This is normally not something I will comment on, but I wrote this for another blog and thought I’d share it here. This isn’t just a parenting issue. I feel it affects all women!
In the nanny world, you get exposed to a lot of parenting debates simply by proxy. I know more about parenting and children than I ever would know as a general childless person. As such, I find myself reading articles and blogs that have nothing really to do with my stage of life, and articles on the great breastfeeding debate are no exception.
Oh, I’ve heard it all. Don’t nurse in public. Nurse in public. Nurse at least for a year. Only nurse if you want to. Anyone can nurse. People who don’t are lazy. It’s something that I’ve never experienced, yet I’m asked by people I nanny for all the time what I think about it.
I can tell you right now, I don’t agree with what James Braly has to say on the matter. In his recent New York Times blog, “Breastfeeding and Sex: Is Latching On a Turn-Off?”, he bemoans the fact that his wife is still nursing his five-and-a-half-year-old son. Comparing his son to “roughly the size of a foal” when stretched out, he whines that his wife’s breasts should belong to him, James, and no longer to his children.
“I know, most women think their breasts are theirs. I’ve been hearing this since I was a toddler being cautioned, “Don’t touch!” But most guys just want to touch. Most girls, thank God, eventually make some guys lucky. One thing leads to another. And here we are, discussing the consequences of a touch too much: children. So to everyone chanting “My Body! My Choice!” I say, “Your Body! Our Nookie!” We are in this together, women and children, men — and breasts,” says Braly.
This is another argument I’ve heard, actually, from several husbands who inappropriately confide in me while their wives are upstairs settling the baby or toddler into bed. “Why is she still breastfeeding? I thought she’d be done by now. This is getting ridiculous.”
Frankly, I’m indifferent to extended breastfeeding. If you want to do it with your children, more power to you. I can’t say if it’s going to be for me or not, because I don’t have kids, nor do I have lactating boobs. I honestly don’t think about it, and if I see it in public, I tend to just look away. I used to be fully against it, even going so far as to ignorantly share my opinions on it in public forums. In that way, I used to be exactly like James Braly. I’ve learned to shut my mouth.
But what I can say about the topic is this: men, your wife’s breasts have never belonged to anyone else but your wife.
Braly’s annoying comment of, “Your Body! Our Nookie!” is representative of the culture we live in. Until the boom of feminism in the 1960s, women were instructed to feed formula and place babies into separate beds to ensure that their husbands would still find them sexy and desirable without the annoyance of a child in the way. Women have always been the chattel of men, and maybe the reason we’re seeing so much whining from the male side of the parenting spectrum is because women are finally standing up to their men and telling them to take their whining elsewhere. After all, haven’t we already got enough whining to listen to from the babies themselves?
Now, to argue Braly’s point, I can see how a man might feel left out when his wife spends all her time with her son or daughter. I can see how it might be hard to hear that his wife isn’t in the mood for sex, or even in the mood to be touched. But men, I caution you to examine why you feel so annoyed and proprietary over your wife. Is it because you really feel like she’s not paying enough attention to you, or is it because you feel like you have ownership over her body and “were there first”?
I will point out that extended breastfeeding is not at all a new thing. While most men and women in our generation may not be used to seeing children breastfeed at all, the fact of the matter is, humans are mammals, and as such, can naturally wean anywhere from the age of 2 to the unthinkable age of 8. “Milk-teeth” are called that because human children used to breastfeed until they lost them.
Now, in this day and age, it’s rare to see a breastfeeding five-year-old, and as Time Magazine showed, also fairly controversial. But it’s not rare to see the sort of blatant misogyny still being spouted in articles like Braly’s. No, sir, you are not entitled to your wife’s breasts, and you are not entitled to be the sole decision-maker in regards to sex, as you state so eloquently in your article, just because your wife and your sons are the sole decision-makers in the choice to breastfeed.
“To those of you who believe breast-feeding a child who can blow out all five of his birthday candles is a totally natural behavior to be regulated only by the mother without considering the effects on the father, I would ask, should sex, a totally natural behavior, be regulated only by the father without considering the effects on the mother?” questions Braly.
No, James. That’s called rape. And if you’d like to make your marriage into an unsafe place for your wife, I guarantee your wife won’t be sticking around too long. She’ll be taking her breasts and her children elsewhere, and rightly so. I would highly advise against that sort of thinking.
These sorts of articles make me uncomfortable, because we’re coming to a new kind of roadblock in our society’s slow progression to recognize the rights of women. The overwhelming feeling of “What about the MEN?!” in this discussion is displaced and inappropriate. Women have been told to keep quiet and get into the kitchen for centuries. Can we not nurse our children naturally without a lot of whinging jealousy from the men who are supposed to be most supportive of us?
Whether you believe in extended breastfeeding or not, this argument is bigger than how long your kid gets to suckle. This is about the rights of women to raise their children as they see fit. This is about the need for men to recognize that their desires may come second to their children for awhile, and that this is natural and also reasonable. Should they always come second? Of course not. But that’s a discussion men need to have with their wives, not with the world.
Braly ends his article by stating, “The positive effects of a sexual encounter on an otherwise monogamous man are outweighed by the negative effects on his companion, and consequently on them. Similarly, the positive effects of extended breast-feeding should be considered in light of the negative effects on the marriage. In other words, sex and its consequences are a family affair.”
No, sex and its consequences are a MARITAL affair. Children don’t even come into it. Methinks that Braly may need to take his thoughts off the blogosphere and actually discuss his concerns with his family.
He may want to take a class in women’s studies to deal with his overwhelming misogyny before he tries that, too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised if his wife decided to pack up and leave him with no “mammaries or Mommaries” at all.