A Facebook group, ‘Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook)’ is arguing against the social networking site’s policy of removing photos of breastfeeding women. (Abby O’Reilly has written a previous post on this here).
Pictures of women feeding their babies are classified as obscene and
removed, and members are threatened with banning from the site if their photos are reposted.
The group organised a worldwide cyberspace protest on December 27 last year, in which women swapped their usual profile pictures for images of them breastfeeding their babies.
It’s shocking, but not particularly surprising, that this attitude to the female body is still prevalent among Facebook’s organisers. After all, women have been prevented from breastfeeding in public spaces, from cafes to the House of Commons, on the grounds that it is somehow indecent. Our society sexualises the female breast to such an extent that its basic evolutionary function – nourishing a child – is obscured. While anyone can access specifically sexual images of topless models in tabloid newspapers and top-shelf magazines, breastfeeding images remain taboo.
This restriction – which is not limited to Facebook, but reflects a wider social problem – has three effects. First, it promotes the sexual objectification of women’s bodies, by reading a sexual subtext into all images of female breasts. Second, it limits respect for mothers who chose to breastfeed, and leaves them vulnerable to criticism and unwelcome attention. Third, it makes breastfeeding appear ‘weird’ and leaves new parents unfamiliar with the practicalities of breastfeeding. This does no service to mothers or babies, whose health can benefit greatly from breastfeeding.
Facebook is no longer enforcing a sensibly no-nudity policy. It is discriminating against mothers who chose to breastfeed, by diminishing the respect they are accorded and classifying them as obscene.