In January, a few women in the military got together and formed a support group designed to spread the word to women in the military and women spouses of military personnel that breastfeeding infants is a good thing. The Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group even got a professional photographer to take pictures of women –some in uniform — breastfeeding. Tasteful, beautiful, life-affirming photographs.
And then on May 22, they took their message to Facebook. In just days, there was outrage, and some called the women a “disgrace to the uniform” and labeled their actions “conduct unbecoming.”
“The Today Show” picked up the story and felt the strange need to offer a warning to viewers before airing it: “A few of you may find it too revealing.” Seriously? Is America so prude that the act of feeding a baby causes “controversy”?
The Today Show story includes a Washington State National Guard supervisor stating that it is a violation of regulations for the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group women to be in uniform and endorse a product or further a cause or ideology. Yes, according to Keith Kosik, State Public Affairs Officer, Washington National Guard, breastfeeding is a “cause” and an “ideology.” Would Kosik say that bottle feeding too is a “cause” and an “ideology”?
“A lot of people are saying it’s a disgrace to the uniform. They’re comparing it to urinating and defecating [while in uniform],” says Crystal Scott, a military spouse who started Mom2Mom in January as a breast-feeding support group for military moms and “anyone related to the base” at Fairchild AFB outside Spokane, Wash. “It’s extremely upsetting. Defecating in public is illegal. Breast-feeding is not.”
It was Scott’s idea to ask photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir to take photos of real-life breast-feeding moms to create posters for National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August. One of the moms photographed in uniform, Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, breast-feeds her 10-month-old twin girls on her lunch breaks during drill weekends as a member of the Air National Guard.
“I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park … and I pump, usually in the locker room,” she says. “I’m proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding. I’m proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breast-feed whether they’re active duty, guard or civilian.”
She said she’s surprised by the reaction to the photos, which also feature her friend Christina Luna, because it never occurred to her that breast-feeding in uniform would cause such a stir.
“There isn’t a policy saying we can or cannot breast-feed in uniform,” Echegoyen-McCabe says. “I think it’s something that every military mom who is breast-feeding has done. … I think we do need to be able to breast-feed in uniform and be protected.”
The Air Force has no policy specifically addressing breast-feeding in uniform, according to Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson, who added, “Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while in uniform.”
Except, they’re all wrong. Why?
In “We’re Seriously Debating Whether It’s Okay for Military Moms to Breastfeed While in Uniform?,” Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel writes:
Apparently, this was a grievous offense to the respectability and professionalism of the military, and, by extension, to America and freedom and Jesus. These colors don’t run! Or lactate!
A nice cross section of shitty reactions to military breastfeeding can be found on the blog of ex-military mom turned breastfeeding advocate Robyn Roche-Paull, who has spent much of her post-military career trying to convince the sausage fest that is the US military that they should really think about drafting a policy that allows women to breastfeed while in uniform. As it stands, there’s no such policy, and as a result, women like Echegoyen-McCabe and Luna face criticism and reprimand should they choose to breastfeed.
So, what’s the big deal? According to comments on Roche-Paull’s blog that frequently begin with “As a… ” (general rule of thumb — if a sentence starts with the words “As a…” then 75% of the time, the implied third word is “shithead know-it-all”), breastfeeding is akin to peeing in your uniform in front of everybody. One commenter said,
As a former Marine, Active Duty, I am appalled by the notion that any service woman would feel it is appropriate to breast feed a child while in uniform. I believe it is an utter disgrace to all women before us who made many sacrifices for the roles we have today. I believe it is an honor to be a woman, a mother, and a Marine. I believe those who chose to breast feed in uniform are only making a joke of the hard work and dedication of service women in the past. You wanted to participate in a career that is slightly more demanding than that of say a receptionist, housewife, lawyer, doctor, writer, etc. so you should adhere to a more professional standard and take your job more seriously.
Because the natural process of feeding your damn kid that you made with your body isn’t serious.
Another commenter added,
I feel very strongly that respect for both the uniform and for women would be compromised should women breast-feed in uniform in public. Women have fought the battle for equal rights and must be cognizant of the fact that they are still in the stage of proving themselves as equals in society and should always remain professional while in uniform. Professional women do not breast-feed in public, and female soldiers, who are professionals, should not either.
