Ronda Kaysen: It's not every day that a poster hanging in a hospital children's ward generates international outcry. Especially when the poster is of a toddler breastfeeding.
But what makes this breastfeeding tot different from all the others is that she's not nestled at her mommy's breast, she's nestling her dolly at her own breast. The picture, hanging in a Manchester hospital, is coupled with the text, "It's Normal -- Children Copy Their Mothers."
The homemade poster was hung as part of a campaign for National Breastfeeding Week. And boy has it caused a stir.
To say hospital visitors were outraged would be an understatement.
"The picture is shocking and it isn't normal," Deborah Winter told a reporter when she saw the poster. "Children copy their parents but I don't think any little girls should be breastfeeding their dolls."
Blogger Hoyden About Town took the time to string together some of the less enlightened comments people made online. They called it "highly offensive," "depraved," "exploitation," and "the sort of picture that a paedophile would show a kid." Readers fretted that it condoned the "sexualizing of children" and would "poison their minds."
I beg to differ. If it is perfectly normal for a toddler to give her doll a toy bottle, it would also be normal for her to pretend to nurse her. After all, that is how breastfed babies eat. They sell toy baby bottles in the store. So, if a toddler nurses or sees her mom nursing her younger sibling, she would clearly emulate her mother.
Last time I checked, nursing a baby didn't have much to do with sex or sexuality. The toddler isn't dressed provocatively; she is merely feeding her pretend baby. But that is not how the vast majority of readers saw it.
One reader went so far as to say, "I have never seen a child mimic breastfeeding in this way. There are of course children who mimic sex acts, swear and use violence. What next, a child posing unrolling a condom."
I hate to break it to all the outraged readers out there, but nursing is not a sexual act. Nor is it a violent one. I realize that many people can't help but think about sex when they look at a woman's breast, even if there's a baby attached to it. Nursing a baby isn't a sexual act. It's a mothering act. And the little girl in the poster is merely pretending to mother and nurture, two traits that should be encouraged in small children.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|