If men could breastfeed and women could not, it would be alright not to breastfeed or to breastfeed in public or in uniform

If men could breastfeed and women could not, it would be alright not to breastfeed.

Nobody would hate non-breastfeeding men. Nobody would say, ‘they are bad fathers, they choose not to breastfeed.’

Nobody would say, ‘they do not breastfeed, because they worry more for the shape of their breasts than the health of their babies. They do not want saggy breasts, that’s all.’

Everybody would say, ‘they are very sincere and responsible persons. They are working hard so that they can help their children to get higher education. Men are determined to build a better future for children. They do not have much time for breastfeeding. Formula is just as perfect as breast milk.’

No man would feel guilty for not breastfeeding.

If men could breastfeed and women couldn’t, it would be alright to breastfeed in public and in uniform.

There would be no debate on this issue, no one would ask, ‘breast-feeding in public and in uniform: is it courageous or shameless?’

Everybody would say, ‘breastfeeding is so manly! Men look so handsome and muscular, so proud and confident while they breastfeed!’

There would be no small breastfeeding zone here and there, men’s breastfeeding would be celebrated in all public places. Men would breastfeed whenever they like, wherever they like, in whatever uniform they like.

Everybody would say, ‘men are so sincere and responsible. They are so perfect fathers!’


  1. No Light says

    Too true. And if cis men menstruated it wouldn’t be shameful and dirty, and they would have found a cure for endometriosis about thirty years ago.

  2. bd says

    At the risk of being pounced on, I feel that I have to say that this is rather speculative. Also, I wonder what the point of this post is? Is there any question what the discussion will be? The entire post creates a discussion on its own terms, along the lines of a ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ query. Surely there are better ways to discuss sexism and gender issues.

  3. jakc says

    I understand your point, but the other hand, when Iowa legislators tried to add some (minor) provisions on employers creating private spaces, other than bathrooms, for women to breastfeed/express breastmilk, they failed but on party lines not gender lines. Democratic women lead the effort, Republican women voted against.

  4. ik says

    I doubt that any of this would be the case. I think that the reason for forbidding breastfeeding is due to breasts being considered private parts, and I doubt the reason for that is all that misogynistic.

    • Caerie says

      Why is a breast considered a private part? Breastfeeding in public isn’t a universal taboo, you know. There is nothing intrinsic about a child on a breast that’s sexual or private or indecent.

      Many different cultures today don’t consider breastfeeding indecent or breasts “private.” The Western taboo against it is very recent, as photographs of women openly breastfeeding in the early part of the 20th century show.


    • ik says

      I’m not saying it isn’t recent or that breasts being private is universal. Just that I think that this is NOT a case of ‘it is female, ergo it is disgusting’ and that that specific type of misogyny is not all that common. (Western world perspective here. Where Taslima comes from it could be more the case.)

      I don’t know the reason for breasts being private. I speculate it’s partly because they indicate sexual arousal, partly because people seem to like making parts of the body with certain mechanical properties (such as jigglyness or hanging-down-ness) private, and partly because they are a bit fragile and so covering (and supporting) them became a habit and now breaking the habit is stigmatized.

      Frankly, I don’t think there is any bodily fluid that is not seen as disgusting/private only by default.

      • Lamia says

        It is misogyny in that men have turned breasts into sexual objects when they are not, and claimed them for themselves. Breasts have no sexual function in the sense that the genitals do.

        Tears are not disgusting/private. We sweat, salivate, blow our runny noses, and dry our tears in public. And one thing you are forgetting is that milk is FOOD.

        • Hugh says

          I believe that breast feeding & exposure have become indecent for 3 reasons.
          1. Women have covered up for such along time in our western society, that the human breast has become extremely sexual in the eyes of men.
          2. Many men, knowing this feel very jealous if their wives expose/breastfeed in public.
          3. Many men & women feel that expose breasts are an unnecessary turn-on to the male public. It is also thought that these same women are asking for trouble. Thus the use of the word slut.

          As a man, I see both sides of the issue. Because western women cover up in public, I am turned on by the sight of breastfeeding as well as jealous when my wife breastfeeds in public.

