Breast. No Bottle.

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Objectification of breastfeeding women

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Objectification of women is one the most prominent subjects in feminism.  To objectify means to treat as a thing as opposed to a being. Most people are familiar with sexual objectification of women that is treating women as objects, things, toys for sexual gratification.  A woman exists as a sum of her body parts, not a whole being with thoughts, wishes, feelings, and ultimately dignity.  Sexual objectification is often used to sell products.

Objectification of women

Examples of sexual objectification of women in commercial advertising

Very little if anything is said about objectification of breastfeeding women in medicine, feminism, and breastfeeding advocacy.  Objectification of breastfeeding women is very easy to pinpoint.

When you equate “a woman nursing a child” to “milk” that is when you substitute a substance for a woman, you are objectifying a breastfeeding woman.

A woman nursing a child is equated to milk feeding.

An American philosopher Martha Nussbaum developed a set of criteria to describe the process of objectification.  I will apply these criteria to showcase conceptual and visual means of objectifying breastfeeding women in breastfeeding promotion and advocacy.

A breastfeeding woman is used as a tool for another’s purposes

Shutterstock image representing breastfeeding

Mental model. Woman’s milk, “liquid gold”, is considered to be a valuable product for nutrition and treatment. Women’s milk is harvested at all cost to feed new members of society and decrease societal burden of disease associated with formula feeding.

Visual devices. In the image there is an obvious absence of a woman, while her breast is prominently displayed as the source of the valuable product. A woman is not shown as relevant to either milk nor her child.   

Real life examples.

  • Legislation that allows breaks from work to breastfeed.
  • Legislation that allows breaks for expression of milk.
  • Lactation rooms provided by employers.
  • Insurance coverage of breastpumps.
  • Medical protocols that stress milk harvesting (pumping) to the detriment of establishment of a nursing relationship.


Treatment of breastfeeding women as inert, incapable of self-determination and autonomous decision-making

Typical breastfeeding book cove

Mental model. Breastfeeding, a traditionally female determined enterprise,  has come under total control of medicine.  Women are expected to follow official medical recommendations on breastfeeding.

Visual devices. Breastfeeding women are often depicted in passive positions, lying down. In current Western representations of breastfeeding women NEVER do anything else other than “feeding”. They do not work at the computer and nurse. They do not read and nurse. They do not work and nurse. They do not shop for groceries and nurse.  They do not engage in conversations with others and nurse.

  • Real life examples.
  • Position statements of medical organizations on the medically and scientifically desirable duration of breastfeeding.
  • Medical advice on breastfeeding based on abstract physiological scientific beliefs.
  • Government goals to make a certain percentage of women breastfeed.
  • Special eating, breathing, drinking. and other life regulating requirements for breastfeeding women with the goal to attain scientifically determined “optimal” quality of milk.

 Treatment of women as if they are owned by another

A typical breastfeeding book cover

Mental model.  Society at large and medicine in particular views a woman as belonging to society as an incubator of new members as well as belonging to a child to fulfill all child’s socially determined needs.  Hence the state controls breastfeeding  women through medicinal control.

Visual devices. Breastfeeding images of modernity increasingly show a child at the breast. A woman is conspicuously absent from the image signifying lack of importance of women in breastfeeding as nurturing. The prominence of a child at the breast highlights the importance of breastfeeding for the child. Visually and conceptually a child remains at the center of breastfeeding question.

Real life examples.

  • Discussion of breastfeeding exclusively from the standpoint of the benefits for a child.
  •  Expectation that a woman must and will breastfeed for a child’s well-being and health.
  • Government programs that encourage breast milk feeding from the standpoint of children’s benefits, health benefits, and healthcare cost savings.
  • Government system of economic  incentives for breastfeeding such as doling out food, breastpumps, etc.


Treatment of breastfeeding women as if they are interchangeable

Breastfeeding pump bottle

Mental model. A woman is reduced to a breast containing milk. A breast is a vessel for milk.  Breast-as-vessel is replaced with a bottle as a container for milk, breast or artificial. Hence any woman can be replaced with any bottle with any milk. The woman is unimportant and inconsequential to either her child, nurturing her child through breastfeeding, or indeed her milk.

Visual devices. Representations of breastfeeding women without heads and without bodies. Images of breasts with infant heads attached to them. Images of breastpumps as representations of breastfeeding. Images of bottles as representations of breastfeeding.

Real life examples.

  • Equating breastfeeding and breastmilk feeding in practice, research, statistics, parenting and professional literature.
  • Promotion of legislature that equates breastfeeding to breastmilk feeding.
  • Discussion of breastfeeding and formula feeding as a choice between two types of milk feeding from different containers.
  • Silencing of women’s voices and experiences in nurturing through breastfeeding.
  • Comparing formula milk to breastmilk and obliterating women’s contributions to nurturing through breastfeeding.

Treatment of breastfeeding women as if it is permissible to damage or destroy them 

Breastfeeding propaganda poster. Russia, early 20th century. What will save Russia from extensive childhood mortality? The fact that 92 out of 100 mothers breastfeed

Mental model. Breastfeeding is a personal choice. Good mothers must choose to breastfeed. Women who do not breastfeed do not want to breastfeed or are lazy mothers who make bad choices.  Women’s lives and mothering exist in ideal vacuum. Society, institutions of societal control, and business do not have anything to do with breastfeeding and formula feeding “choices”.  Women are expected to overcome social, cultural, religious, financial, and personal barriers to breastfeeding .

Visual representations. Portrayal of women as representations of motherland. Portrayal of women as solely responsible for survival, health, and well-being of children. Note that propaganda of breastfeeding is more likely to use an image of a woman, not a body part.

