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Why You Should Care About The Public Breastfeeding Movement, Even If You're Not Part Of It

by Jenn Rose

The mention of "public breastfeeding" might conjure up such images as a lactivist sit-in, a protester holding a "free the nipple" sign, or perhaps that ubiquitous 2012 TIME cover featuring a mom staring defiantly into the camera as she breastfed her 3-year-old, just daring readers to be offended. But there's more to the public breastfeeding movement than its squeakiest wheels, and believe it or not, even women who have no intention of ever breastfeeding, publicly or otherwise, still have a dog in this fight.

On its face, the issue of public breastfeeding might seem like a fight about what's best to feed a baby. It's not. We can debate until the cows come home about whether "breast is best" for everyone, or whether the supposed superior benefits of breastfeeding are legitimate. But who cares? It's long been established that neither breastfeeding nor formula feeding are harmful, so to each her own. The fight for public breastfeeding isn't about the milk that's in those breasts; it's about the woman who's attached to them. Public breastfeeding is something everyone should care about, even if they don't breastfeed, and even if they're not a mom. Because public breastfeeding is a women's rights issue, and that's something that concerns all women (and men with souls, too, of course).

Public breastfeeding is about choice. It doesn't matter whether you choose to breastfeed (in public or otherwise). What matters is that women have the right to choose whether or not to breastfeed and are legally allowed to do so in public. How many times have you heard a woman say, "I don't know if I'd ever be able to have an abortion, but I'm definitely pro-choice"? It's the same thing. Maybe her breasts are for feeding babies, and yours are for filling out your little black dress, and mine are for reminding me that it's cold in here and I should really put on a hoodie, but the point is, they're our breasts to use however we see fit, and nobody can tell us what to do with them (except maybe Instagram).

I get the argument that some people don't want to see a woman breastfeeding, I really do. I don't like seeing Uggs or people making out or those creepy Old Navy mannequins. But just because they make me squirm doesn't give me the right to tell anyone else what to wear, or where to insert their tongue, or how to display their reasonably-priced maxi dresses. All I have to do is look away, and – poof! – the offending items disappear from my view, all without trampling on anyone else's civil rights.

So whether or not you ever intend to use your own breasts to feed a baby in public doesn't matter; you still can and should fight for the rights of women who do. It's no different from caring about LGBTQ rights if you're straight, or donating to the ASPCA even though you're human (and if you're actually a cat, what are you doing on the internet? Do you think you're people? You're not people, you silly cat!). We should all be rallying around these women, because if you support women's rights, you need to support all of those rights, even the ones you choose not to exercise.