          A solution, and due to my turn-on, I hope that it happens in my life time, women will have to slowly, learn to go topless in public (drivers beware, pay attention to your driving). I would hope that the problem (sexist as it seems) will remedy it self.

          I agree that this is a man’s problem, but will never go away as long as women cover up. Incidently, on numerous occasions, I have sat beside women while they were breastfeeding (on buses, in movie theaters in parks, etc). I was never offended, and not aroused because they were covered with a blanket. This should not have been necessary, but was wise on their part (the husbands were usually very close by, but not all the time). I feel that breastfeeding infants is a 100% natural and necessary for the health of the child and healthy bonding. Honestly, I would if I could, give birth, as well as breastfeed any place I might choose, etc.

  5. beach says

    Is this an example of battling gender stereotypes? How would the reactions be different if we speculated on, say, women in the Navy Seals? Or women as firefighters? I’m afraid this is a step backward if the goal is to reduce gender assumptions. It is rather unfair.

  6. says

    so a couple issues with this one, one our cultural norms here in the US tend to put most bodily functions in the “dirty”/”not fit for public” category. So I doubt that the prediction here as to what the world would be like if men were the ones to breast feed is entirely accurate. Now if the question was more open about how would things look if men breastfed, such as would it be looked at as nearly as shameful for men to breastfed in public or merely rude is another question, and I think a much better one for starting a discussion on the differences in how the sexes are treated by society.

    Second while I agree its not fair to say that women who dont breast feed dont care about their children, I dont think thats a widely held opinion. When I was rotating through the maternity unit at the hospital, the nurses would try to convince the new mothers to breastfeed, and would try to give them as many resources as they could to make it as easy to do so as possible because there are definite benefits to breastfeeding. But I’ve never even heard of anyone belittling a new mother about it even behind their backs. Perhaps I havent gone to the fringiest of the breastfeeding advocates, or maybe Im just in the wrong part of the country to see these kinds of attitudes. Around here though it seems to be a bit of a struggle to get women to breastfeed, and then usually the biggest argument for it is that its cheaper and the hospital provides a breast-pump to the new mother and doesnt charge extra to train her how to properly breast feed and pump.

    Overall though, I think a better discussion can be had by asking what specifically is making it hard for society to accept women breastfeeding (or not) and how do we normalize and destigmatize it?

  7. says

    I have to agree with Traveling Txn. In the US most bodily functions are considered gross, though I will concur that men would probably be able to get away with it more. If men were the breast feeders there’d probably be a few guys squirting people in public just like some guys get a kick out of farting in public, but it would probably still be considered socially unacceptable. As for whether men would be chided for not breastfeeding… it’s impossible to say. In a world where men are the de facto breast feeders, I think it would be expected and men would be derided for it the same as a man who can’t “bring home the bacon” would be. Now a real issue is the breasts, themselves. Female breasts are sexualized to a ridiculous extent, while a man can walk around bare chested just about anywhere without raising an eyebrow. I have a feeling that if women walking around topless became the norm, guys would lose interest after awhile once they became demystified. Then if you wanted to whip out a boob to feed your kid, I doubt many would care that much.

    • ik says

      I doubt they would ever become desensualized. But yes.

      It occurs to me that it might be a bad idea to desexualize all parts of the body. I suspect there is a use in having some area sexualized, for when you have or signal sex.

  8. uncephalized says

    1) I fully support women’s right to breastfeed children whenever and wherever their babies require it, public or private. The American taboo against this perfectly natural practice is totally ridiculous.

    2) Are you actually claiming that formula is just as good for a baby’s health and well-being as mother’s milk? Seriously? There is a good REASON women with infants are pressured to breastfeed if they are able to–because choosing not to do so is an inferior choice for the health of their infant. Obviously some women cannot breastfeed due to physiological limitations, but CHOOSING not to give your infant the best possible nutrition when you are able to do so (and it’s not an economic issue, because breast milk is much cheaper than formula!) is something that mothers should be admonished for, IMO. It would be the same if men were the breast-feeders–I would give a male friend making the same poor choice the same rhetorical slap upside the head.

