When you become a parent, there's no end to the unsolicited advice, unrelenting judgement and unending opinions you'll hear about your choices. Whether you gave birth at home sans drugs or had a scheduled c-section; sleep trained your baby or co-slept until they were 5 years old; fed your baby formula or breastfeed until they self-weaned in preschool; everyone is going to tell you what they think is right or wrong. Sadly, even feminist mothers — who typically value choice and autonomy over dogmatically adhering to one particular style of doing things — will tell you what you should or shouldn't be doing.
When it comes to feeding your kid, many will suggest not only breastfeeding, but breastfeeding without a cover. You know, to flout sexist, unfair social standards about how obscene women's bodies are because we're viewed only as sex objects so how dare we use our bodies in public for something non-sexual, meanwhile, there goes a pack of shirtless men jogging by like it's not even a thing. Because of that (which yes, all very fair and real and make for totally good reasons why some feminists do choose to breastfeed in public without a cover), a lot of people thing because you are a feminist and a breastfeeding mom, that you prefer not to cover up. And moreover, that if you do cover up, you're, like, a phony feminist. A fauxminist, if you will. But make no mistake, choosing to cover up while breastfeeding doesn't make you a bad feminist.
No one should be forced to feel ashamed of their bodies, yet our society has taught women to be sheepish and apologetic about their form (especially if it doesn't adhere to a particular social standard). While it is beautiful to breastfeed sans cover, and no one should ever be made to feel guilty or gross or anything other than wonderful while feeding their child, it's just as beautiful to breastfeed with a cover, too. Feminism isn't about forcing women to do what others think they should do to further gender equality or women's rights; it's about women securing and exercising the right to do whatever it is they want to with their bodies, and as parents.
If you feel comfortable breastfeeding without a cover, please go for it and do so without a single ounce of remorse. But if you don't, please don't think you're a bad feminist for using a cover. Because you're not, and here are seven reasons why:
You Don't Need To Be A Martyr For A Cause
The fact is, women have a lot of battles we could fight, but none of us should ever feel the need to put ourselves in uncomfortable, difficult, or even dangerous situations in order to further gender equality. While it might be noble and courageous, we shouldn't be throwing ourselves on the altar of feminism in order to gain the rights we undeniably deserve. For example, if you're being harassed by an unruly individual on the street, there's no need to stop and explain all the ways stress harassment equals actual sexual harassment, especially if you don't feel safe. And beyond safety, it's simply enough to know that none of us is ever required to live our whole lives according to flawless feminist advocacy; we deserve happiness too, and sometimes what's important for feminism won't be the same as what makes you happy, and it's always OK to pick yourself (which, it turns out, is a pretty solid feminist move). Your safety and comfort matter, so if covering up while breastfeeding makes you feel less vulnerable or even just more comfortable, then that's exactly what you should do.
You're Owning Your Body
Covering up is still an act of body ownership. You don't owe anyone the right to your body and the decisions you make with it, including the feminist movement. Just because you identify as a feminist, doesn't mean that you should lose the right to decide how you breastfeed. You're still in complete ownership of your body when you cover up, because you're just making a decision that is best for you.
You Deserve To Be Comfortable
No one should make you feel uncomfortable, and you don't need to put yourself in a situation that would leave you feeling awkward in order to prove a point or make a statement. If breastfeeding without a cover doesn't make you uncomfortable, then by all means #freethenipple. However, if you wouldn't feel as good breastfeeding without a cover, you shouldn't force yourself to, just so others can easily see that you're not ashamed of your body, breastfeeding or anything associated with the very natural act of feeding your baby.
You Don't Owe Anyone Anything
You don't owe anyone anything, especially a particular action or part of your body. You can support another woman's right to breastfeed openly, without judgement or shame, and choose not to yourself. You don't owe other feminist women solidarity with an action that would make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you just owe other feminist women support in their own actions and choices. We don't all have to do the same things the same way — we just have to respect each other when our choices vary.
You're Making Your Own Choice
Feminism is all about the ability for women to make their own choices, instead of having those choices made for them. Gender equality would give women the opportunity to do things men do, get paid the same as men do, and be respected the way men are. That means when you're choosing to cover up because it works for you — regardless of what other choices someone may make when it comes to breastfeeding — you're exercising your right to make your own decisions. Everyone deserves that.
Feminism Isn't Oppressive
Feminism isn't about telling women exactly what they should do in order to feel equal, or going against the cultural norm. Feminism isn't about telling women they shouldn't have children, shouldn't stay home with said children, and shouldn't do, well, whatever it is they want to do. A feminist can be a stay-at-home mom, just like a feminist can most certainly be a woman who covers up when she breastfeeds. Feminism isn't about telling women what they should or shouldn't do, it's just about us all being equal.
It Doesn't Mean You Don't Love Your Body
Covering up doesn't mean you don't love your body, or that you're not proud of it. It just means that, for you, covering up while you're breastfeeding feels better for any of a number of totally valid reasons. Assuming that a woman is ashamed of her body — and that being "ashamed of her body" makes her a "bad feminist" — is just as detrimental as assuming, well, anything about someone based on how they look. You can definitely love your body and still cover it up — loving your body means much more than just adhering to a particular set of choices.