The Breasted One

Just when I was about to congratulate myself after six months of blogging for raising questions here that prove I don’t mind bucking church authority and poking holes in religious orthodoxy, along comes a topic that makes me question whether I’m really as iconoclastic as my press statement reads.

Breastfeeding during the worship service. Gulp.

Female metaphors for imaging God. Yes. Gender equality. Absolutely. Debunk female surbordination and submission. A must. Stop funding sexually degrading images of black women in the media. Where do I sign up? Speak out and stand up against violence against women. You go, girl. A woman for president. Got my vote.

Breastfeeding during the worship service. Gulp.

At a black church this past Sunday an usher went over and explained to a young mother with a baby at her breast that breastfeeding wasn’t allowed during worship service. The usher politely offered to show the mother to a quiet room in the church where she could nurse her baby in privacy. The embarrassed mother gathered her things and followed the usher with a squalling baby in arm to a room on the other side of the church where she was alone with her nursing infant. By the time the baby was done nursing, the sermon was over and it was offering time.

Now I know what some of you are asking: was her breast exposed? Yep. Was she sitting at the front or the back of the church? Does it matter? Oh well, in the middle, at the end of the pew, I’m told. What did other mothers say? Who do you think instructed the usher to go over to the young mother? One of the women on the Mother Board, of course. Chuckle. Try telling Mother So-and-So that one of the several meanings of the divine name El Shaddai is “The Breasted One” (it really is, y’all), and she’s likely to hit you over the head with her Sunday purse. Doesn’t matter. Pulling out your breast in church is a shame before God. It’s certainly a shame before Mother So-and-So.

Many of you know about the big brouhaha that erupted a couple of months back when Facebook began taking down (and later banning) pictures of women breastfeeding their children from Facebook webpages. Facebook claimed that such imagery is “obscene content.” Now listen up, women posting pictures on their website of their babies sucking on their boobs may strike even me as a tad yucky and maybe even a bit obnoxious, but nothing about it, in my opinion, is obscene. I should remind you that the reason God made breasts was so that babies could be fed. Of course, you wouldn’t know that now. Janet Jackson’s Superbowl wardrobe malfunction reminded us that while we may have come a long way as women, the female breast continues to have enormous cultural significance. There are all kinds of breasts to reckon with these days: there’s the sacred breast, the erotic breast, the domestic breast, the political breast, the commercialized breast and even the medical breast. Believe me when I tell you: the history of the breast is riveting.

I am convinced of the importance of breastfeeding and am proud to say that I nursed my daughter when she was a baby. But I admit to having gone out and bought three or four of those shapeless nursing mother dresses that allowed me to unbuckle a flap and slide my suckling daughter underneath without exposing my breast to those around me. Reading the mommy blogs that are so popular these days and learning about the not-so-quiet revolution going on these days over the rights of mothers to breastfeed in the open, I wonder if I’m as broad-minded as I pretend to be. While I fancy myself a sex-positive feminist/womanist who believes that sexual freedom is an important step to women’s freedom, I’m not one for flashing body parts. Never have been. My young student friends will tell you that I stay on their cases about their cleavage-baring tops and low riding jeans. All of which is to say that even if I could have, I don’t know if I would have openly breastfed my daughter back when I was a nursing mother. Especially not in church. I lacked the courage and self-confidence.

And now that I’m older and have the courage and the self-confidence, the milk is gone.

So, what say the rest of you about breastfeeding in public, in particular at church?

47 Responses to “The Breasted One”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Let me first say that I do not think breastfeeding is obscene or nasty in any way. I am proud to say that I nursed two children myself and yes, I’m proud to be able to say that. I do not believe that there should be a “law” prohibiting breastfeeding in public or anything like that. However, I think that it is inappropriate to bare ones breast…or booty for that matter, in the sanctuary. The breast is for feeding a baby I know, I know. I also happen to believe that it is inappropriate to eat food in the sanctuary. I was attending a wedding once and it started late as many weddings do. To my surprise and yes, disapproval, several people began to pull out food…as in bags of chips, drinks and such. To me, this was inappropriate to do in the sanctuary. I think it is a mistake to treat the sanctuary, the place where we all say we come to do the most holy things such as pray our most desperate prayers,take our vows of marriage and ordination, and weep over the bodies of loved ones etc is just the same as a park bench or a chair in our kithens.Do I think that the sanctuary is magic or that objects have powers in and of themselves, no, but we can sanctify a space by separating it somehow I think. Am I saying that breastfeeding is unholy? No I’m saying that as holy as it is, and I happen to think it is holy in some way, it’s not to be done any and everywhere is it? By the way, I think having sex with love is holy in its own way, but I don’t want to see that in the sanctuary either. And no, I don’t think we should practice the sacred prostitution of ancient Near Eastern communities. So, regarding breastfeeding I don’t think of it as one of those anyime anywhere anykind of way type deals.

