Coming to Life: Philosophies of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Mothering

By Sarah Lachance Adams; Caroline R. Lundquist | Go to book overview

12
Exposing the Breast
The Animal and the Abject in American Attitudes
Toward Breastfeeding

REBECCA TUVEL

Current breastfeeding practices in the United States reveal a puzzling phenomenon.1 Despite a growing increase in the medical establishment’s recommendation that women breastfeed, many mothers who begin breastfeeding often decide to opt for the bottle shortly thereafter, and the women who do breastfeed overwhelmingly prefer to do so in private settings.2 It has been suggested that the reason for this behavior is at least partly accounted for by the fact that American mothers face cultural roadblocks to initiating and continuing the practice of breastfeeding. The reality of these barriers can be revealed in images of breastfeeding in Hollywood cinema, “that great mirror and maker of modern society.”3 The ways in which Hollywood films portray both the breast and breastfeeding shed light on what appears to be a shame associated with the mother’s breast in our cultural unconscious. In this essay, I discuss various ways in which our attitudes toward breastfeeding are revealed (primarily) through Hollywood cinema, and suggest that feelings of shame or embarrassment about breastfeeding can be located not only in our attitudes about the breast as a sexual object but, most centrally, in our fears about our relationship to the maternal body and our anthropocentric anxiety over the blurring lines between human and nonhuman animal selves. I turn to Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection to help diagnose the ways in which the maternal body is eclipsed in our culture. Our reactions to breastfeeding as gross or obscene attest to the Western construction of the maternal body as dangerous; a body that threatens the ostensible divide between nature and culture, animality and

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