Breastfeeding in Art, Literature, History, and today's Academia!

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kim
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Breastfeeding in Art, Literature, History, and today's Academia!

Post by kim » Sun Jan 20, 2019 2:15 pm

Let's talk breastfeeding in art, literature, history, and today's academia!

Warning: I will be getting personal and political here, because, let's be honest, women's bodies are as personal as they are political. But first, some history.In addition to being beautiful as well as sexy, boobs serve a pretty basic human need: to feed babies. Throughout history, this is how raising tiny humans has been done. It literally can't get more natural. Mammals feed their infants milk. Humans are mammals, so yeah.

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For most of human history, breastfeeding has been a normal part of everyone's life. Even as a man, you were probably exposed to a lot of breastfeeding mothers on a regular basis. We can see through the human record how normal and commonplace it was.

Goddesses breastfed:

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Queens breastfed:

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The poor breastfed:

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As did the wealthy:

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Heck, even Mary the mother of Jesus breastfed...

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...and if our record of Christian art is any indication of what was considered one of one of the most sacred and holy acts done by women...

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...breastfeeding...

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...was...

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...it.
(And if you don't know Kate Hansen's beautiful art, you should definitely look her up.)

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(Of course, some artists did a bit better with the anatomy of breastfeeding than others.)

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Women breastfed on the go:

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They breastfed outdoors:

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They breastfed indoors:

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They breastfed doing all kinds of crazy shit:

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Now, Western culture did this weird thing with breastfeeding where, in an effort to raise the nobility/wealthy and distance themselves from the masses, breastfeeding (at times) was eschewed by the elite. It was too "crass" for the upper classes.

Enter the rise of the wetnurse.

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(By the way, this whole "rich people don't breastfeed" thing wasn't just a Western phenomenon. The Egyptians sometimes did it too.)

Here is a relief of Maia, King Tutankhamun's wetnurse.

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Early modern wetnurses were both a luxury and a necessity. There was no formula, so if a mother died or struggled with producing milk, the infant would die unless a wetnurse could be found in time. Wetnurses were also a status symbol for the elite.

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The Countess of Lincoln wrote an amazing pro-breastfeeding book called "The Countesse of Lincolnes Nurserie" in 17th century England. In it she describes being pressured by her husband not to breastfeed her kids, which she deeply regretted. As a "good wife," she had to obey.

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The Countess gives us some insight, however, into how women's bodies are politicized and policed. We are literally built for breastfeeding, but for whatever reason, social pressures coded this act as unacceptable for women of her class. The "recoding" of boobs is still ongoing.

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One interesting recoding of breastfeeding is the "Roman charity" trope based of the story of Pero who kept her father alive by breastfeeding him. It is the ideal that women's bodies, specifically their breasts, will selflessly nurture society, and more specifically, men.

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Today, at least here in the USA, we are seeing a "renaissance" of breastfeeding. Through a big chunk of the 20th century, with the invention of formula, we saw a public backlash against breastfeeding, especially in PUBLIC. (Heaven forbid we use boobs for what they were made for.)

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...which made awkwardly being up my lactating boobs to a powerful male department chair completely uncharted territory. I had absolutely no one to ask about how to do this. I was the only breastfeeding mom grad student in my department. But I needed a place to pump...so yeah.They did the best they could. I was given a retired prof's office to pump in. The room was filthy. The door didn't lock, so I pumped with my back against the door. The blinds were broken & I was at ground level. I pumped while staring at a dusty bookshelf full of de Sade & Poe.I felt very much like a pariah, even though most were doing their awkward best to be kind and supportive. Most of my department profs didn't have kids. The ones that did were mostly men. Academia is not a normal cosmos for family. Work defines so much of who we are.We can't escape our biology. Most grad student women are in the golden window of baby-bearing. Academia, however, is still very much a model built for a system of men in a patriarchy. Many still don't know WTF to do with a lactating student, colleague, or chair. How would they?

Thanks for Reading.



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