  9. Gorbachev says

    And this comment made by a poster on his extremely eloquent post arguing against her prostitution stance:

    “I understand and appreciate her zeal to protect women from the choices that others have forced upon them, but I find it objectionable that Ms. Nasrin is doing the same thing: forcing her own views on sex work upon those who do not share those views. Her unwillingness to consider alternate views — her outright rejection of alternate views — is no different from a theist who condemns evolution, or a climate denialist refusing to consider evidence of a warming planet.”


    And this is what I object to. Many people feel this way – not just me.

    Her actions suit a theist, a “True Believer”, more than they do a thinker. They’re paternalistic and pander to the worst in human nature.

    Other comments indicate that I am not alone in my opinion. Nor am I apparently a de rigeur migsogynist.

    <I.penn says:

    April 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I was really put off by her response to the criticism. She is someone who knows what real censorship is like. She knows what it means for a war to waged against a person for their outspoken views. It’s unfathomable that she can equate that with the criticism she received from her commenters and fellow FTBers. Her pieces come off more as propaganda and sloganeering than rational evidence-based argument. I admire her courage, but she so far appears to be a disingenuous debater.

    or this:

    Iamcuriousblue says:

    April 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    My response to Nasrin’s followup is that her entire approach represents an absolute failure of skepticism, for all the reasons you’ve given above.

    And if you’re going to take an “abolitionist” line on sex work, then I’d say you have an uphill battle, since much of the case that movement has made is built on some very bad studies by advocacy-based researchers that any skeptic worthy of the name should call out. Claims like “the average age of entry into prostitution is 13″, “1 in 5 pornographic images is of a child”, and “sex trafficking jumps dramatically in areas where major sporting events like the World Cup or Superbowl are taking place” are all claims that have been thoroughly debunked. And all too often those making such claims simply ignore challenges or respond with ad-hom attacks, as Nasrin is doing now.

    (“Rasist! Misogynist!”)
    … And in this case, we’re seeing a supposedly rationalist blogger base her case not on hard evidence, but on what her political ideology tells her is so.

    Well-said. Or this:

    “Nasrin’s, I have to say, being the worst to date, because she appears to have abandoned skepticism entirely.

    All of this is problematic, when creationists come back with the argument that skepticism is just applied liberal bias. I think they’re quite wrong in general, of course, but they could certainly point to certain “skeptic” blogs that are pretty much just about an unexamined set of politics rather than anything evidence-based.

    Or this:

    …All I see from the other side is a bunch of radical feminist “abolitionist” types pounding their chests about how theirs is “true feminism” and largely made-up claims of conflict of interest against anybody who doesn’t agree with them. And if we’re simply going on who can lay claim on ideological purity, I suppose they win. If we go on empirical evidence, of course, they don’t have a case at all.

    And, yeah, I think I do think there’s a problem with an ideology that can dismiss valid criticism with *condescending* claims of “concern trolling”.

    In other words, behaving like a member of a religious cult – not like a free-thinking individual or a skeptic.

    And if disagreement with Nasrin is a crime, then:

    As for whether she deserves respect, I’d say she deserves praise for speaking out against Islam, and respect to the extent any person does, but that does not change the fact that she’s not assessing the evidence properly, thinking with a cool head when it comes to prostitution and how to best deal with it (which may well vary with social environment), or treating her opponents on this matter with much respect.

    I do not see any objections to calling her on that.

    or this:

    <I.jg29a says:

    April 12, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Andrea Dworkin is also a master of unreasonable and underhanded argument, leading to such notoriously sweeping claims as:

    Seduction is often difficult to distinguish from rape. In seduction, the rapist often bothers to buy a bottle of wine.

    The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it.

    A commitment to sexual equality with males is a commitment to becoming the rich instead of the poor, the rapist instead of the raped, the murderer instead of the murdered.

    That her name is invoked in a post such as Taslima’s certainly doesn’t incline me to give the latter the benefit of the doubt.