    Lauretta

  2. Georgia's Angels Says:

    Dr. Weems;
    Saturday I took my (33)year old daughter out for her birthday. We took her (5) daughters the youngest a year old and still breast feeding. After we had completed our meal nd was waithing for the check the youngest one jumped on her mother’s lap stuck her head under her shirt and started nursing like nobody’s business. I was so shocked I screamed and told my daughter to make her stop, my daughter’s response was oh mommy get over it.
    I got up and walked out and left the whole lot of them sitting in the resturaunt. I truly beleve in freendom of expression but this generation sometime takes things to far. I guess if we had been in church I would have passed out(smile), but honestly when we all go out to dinner again nobody will have need of the breast.

  3. concerned Says:

    Georgia’s Angel

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud. Your story was hilarious. Breast-feeding in public always takes me a bit aback when I see it done, but I generally just adapt and go on. My thought generally is why do women prefer to feed in public verses going to a more private space like a restroom? Not having ever breast-fed, I can’t speak from personal experience, but because of the way I was raised I am sure I will be looking for a private space when the time comes for me.

  4. talentedtenth Says:

    there is a time and place for everything. breast feeding is not obscene, but in the midst of church service, i would assume it is quite awkward. thankfully at our church we have a nursery and a women’s lounge that are equipped to handle such needs. if breast feeding mothers want others to respect their choice in doing so, i think the same respect should be had for those who may be exposed to it. i think there is a good compromise in this case; people just tend to get so testy on either side of the argument.

  5. crt Says:

    Georgia’s Angels I could hear your scream as I read your comment. Funny!

    Now I can’t say that I am a card carrying member of the whip the breast out wherever club, but I also have not been faced with a screaming hungry baby who is ready to nurse. I have however dealt with many a hungry grown folk in church who all of a sudden have developed medical issues that mysteriously seem to be cured with a sandwhich or chicken wing even if the service has not ended. Either way, I suppose for the person in need, baby or not, hunger can be a major thing that has to be satisfied even if it happens on Sunday. But the piece that struck me is that the woman was ushered out of the sanctuary and missed the sermon-unless this was the kind of church that piped the service and the experience out to where she was seated. That is the thing that I think is crazy. We move people out of the place where they could get what they need when it offends our sensibilities.

    The other thing that kills me about our society is that people often celebrate that they have made a place for a woman to nurse in the bathroom (usually a chair or two in the lounge area), but considering that I don’t make it a habit to eat dinner in my bathroom or show guest in my home to the bathroom to eat I can’t say that the corner in the bathroom is all that appealling to me either.

    Now I can’t say that it might not have shocked me for a second, but then again it was a baby and her/his mother. That I understand. Now as for some of the other crazy stuff I have scene in a service involving people and crazy urges…that is another story. My hope would be that if it is going to be met with an “out of the sanctuary” response that the community of faith in question would have set aside a place where women could nurse, and hear the word, and not feel like the outcast that moments like this seem to convey.

  6. Ananda Says:

    sistalove reneeta and other sistaloves, once again you all raise many great points. i have yet to experience motherhood and nursing a newborn, but i have witnessed my dear sistaloves do it. they have used their own wisdom on when and where to nurse. the hungry child experience is one i can remember many of them faced. they did what they could do with grace. so i say leave it to the wisdom of each woman.
    peace, ananda

  7. Fal Says:

    This is a great post.

    Georgia Angels, you comment made laugh!

    Of course, I have never breast fed a chile and so I am not for sure what it feels like to have people watch you or to have people “strongly” encourage you to leave a public space, but I would venture to say that breast feeding mommies may feel “shunned” given how we “daily” chastise women or stay on “their cases about their cleavage-baring tops and low riding jeans.” And course we do these things because on some “unconscious” and “consciousness” level we fear what happens when Black women bodies are exposed…

    the wrong top . . .

    the nude breast . . .

    the tight skirt . . .

    We desire body to be seen only when it “truly” needs to be seen which usually means for “some” Christian women in the privacy of their bedroom with their husband. Because any other type of space where the Black woman body is exposed can lead to unsafe responses . . . so we force women to cover their bodies because it will keep them “safe” from you know who . . . . the men folks.

