Scandalous practices and political performances: breastfeeding in the city

Bartlett, Alison (2002) Scandalous practices and political performances: breastfeeding in the city. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 16 (1). pp. 111-121. ISSN 1030-4312


Picture this: 388 babies in one room breastfeeding. All at the same time. Imagine the quantities of milk being produced and consumed. Imagine all those breasts in the one
room. The room is the new ‘megaplex’ movie cinema at Marion shopping complex in Adelaide, South Australia. Is this a coincidence, that such a surreal event takes place in a cinema complex? The event has been dubbed a ‘Breastfest’ and is organized by the South Australian College of Lactation Consultants, the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia (NMAA) and midwives from the nearby Flinders Medical Centre. It is intended
to be a world record for the most babies being breastfed at any one time, making it into the Guinness Book of Records. Once the baby has latched on, the mother puts up her hand to be counted. It’s a stunt, a media event. It’s also World Breastfeeding Week. But in August 1999 when it takes place, it comes amid almost two years of media ‘scandals’ about breastfeeding in public.

I’m interested in recent media ‘events’ involving breastfeeding because they generate particular narratives about breastfeeding and most are infused with ‘scandal’. ‘Breasts are a scandal for patriarchy’, writes Iris Young, ‘because they disrupt the border between
motherhood and sexuality’ (Young, 1990, p. 190). As if that weren’t enough, I want to show how lactating breasts when they are taken outside the home are capable of
disrupting the borders of morality, discretion, taste and politics; in short, breasts are capable of transforming legislation, citizenship, and cities themselves. Lactating breasts are particularly scandalous, and I want to read the scandals they have recently provoked as crucial elements in cultural change. The ‘scandals’ I have chosen to read are events between 1998 and 2000 that were given national coverage in the print media in Australia
and provoked a divided response through letters to the editors to those newspapers about women’s breastfeeding practices in public. These events and the scandalizing rhetoric used to debate women’s public breastfeeding practices can be read as marking a critical cultural moment in the contestation and renegotiation of social values.

The examples of breastfeeding in public that reach the newspapers are always to do with white middle-class urban dwellers. It is signi� cant that indigenous, ethnic, rural and lower socio-economic groups are not the subject of scandals about breastfeeding. White middle-class women like myself are the women with the most available power in a Western colonized nation like Australia—we are the ones in a position to publicly contest social values. We are usually assumed to be ‘average’, or normative, and so do
not usually have to negotiate discourses of race or class or sexuality, which are rendered invisible. While acknowledging that we all inhabit specific social, historical and discursive contexts, I argue that the narratives produced about these women breastfeeding
in public can be read symptomatically as an historical moment when particular social values are threatened, and that this has much broader implications about the politics of women’s sexuality, use of public space and citizenship.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: Author's version unavailable.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Arts - Department of Humanities and International Studies (Up to 31 Mar 2011)
Date Deposited: 06 Aug 2009 05:46
Last Modified: 20 Sep 2021 02:45
Uncontrolled Keywords: breastfeeding; public
Fields of Research (2008): 20 Language, Communication and Culture > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200205 Culture, Gender, Sexuality
Fields of Research (2020): 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4405 Gender studies > 440599 Gender studies not elsewhere classified
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