  10. Gorbachev says

    And here’s some more free thought. Actual free thought and skepticism and evidence, none of which Ms. Nasrin has attempted to use:


    This was a brilliant, eloquent and crushing response to Ms. Nasrin’s position. it completely takes it apart. She’s left holding an empty rhetorical bag.

    he’s also very respectful, som ething I’d be prone to be until pushed by being called misogynist and racist simply for disagreeing.
    Notice that I said nothing that all of these other bloggers haven’t said in very eloquent posts. Is he racist for making this observation?

    “In short, Taslima doesn’t yet realize that we see sex differently, and that women’s liberation has advanced so far in the West that they actually can choose any job they like (which is why, as I’ll point out, no one here is “forced” into the porn industry), and the few who fall through the cracks of our privilege and prosperity (e.g. women who turn tricks for money because they actually are forced into sex slavery or because it’s the only way they can sustain an illegal drug habit) do so precisely because we have driven the industry underground and criminalized it. Imagine if we criminalized food service, and the horrors and abuses that would then occur in the inevitable “black market” food industry. It’s not hard to, because we did it once: with alcohol (Prohibition); and we’re doing it again (with the War on Drugs). Look what happened. Contrast the alcohol industry under Prohibition, with that industry today. Compare, from one period to the other, the conditions and dangers of those laboring in it. As for that work, so for sex work.”

    Beautifully said.

  11. Gorbachev says

    And further,

    “Which is why I wonder if perhaps Taslima does not know this because she is not as immersed in our culture as we are. She sees the porn industry through the lens of a selectively biased literature, and perhaps from experience with the market and industry as it exists (insofar as it exists) in countries like India or Iran, which have not developed progressive sexuality and women’s liberation as the West has done (the way men treat women on the streets of Egypt, for example, is simply unthinkable here–that’s how far we’ve come, and how far behind they are). Conversely, we see porn and prostitution from the perspective of a highly progressed and very privileged Western democratic society, where women’s power and influence is increasingly pervasive, as is women’s liberation (sexually and intellectually, and economically), and where sex is increasingly seen in the context of women having the free choice to do what they want.

  12. Gorbachev says

    Also, Taslima’s inability to view sex and sexuality outside of the narrow lens offered her by her own cultural experience and the limited exposure she’s had to feminism in the West is not a sign of other peoples’ racism – I’m not the only one to suggest that it’s not because she’s not intelligent, or ideologiclaly blind, but perhaps because it’s a reflectoin of her cultural background and differences between South Asia and the West.

    Either she’s ideologically hidebound and is not reasoning, or she’s caught by cultural stereotypes and is unable to parse some elements of Western culture, just as would happen to any of the rest of us were we translocated to India.

    What the hell is racist about that?

    If that’s racist, many of the most charitable commenters are a bunch of KKK members.

  13. Gorbachev says

    Greta Christina, who takes apart Nasrin’s position thoroughly, as well, though not as eloquently as the previous poster:

    “Dammit to hell. I really, really didn’t want my first reply to something by Taslima Nasreen to be an argument. I have tremendous respect for the woman and her work, and I would have loved for my first piece on her work to be gushing and adoring.

    But I can’t let this go by without opposition.”

    I guess Greta Christina is a misogynist, woman-hating non-feminist.


    “Nasreen has written a post titled “Sex Slavery must be abolished.” Hard to argue with. Except that throughout the piece, she equates all forms of prostitution with sexual slavery. She says prostitution is always patriarchal oppression, always sexual exploitation, always sexual violence, that women are always forced into it, that it is never a vocation choice, that it is always human rights abuse, that all of it harms women.

    Yes. Prostitution is often abusive and exploitative. But if you’re going to make a blanket statement that all prostitution is always and by definition abusive and exploitative, then you are denying reality. You are ignoring the experience of thousands of human beings. That is not in keeping with a humanist philosophy. Please listen to the voices and experiences of the women — and men — who work or have worked as prostitutes, and please let your thoughts and your work on this issue be guided by those voices. All of them.”

    Is she a misogynist?

    Or is threre maybe something paternalistic and condescending about what Ms. Nasrin writes?