And now they drag feminism into this. Advocating for equal opportunity for men and women isn’t the same thing as demanding biological sameness — being granted the right to serve in the military alongside men doesn’t erase the fact that women are still the ones who bear children, still the ones who feed children.
Others echoed the concern that they’re worried that breast feeding in uniform could lead their male counterparts seeing them as less worthy of respect. To this I say: if the sight of a woman breastfeeding leads men en masse to think that women are inferior or not worthy of respect, then the problem isn’t with the women or with breastfeeding — it’s with a rigid culture that encourages acting like a dick. Why accomodate that?
In “FACT: U.S. Air Force and DoD Officially Endorse Breastfeeding,” the website Look Dumbass picks up on the Washington National Guard’s State Public Affairs Officer’s comments in the Today Show video and notes:
Kosik went on to state:
“If you look at the press coverage that’s out there right now, it has been misconstrued as a battle against breastfeeding. It leads one to believe they are being persecuted for breastfeeding. The fact is they’re not being persecuted. The fact is breastfeeding was never an issue for us.”
So breastfeeding in uniform is NOT an issue at all. The issue seems to come from AFI 36-2903, Section 1.4.2, which states:
When NOT to wear the Air Force Uniform …
1.4.2. While participating in public speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, or rallies or in an public demonstration when participation may imply Air Force sanction of the cause.
Or maybe DoDD 1334.1 Section 3.1.2 which states that wearing of the uniform is prohibited “when an inference of official sponsorship for the activity or interest may be drawn.” A claim which is being made by the bigwigs in a memo on Wednesday to all Fairchild AFB personnel to support this sort of smackdown on the women.
Were the women using their uniforms to further their cause or imply Air Force sanction of the cause?
In fact, the women were essentially following a recommendation and direct order of the Secretary of the Air Force by breastfeeding their children.
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE
COMPLIANCE WITH THIS PUBLICATION IS MANDATORY
4.16. Breastfeeding and Breast Pumping
4.16.1. Breastfeeding provides optimal health benefits for both mother and infant throughout their life spans. Exclusive breastfeeding is optimal nutrition for the first 6 months of life. Gradual introduction of solids begins in the second half of the first year and complements human milk, which remains essential to nutrition during this period. Extensive medical research has documented that breastfeeding has significant health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, emotional, social, and economic benefits to mother and baby. The AFMS recommends that supervisors of AF members who are breastfeeding work with the member to arrange their work schedules to allow 15-30 minutes every 3-4 hours to pump breast milk in a room or an area that provides adequate privacy and cleanliness. Restrooms should not be considered an appropriate location for pumping. The AF member must supply the equipment needed to pump and store the breast milk.
You CAN’T accuse the women of exploiting their uniforms to further their cause and you CAN’T accuse the women of exploiting their uniforms to “imply Air Force sanction of the cause” and you CAN’T rightfully silence the women nor should they face disciplinary action for exploiting their uniforms to imply sanction of the cause.
There is nothing to imply when the Secretary of The Air Force issues an order for which compliance is mandatory, an order which specifically endorses and recommends breastfeeding and breast pumping. A picture of a woman in uniform breastfeeding her child is a direct reflection of the recommendations, values, and orders from the Department of Defense.
There is no cause. There is no implication that the Department of Defense and Air Force are in support of breastfeeding.
It’s a STATEMENT OF FACT.
Part Three — Earth To Tony Perkins… Where Are All The “Pro-Life” And “Pro-Family” Groups?
As for public reaction, it’s offensive to suggest women — in uniform or not — go to a restroom to feed their children. Would you want to eat in a restroom?
Of course, we aren’t seeing any of the so-called “pro-family” and “pro-life” groups like the American Family Association, Family Research Council, or the National Organization For Marriage come out in support of these women who started the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group, military women who need to feed their children while they happen to be in uniform, or women in general breastfeeding in public.
Nowhere. Silent. Crickets…
Why? Because they’re all too busy attacking gay people for wanting to get married, or for being in the military, and they’re all too conservative to actually take their heads out of their asses and recognize that breastfeeding a baby is about as natural and as pro-life and pro-family as you can get.
For more, read about the Child’s Right to Nurse Act.
Then head over to the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group on Facebook, and show your support.
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