Real life examples.

  • Political propaganda persuading women to breastfeed for the benefit of the state.
  • Medical propaganda persuading women to breastfeed for the benefit of the state.
  • Social propaganda persuading women to breastfeed for the benefit of society.
  • Presenting breastfeeding as a personal choice, while silencing information about lack of maternal leave legislation, lack of social protection of women, lack of social protection of mothers, discrimination of breastfeeding women, isolation of breastfeeding women, violence against breastfeeding women, exclusion of breastfeeding women from workplaces and public spaces.
  • Routine separation of women and children resulting in loss of breastfeeding joy and pleasure while peddling milk harvesting equipment, increasing the work of women in collection, storage, and transportation of milk.
  • Medical intervention into women’s lives to harvest milk while preserving societal status quo that makes breastfeeding impossible.

Treatment of breastfeeding women as if their experiences and feelings do not matter Mental model. Breastfeeding is a physiological process. Breastfeeding is the same in all women.

Visual devices. Naked women symbolize connection to nature and disconnection from culture and society. Nondescript women make it easy to substitute one woman for another while also stripping women of their unique identities that contribute to nurturing through breastfeeding. Women in white convey the idea of a pure mother providing pure milk, conforming to medicinal ideals of mothering. Women without heads further emphasize irrelevancy of women’s identities to breastfeeding. Breasts with infant heads attached to them equate milk feeding from breast to milk feeding from bottle by obscuring the nurturing aspect of breastfeeding. (Breast)Milk in bottles solidify ideas that breasts are like bottles.

Real life examples.

  • Valuing medical information over personal experiences of breastfeeding women.
  • Valuing scientific information over personal experiences of women.
  • Development and support of privileged professional breastfeeding network to the detriment of informal women’s support networks.
  • Oppression of medical information about breastfeeding.
  • Usurpation of breastfeeding knowledge by a minuscule number of professionals.
  • Denial of personal feeling about breastfeeding.
  • Equating breastfeeding women with different values from different cultures to breastmilk feeding from bottles.
  • Breastmilk feeding propaganda.

Rae Langton added three more criteria to Nussbaum’s objectification scale.

Treatment of breastfeeding women as breasts 

Objectification of breastfeeding women. Women as breasts

Mental model. Breastfeeding is viewed not as relationship between a mother and a child. Breastfeeding is a feeding method of milk from breasts. Nurturing aspects of breastfeeding are silenced. Women are attachments to breasts that serve as a feeding vessel.

Visual devices. Breasts as representation of breastfeeding. Headless women with the focus on breasts. Images of women breastfeeding in bed or in seclusion.

Real life examples.

  • Propaganda of breastmilk feeding.
  • Research of breastfeeding as breastmilk feeding.
  • Focus on the breasts as sexual objects.
  • Segregation of breastfeeding women from public spaces.
  • Promotion of breastfeeding through sexualized images focusing on breasts.
  • Perception of breastfeeding as sexual molestation practice.



Treatment of breastfeeding women in terms of how they look and how they appear to the senses.   Mental model. Women exist as objects to be looked at and assessed for beauty, appeal, and sexual attractiveness. Women are passive (see point above). They cannot engage in any activity in their own right. Everything women do they do for display or spectacle to excite, satisfy, and entertain the senses (of men).

Visual devices. Images of white breastfeeding women closely follow  the lines of acceptance of white beauty ideals as well as societal ideas of good pure mothering. Faceless women, women with downcast faces, women looking down or looking away allow for undisturbed staring at women’s breasts. Images of breasts not too small, not too large as well as breasts without any veins, hair, stretch marks, nipples, or any other signs of life. conform to mainstream standard of desirable breasts.

Real life examples.

  • Censorship of breastfeeding magazine covers.
  • Sad monotony of breastfeeding book covers.
  • Shaming of breastfeeding women who do not conform to mainstream standards of acceptable appearance.
  • Discussion of breastfeeding women’s looks and sexual appeal.
  • Use of breastfeeding in commercial advertising.

Treatment of breastfeeding women as if they are lacking capacity to speak, silencing 

Mental model. Breastfeeding women must be silent both literally and figuratively. Only official medically approved version of breastfeeding is broadcast. Non-medically approved version of breastfeeding is silenced. Women are quiet receptacles of advice from professionals and the public.

Visual devices. Women without heads. Women with detached facial expressions. Faceless women. Breasts with infant heads attached to them. Representations of breastfeeding where women are completely absent.

Real life examples.

  • Medical supervision of maternal breastfeeding support groups.
  • Medical supervision of maternal breastfeeding organizations.
  • Authoritative expert model of breastfeeding support.
  • Usurpation of breastfeeding knowledge broadcasting by medical professionals.

Written by Medical Nemesis

June 5, 2014 at 15:01

3 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on thebreastlife and commented:
    Interesting article. What do you think?


    June 9, 2014 at 15:24

  2. Reblogged this on veggiewitch and commented:
    Yes, yes, and yes…


    June 10, 2014 at 11:27

  3. […] This is how it is played out in real life that seems extraordinarily ordinary to all of us. We do not talk about women in context of breastfeeding. We say “support breastfeeding”, “new human milk research”, “develop pumps to get more milk”. Women are not anywhere in the picture. Do note how breastfeeding is often portrayed today – frequently it is the breast but not the woman in focus signifying irrelevance of whole women in the realities of their lives and breast as a milk container concept. Do note that breastfeeding propaganda chops women’s heads off and objectifies women.  […]

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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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