  14. Gorbachev says

    or here:


    “What she provides in its stead is an emotional argument, an appeal to a certain specific sexual morality and sexual politics that she assumes us to hold (or simply assumes we are sympathetic enough to to not question her uncited, unsourced, unargued assertions), and positions as a universal fact without considering the immense range of nuance, complexity, and possible alternative iterations, of the subject on which she is imposing this morality and political tilt. Without considering that circumstances in which sex work is an equitable exchange, and a freely made choice, can and do happen. Or at the very least hypothetically can.

    And no, she doesn’t provide any argument as to why they can’t. She just asserts it.

    I’m sorry, but being an advocate of social justice and feminism, defending freedom, defending autonomy, defending self-determination, defending the right for women (and all human beings) to make their own choices about their own bodies, requires defending those choices that we ourselves would not make, and also those choices that we ourselves do not understand.

    Okay. She must be a misogynist.

    Either Ms. Nasrin is wading in deeper waters than she’s used to, or she’s making pat judgments.

    And opposing, unequivocally, any and all attempts to impose external state control over what a woman (or anyone) does with her own body. We need to be fighting alongside sex workers, supporting them in the struggle for their rights and freedoms, as they define them, not fighting against them for our false sense of entitlement to dictate what their rights and freedoms are “supposed” to look like.

    (after all, the achievement of sex workers’ rights and freedoms, as they defined them, has often prefigured our own)

    There is one line that the state must not cross, under any circumstances, for any reason, no matter how strong our moralistic or political fervor, and it is the line that delineates the body. Bodily autonomy is essential. ANY violation of bodily autonomy, however well-intentioned, is an act of tyranny.

    But if I hold these opinions, I’m a Sex Trafficking Supporter?

    I first offered Ms. nasrin some helpful sugegstions as to why she was creating such vocal disagreement among feminists.

    Instead, , … “Misogynist! Sex trafficker! Racist”.


  15. Gorbachev says

    Taslima can dismiss dissenters the way Dworkin and Mackinnon dig:

    “Anyone who disagrees is an agent of the devil / a misogynist / a woman-hater / a Patriarchy Supporter”, etc., …

    But she’s on very, very shallow ice.

    And I’ll make this prediction:

    The vast majority of actual, card-carrying self-identified feminists will not take her position, and will in fact attack it.

    And in a Western context, she’ll be shocked and unable to understand why.

  16. says

    You seem to think it is obvious that attitudes to breastfeeding would be different if men did it. This is anything but obvious.

    You rightly criticize people not being able to breastfeed in public. But you are going too far in thinking that women criticized for not breastfeeding are criticized due to misogynist reasons. Unless there is a medical reason not to, everyone who knows anything at all about the subject agrees that it is better for the child (for obvious reasons, or at least they should be obvious) and for the mother (less risk of breast cancer) to breastfeed.

    There are many countries where breastfeeding in public is simply not a problem.

    There are problems where it is not possible, but they are usually not due to the fact that it is women who breastfeed.

    It is certainly a bigger problem that in some places women are pressured not to breastfeed.

    • Hugh says

      If men could breastfeed and women could not, it would be alright not to breastfeed. Nobody would hate non-breastfeeding men. Nobody would say, ‘they are bad fathers, they choose not to breastfeed.’ Nobody would say, ‘they do not breastfeed, because they worry more for the shape of their breasts than the health of their babies. […]

      In regards to the above erroneous statement – If men could Breast feed they would do so in equal numbers as that of women today (with likely the same concerns as women have). Your statement is very sexist, anti men and should have absolutely no place in such a discussion. That said, it means we are all human some men & women will continue to make such statements. I for one (a man) wish that I had that “natural ability” (to breast feed), without under going body changes, drugs, hormone treatment, etc. To those who happen to take exception to my last sentence, consider taking the male sex hormone and the changes that your body will under go.

  17. Sherry says

    Unfortunately the way this is written is comes across that the reason we breastfeed is for praise, and because of peer pressure, breastfeeding is a right, not simply a choice, any informed parent will not be praised for making poor decisions, a single man who chose to feed his kids would always receive more praise then one who let them eat out or at McDonalds every day. This is very similar and probably a take on Gloria Steinem If men could menstruate, however this does not serve to empower women or the breast feeder, and instead only serves industry and the pseudo-movement that formula liberates when it simply imprisons and binds a Mother to industry.


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