maybe the other lesson here is that sexual objectification is the worst when you don’t choose it. As Young tweeted to her critic, “[T]he only one sexualizing this image of me breastfeeding is you. Which makes me feel truly disgusted and violated.”