Toddler pretending to breastfeed shocks dozens!

Today's reminder that boobs are for sex, not food

Published May 22, 2009 2:23PM (EDT)

"Distasteful, inappropriate and crude." That's how some people are describing a poster hanging in a hospital near Manchester, England. The grandmother of a patient there calls it "shocking" and "disgusting." A health care assistant at the hospital calls it "highly offensive."

What's the oh-so-scandalous image? A picture of a little girl pretending to breastfeed her dolly.

The poster, placed in a children's ward to promote Breastfeeding Awareness Week, reads, "It's normal. Children copy their mothers. Teenagers do it! Celebrities do it!" Now, I doubt the folks behind the poster will be winning any awards for clever copywriting -- or design, for that matter -- but given that the image in question shows a fully clothed child doing nothing remotely sexual, the outrage is absurd. And tiresome. (And disturbing, in the case of the health care assistant who's offended.) How hard is it to understand that breastfeeding is about nourishing a child, not exhibitionism? We're still hung up on this? Really?

Yep. Australian feminist blog Hoyden About Town has a round-up of some of the comments on newspaper articles about the poster. Highlights include (insert your own "sic"s as necessary): "What next, a child posing unrolling a condom?" "What is next children pretending to have sex to show them how adults have sex." "It is the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid to say look it is ok to do that because it is what grown ups/mothers do. What next."

Seriously, what next, you guys? Two-year-olds just walking around in public pretending their dollies are their own babies? Why can't we let children be children, for heaven's sake?!? Oh. wait.

As the Hoyden post vividly demonstrates, a two-minute Google image search will bring up pictures galore of little girls play-feeding baby dolls, which we're meant to see as wholesome and charming -- because the girls are using bottles. But little girls (and boys) who hold toys to their chests, mimicking the kind of baby-feeding they know best? Distasteful! Inappropriate! Disgusting! Unlike, say, insisting that kids' innocent play is sexual. Or insisting that mothers in the act of feeding hungry babies should be thinking of the strangers they might arouse instead of meeting their children's needs. Those things are totally cool. Keep up the good work! Just don't ever let a girl grow up thinking breasts are for anything but other people's sexual pleasure. We don't want to confuse the poor things.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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