Alan Chartock: Keeping abreast of the issues
GREAT BARRINGTON -- No matter how far we’ve come some things never change.
My daughter was at a restaurant in Great Barrington the other day breast-feeding her baby. Up comes a woman who hisses to her husband, "And she isn’t even covered up." And there you have it.
The single most natural process in the world becomes offensive to an older woman covered with pancake makeup and garish lipstick. She has a problem with public breast-feeding and feels the need to cheapen this perfectly natural act by saying that something beautiful is offensive to her, no matter that the laws of Massachusetts make it very clear that breast-feeding is legally protected.
To be specific the law says that "A mother may breast-feed her child in any public place or establishment which is open and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public and where the mother and her child may be lawfully present." What’s more, the law is quite specific and answers the lady in question. According to the statute, "Any exposure of a breast Š that is solely for the purpose of nursing such child shall not be considered lewd, indecent, immoral, or unlawful conduct." Take that lady.
Furthermore the people who wrote the law say that "No person or entity, including a governmental entity, shall, with the intent to violate a mother’s right ... restrict, harass or penalize a mother who is breast-feeding her child." As if that isn’t enough the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be breast-fed until they are 2 years old.
So what is really going on here?
This is a country that is obsessed with sex. You can’t open a tabloid newspaper without seeing models and actresses showing cleavage. Apparently this stuff sells papers. Then there is the porno that is on our cable channels. However, you can go to the zoo and see a chimp breast-feeding her baby, and no one calls out the morality police.
We know that breast-feeding is great for babies. It builds up natural immunities. It cements the relationship between babies and their mothers. So, what we have to do in this country is to get over the idea that if a nipple is visible it somehow endangers the society. I have always believed that if men can walk around without a shirt on, it makes sense that women should have that right too. It is the idea that we have made it illegal that adds to the mystique of the breast.
When musical stars have "wardrobe malfunctions," the nation goes nuts over a nipple. I mean the TV channels have all kinds of rules about breasts. You can show almost everything BUT the nipple. The almost whole breast is acceptable but the nipple is not. What is that? Are we nuts?
Now someone is sure to take offense and ask me whether men or women shouldn’t be allowed to go all the way and show their "junk," as the kids say. Try going to a nude beach some time and see how sexual the experience is. It turns out that not everyone is a movie star or a model and that nudity leaves a lot of people cold, very cold. I remember once one of our theater festivals showed a woman in a state of undress. You might have thought that someone had dropped anatomic bomb (not a typo).
Right in the middle of Great Barrington we have a shop that is devoted to women’s underwear. Now that stuff is sexy and provocative. I love the people who run the place but I have to admit that our society spends a lot of money on sexy undergarments. Anyone walking down the main street of the best small town in America with a child might be offended. I am not.
So which is more offensive, a mother breast-feeding her baby or the films, the actresses, the "malfunctions," and the sexualization of America?
Next time, I’m going to tell my daughter to look the made-up lady in the eye and say, "I’m swearing out a warrant for your arrest. You broke the law."
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