    Of course, I do not agree with this because I know abiding by patriarchal social norms will not keep you “woman” safe . . . but some do and so to have bear breast exposed in church is seen by many of course as unsavory and problematic. And of course I think our discomfort with black female nudity is also laced with stereotypes of black women . . . but that’s another discussion. I think there is nothing more endearing and powerful than a mother “suckling her chile.” Of course this is coming from a woman-centered woman who believes women should run freely with the wolves and the body is extension of that freedom.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    WOW!!
    C’mon yall! We all attend churches where the red or white cloth is used to quickly place over somebody who has gotten their shout on and is slain in the spirit or has just lain prostrate and ministers, deacon and or certainly mother So-and-So has come to maintain the level of decency/covering. Why couldn’t that be done in the instance of the breast-feeding mother?? Why did she have to be uprooted and Righted out of the place of community worship. Where does it say in the Levitical laws or “Holiness Codes” that breastfeeding mothers had to be place outside the camp. I mean we might as well have them declare “Unclean,Unclean” I’m sorry- “Breastfeed, Breastfeed”! I’m with the sister on that bathroom piece- Who in their right mind would eat their meal in a public restroom?! Who would make the offer and who would except! Oh yeah, My bad… We Are talking about women who have just given life and are doing the basics in preserving it. Alright,alright let me put a small mute on my trumpet of passion. My sense of humor remains in tact none-the-less. Gorgia Angels- I’m LOL and feeling you on the resturant scene. I have three children and breastfed all ok, so it was only long enough for them to get the antibodies!) But when you begin demanding for milk by walking and shaking that bottle at me, you just got cut off, introduced to cup, and a rude awakening to a thing called Patience!
    All I’m saying is that we should be sensitive to how we treat the needs of the people in the house where God dwells-among the people.

    Peace!
    JustWriteDaThang

  9. mz.p Says:

    Georgia’s Angels, you are a hoot!! I must admit that when I opened the SW blog this evening, the last — the very last — thing I expected to see was this sistah with an exposed breast. Had to look over my shoulder to see where my 15 yr. old male young’n was. I blinked, and blinked again. Yep, I’m on the right blog. ‘What’, I thought, ‘is Rev. Renita up to now?’

    I imagine that would also be my reaction to seeing a mother bared-breastfeeding while in church. Surprized and unexpected. I guess a distraction. I’ve been in the company of friends who were breastfeeding and wore the nursing blouses or used light shawls to cover themselves and baby with. And, I honestly admit, I appreciated their consideration of my sense of modesty if not their own. crt, I agree that the women’s bathroom is just as inappropriate a place for feeding a child than is the sanctuary.

  10. jbd Says:

    Admittedly, I often find myself grimacing at the sight of a mother exposing her breast to feed her child in any public space, let alone the church. And don’t let the child be old enough to walk….my slight grimace becomes an all out gawk! Which is why I laughed for AWHILE at you story, Georgia’s Angels. But even though I am well versed in the rules of respectability and decency in the church (and society), I have to really ask myself why I recoil at seeing an “exposed” mother breast feeding her child. Sure, most churches have rules against eating in the sanctuary, but there is typically one exception: bottles and bite-size crackers and cookies for the babies. So, why is there a difference between babies eating crackers from their mothers’ fingers and babies suckling milk from their mothers’ breasts?

    The difference has everything to do with the meanings we attach to body parts. There is a tendency, particularly in this country (where black bodies are hypersexualized in society and sexually repressed in the church), to conflate body parts with sex. Instead of defining a breast by all of its physiological functions in the body, we automatically associate a breast with how it is “used” in the context of sensuality or sexual intercourse. Thus, while a mother feeding her child crackers with her fingers is about nourishment, a mother “openly” breast feeding her child is understood as an expression of sexuality, or even “sexual freedom.” And we all know the church’s typical response to sex and sexuality: when those members of the motherboard asked the mother to leave the sanctuary, they weren’t just uprooting mother and child, they were really getting rid of that sexually suggestive breast.

    But are exposed body parts always about sex and sexuality? Uh…in a lot of cases, yes! But not in the case of a mother breast feeding her child. Can we—for a moment—attempt to detach our minds from the hypersexual/sexually repressive cultural messages and images and see that a mother “openly” breast feeding her child is about nurturing and nourishment? If I can, then the question of whether a mother is covered or uncovered—in a church sanctuary or otherwise—matters very little to me when I know that a child is being fed and nurtured. And these days, when hungry and “un-nurtured” children make up the back drop of our communities, a mother openly and unapologetically breast feeding her child is a site for sore eyes…perhaps even a holy act.

  11. Fal Says:

    Ashe! jbd!

  12. Kesha Says:

    Rev. Renita, since you’ve met my newborn daughter, you shouldn’t be surprised to see that I have something to say about this issue :-). Babies need to eat. I’ve discreetly fed my daughter in public places without problem.We have such a sexualized society that we forget God created women’s breasts for. Should a woman be allowed to breastfeed during church? Yes. But like anything, like women wearing skirts too short in the pulpit, I would implore her to not make it distracting. If people are distracted by it after that, it is their fault.

