I read Bethany Mandel’s sexist tirade against women and would have thrown up if it hadn’t been an all too familiar narrative. It’s a little sad that I’ve learned to stomach the disparagement. I try often not to give idiotic arguments a platform, but there are times, for the good of all that is progress, it's necessary to challenge them.
In her piece, “Naked Models Don’t Normalize Breastfeeding”, Mandel proposes that celebrity shoots of women breastfeeding their children don’t do much of anything but sexualize what ought to be a normal activity.
Holy fucking shit.
Yes. That’s her argument.
Before I go on to address the hypocritical and sexist stance of Mandel, let me first say: Anyone who suggests they see sexualization in the context of a child at the breast has clearly and unequivocally lost their fucking sense.
We are talking about children. Don't forget that.
Back to Mandel’s essay:
She uses the recent subscriber cover of Elle to argue that Nicole Trunfio “advanced the sexual nature of [the breast] by posing in a manner totally divorced of how normal women breastfeed their babies every day.” Mandel didn’t stop there, she then began to reveal to all her readers how divorced she was from critical thinking by saying that celebrities who mock Mandel’s thought process are hypocritical because they are creating this sexualization to begin with. (Hint: Mandel, that’s called circular reasoning).
Her solution to this fabricated problem is when celebrities nurse in their own home or while taking public transportation, provided they are fully clothed. Finally, after skirting around it for 12 paragraphs, Mandel just says what we knew she was thinking all along: Do it my way or not at all. Because, apparently, that’s normalizing.
The hypocritical, fallacy laced essay was more than I could stand. But even after all those ignorant statements, there was this gem:
“All of these societal messages discourage women from breastfeeding in public, which leads them to become recluses or supplement with formula while out.”
Absolutely Mandel. Absolutely.
The message you send does lead women to feel ashamed of this normal biological function. It absolutely forces them to hide recluse in their own home. It absolutely puts hurdles in front of an already obstacle ridden journey they have ahead. Absolutely. When you tell a woman that she isn’t breastfeeding the right way because she didn’t live up to the “sacred” standard you believe, you absolutely send her that message and do nothing for normalizing.
But it’s far worse than that.
Mandel isn’t just stripping nursing mothers of access and ease. She’s perpetuated an ideology that unless you do motherhood her way, you’re failing. It’s wrong what Trunfio did because Mandel, herself, has never “put on designer clothes, had [her] makeup professionally applied and stood half-naked, holding a naked baby to nurse.” No shit. I wouldn’t imagine so, especially since you aren’t the world’s highest paid supermodel.
And there in lies the rub.
Comparisons and judgements on women because they “aren’t like us”. And it doesn’t matter if the issue is breastfeeding or pregnancy or aging or exercising. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a size two or a size twenty-four. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a woman making a six figure income or staying at home and picking dinosaurs up from the floor (again).
Mandel, and women like her, use their own life as the plum line for what should or shouldn’t go. They take their personal experiences and project them onto other women to determine exactly how good or bad another has done. And they wrap that judgment and condemnation of others in passive aggressive appeals to the masses, crying “normal”. Essentially, they are knocking another person down in order to stand taller on their own pedestal. We had a word for that in grade school.
Fortunately, not everyone is like this. But for those who are, it's not just with mothers, not just with this one decision of parenthood, but all over almost every dialogue had about being a woman.
How fucking tiresome.
Look, I don’t give a shit if you breastfeed or wean or never latch a child to your body. I don’t care if you climb a corporate ladder or dance around a pole. I don’t care if you wear a corset or walk the streets topless around New York. It’s your body. It’s your journey. It’s your call. I’m far too busy being in competition with the woman I was yesterday than to run a race with you at all. I’m going to trust that grown consenting adults have agency over themselves. And that other women don’t have to meet the expectations I have for myself.
So please shut the hell up already about how exposing a female breast (especially when feeding a child) makes a woman immoral. It’s glaringly obvious that line of thinking comes from antiquated sexist ideologies about the bodies of women completely devoid from any reality. Don't believe me? Read Parker Molloy’s brilliance on indecency to educate yourself.
The sad news is that a lot of the time we are hearing this bullshit from other women. Like they've been fed the misogynist sexist trope so long, they've digested it and now regurgitate as their own.
That’s exactly what Mandel did. She slammed women and made egregious insults towards children all because she has her own hang ups with agency and the female body. Which is odd, considering her previous essay included this:
“The least feminist aspect of this reaction from feminist camps is denying [a woman’s] agency as an adult woman capable of making her own decisions.”
Well yes. Of course. I’ve said it before and will say it again: You don’t get to say you are for the empowerment of women while placing value judgements on how they choose to empower themselves. That’s not feminism.
Trunfio is an empowered woman. With a baby. Who needed a feeding. Why the hell wouldn’t a woman advocating for something use her own platform as an opportunity?
After all, Mandel had praised the Duchess of Cambridge for doing the same thing:
“Given the choice between looking good and looking frumpy, how many women would choose the latter before her photo was immediately projected across the globe? The fact that feminists don’t understand Kate’s excitement and normal level of womanly vanity speaks volumes.”
(I’m a little confused what "normal womanly vanity" is, especially since it’s off limits if feeding a child is involved? But alas…)
Mandel also said this: “Wouldn’t it be nice if feminism was about supporting women, regardless of how they choose to express their femininity?”
Yes. Yes it would. And it certainly would help if people wouldn’t say disgusting things like this:
“They did everything possible to sexualize their photoshoots, getting glammed up and exposing as much of themselves as possible while nursing.”
The fact that Mandel saw a naked chest on a woman glamored up and her mind immediately jumped to “sex” says a lot more about what Mandel thinks of women (and children) than she was willing to admit.
She’s not even original in posting this piece. Recently, a vlogger decided the best campaign strategy they could come up with to launch their brand was exploiting divide against women using the notion of sexualized breastfeeding images as well. And in 2010, Jamie Grumet was put over the coals by media and the general public because god forbid she wore a tank top nursing her son while striking a confident pose.
And that’s where this issue gets personal. That’s where I'm filled with ire as I look to my boy. Those of you who argue these images do nothing to normalize breastfeeding have no clue what you’re talking about. None. Grumet’s cover changed my world. While women like Mandel argue the images are perverse and unnatural, women like me shed tears because we lived the impact they had in our homes.
Normalizing breastfeeding isn’t about making breastfeeding palatable for most. It’s not about finding a compromise that works. It’s not about whether a woman is feeding her child on a subway or taking a selfie in her own home. It’s individual. It’s about pushing back against culture norms like Mandel’s that shame women into hiding because society decided to place prerequisites on the female body. Normalizing is about stripping those arbitrary qualifications away and telling families it’s perfectly appropriate to feed your child, in whatever way you’re most comfortable, regardless what others might say. They are, mammary glands after all.
So if you want to cover your breast, go right ahead. And if you want to bare your chest, no more to be said. If you want to use the tank and two shirt method, good for you. And if you want to wear a stellar suede jacket that’s opened up during a photo shoot, that's awesome too.
True empowerment for women lets each woman decide for herself. And even though women like Mandel can’t seem to grasp that, there are some of us that do — and we say naked models do more than normalize breastfeeding. They go a step farther and celebrate a woman’s equality. Her freedom to choose. And the idea to never project your personal hang ups onto someone else.
Try that next time Mandel.
To see more of the awesome images from Trunfio's photo shoot, check out The Daily Telegraph.
For empowerment in your personal breastfeeding journey visit:
The Badass Breastfeeder
The Leaky Boob
I Am Not the Babysitter