AS fashion goes, the apparel draped over the woman in the mall wasn’t even vaguely complimentary.
It looked like an oversized bib or a cape she put on in reverse.
During a busy weekend, I was lined up to pay for my purchases when I spotted the woman. One hand was pushing a stroller and her other hand was maneuvering under the cloth draped over her torso.
Presuming that she wasn’t copying the famous pose of Napoleon Bonaparte, I think she was nursing her infant under the cloth. For once, I admired how this piece of ungainly, almost repulsive fashion served a greater function besides attracting the opposite sex.
One of the obstacles hindering mothers from breastfeeding in public is embarrassment or fear of potential harassment.
Clarinda Paquibot recalled a suggestion to cover up being made by a barangay captain supportive of breastfeeding. Paquibot is the Central Visayas coordinator of Breastfeeding Tama Sapat Esklusibo (BF TSEK) project, a project of the Department of Health (DOH)and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The male barangay captain also commented that while young mothers had to cover up, older mothers could skip the modesty. Paquibot said it didn’t look as if the man was joking.
Recently, at a health center, I met a male councilor whose views ran along the same lines. As head of the committee on health, he said he totally endorsed the breastfeeding campaign. He even reminded the tanod, police and other men not to hang around the multi-purpose hall’s breastfeeding corner to avoid embarrassing young mothers.
In both incidents, I equate “young” with “nubile” and “attractive”. Furthermore, these male views imply that older mothers, with their sagging and mottled breasts, are supposed to be safe from men fantasizing and acting on their base impulses.
Yet age and experience are invaluable for many things, including the physical and social dexterity that helps one slip a breast out of the confines of a bra, hold one’s infant in a way that he or she gets hold of the whole aureole, not just the nipple, slips back this breast into its brassiere cup and cover up with one’s shirt, and repeat the same steps with the other breast before its nipple drips milk into one’s shirt or waistband to make an unsightly mess. The entire performance done in public.
Many women look away to give a mother nursing her baby some privacy in a jeepney or crowded public area. At an MRT train, which usually brings out the most competitive streaks in people, I’ve seen women make room to give a mother elbow space to nurse her baby with one breast and then the other.
What should one do with males who remain predatory at the most inappropriate moments?
For now, wear the shroud, cape, veil or whatever name is given to the cloth lactating mothers fasten around a shoulder, neck or pin to their blouses when others are present while they nurse.
Is the concept of restraint alien to men? In an interview, Dr. Sylvia E. Claudio said that the “sexual valuation of women’s body” leads some men to box in women within the patriarchal frame of predator and prey, no matter the circumstances.
The director of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Center for Women’s Studies said that women respond differently to the sight of a man walking around without a shirt. Unless the man issues a sexual invitation or acts suggestively, women are unlikely to aggress.
On other hand, she also theorizes that it’s not the sight of firm, globular breasts that men ogle but the intuitive pleasure expressed by mother and child, wrapped in a life-giving bond.
“Baka naiinggit lang sila kasi enjoy na enjoy tayo sa ating ginagawa (Men may just be envious because we obviously enjoy what we do),” said the UP professor of Women and Development Studies.
Biologically, there are few differences marking out women from men. Breastfeeding is one of that rarity, unfortunately for men.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 24, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column