    If we were really in worship and concentrating on the sermon, we wouldn’t be looking around and pointing at the young sista in the first place. The problem is that we don’t focus on what we should focus on. If God didn’t want that sista to breastfeed, she wouldn’t have them. And I’ll close with a reflection from one of my favorite books Together for Good by Revs. Drs. Henry and Ella Mitchell. Dr. Henry reflects on dreams of his bride-to-be Dr. Ella nursing in church. These two are seasoned elder theologians. It was OK then. Why not now? A thought-provoking blog as always. Have a blessed day!

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Wow! when i first read this blog Monday evening there was only one response. I thought about responding and decided against it. Well, overnight I changed my mind and I believe an analogous event came to mind. About 25-27 years ago a young woman at my now former church approached the pastor with the idea that a woman preach for women’s day. He said no, and went to his grave not permitting women to preach from this church. On that sunday afternoon, i called his home and asked why the opposition to women preachers. Starting by stating my name, he said, I don’t have or know of any biblical theological reasons, so i think it has to do with my (southern state) background. I accepted this at the time, knowing that we all bring to our presence our personal and social histories. At least 10-12 years later, i came to the position that he needed to get over it. Now, the parallel. This man, who was extremely intelligent by all accounts, knew enough to ultimately engage discourse that stated women should not preach, and went to his grave with such. How many women have been diminished because of this thinking.

    Now, this sister, missed the worship service, and was probably embarrassed too. I don’t know that I would be back at that church if this had happened to me. So, as a mother who has breastfed; as a woman who knows that all cultures do not sexualize the breast as this one does; knowing the lessons we try to teach our daughters and ourselves about our bodies; I want to say and affirm the portion of the blog that says this is one of God’s love manifestations to us - mother having a ready supply of food for the child. Let’s not deal with form and fashion, but make zealous efforts to be thinking women, with thoughts of what is right (at the time) and move forward.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    Sixteen years ago I breastfed my daughter, regularly, during Sunday morning worship services, in an AME sanctuary, while seated next to my mother. No problems, No drama. I covered myself and my joy with beautiful scarves purchased for just this reason. The only comments I received were, “what a good baby, she never makes a sound during service, you would never know she was here.” I had to nurse to avoid discomfort, she had to eat to avoid starving - I did what had to be done. Most never knew what was going on, those who approached and asked where is the baby were told she was eating. Anyone bold enough to try lift the scarf had to reach over my mother to do so. She sweetly informed them that she would make sure they saw the baby before we left the church. I am grateful for her lessons in discretion and quiet dignity.

    I never thought of going to the very comfortable restroom to nurse her because I never thought to feed myself there. I believe being a mother is holy service, and the sanctuary seems an appropriate place to nurse one of God’s gift - if done in a discreet and respectful manner.

    Take care of your blessings, Peacfully.

  15. Chandra Harkins Says:

    Dr. Weems:

    Let me first start off by saying that you are as liberal-minded as you claim to be. You just don’t dig breastfeeding in public because it’s yucky. So, to you, breastfeeding is more of a bad manners thing.

    As for me, I feel like it’s extremely natural. Just as your article said, breasts were created for the sole reason to suckle babies—not to become some lusty sex item. So, if a woman is pulling out her joint, I mean, her breast (I let a little of my Gen X lingo escape, sorry!), to feed her baby, what’s the big fuss? It’s not as if she was flashing ‘em during Mardi Gras for plastic beads. Perhaps she needed a little training on how to discreetly breastfeed her baby in public. Because it can be done.

    I don’t have a problem with it, but then I’m also the one who is announcing to all who will listen that when my turn for motherhood arrives, I will be working directly with a midwife. What can I say? As I get older, I’m starting to see some of those ways of old emerge from some deep place within me. So, breastfeed away, as I believe that breast milk is much healthier than the pastuerized, hormone ridden milk that is bought in grocery stores. And who are we kidding? What’s really in Infamil?

  16. Woman in Transition Says:

    Breastfeeding is a natural part of child rearing — and so is changing diapers. But I wouldn’t breastfeed my son on a pew during service anymore than I would change his diaper on that very same pew or anywhere in public, if I have the option of going somewhere with a bit more privacy (even a bench outside the bathroom in a hallway will do). I just think it has a place. But that’s just me.

  17. Fal Says:

    Ashe, Anonymous!!

  18. Georgia's Angels Says:

    Good Afternoon Sisters;
    I’m glad some of got a chance to laugh, something that we all need to do more of. Today I had to attend a meeting with the heads of our local hosptial officals and political leaders. The Seven Angel Project is dedicated to the memory and work of seven women that made major contributions to our community and died of breast cancer. I represent the Faith Base Initative. The topic was should mamograms for (70) year old women continued to be funded? After much conversation on what would happen if this service disapppeared, the topic still remained unresolved. I again was in shock as the women who were present were scholars like yourselves and I’m often intimidated by their education. Then to have the MEN from the (AMA)sit there and attempt to justify when at (70) a mamogram didn’t matter was the last straw. I stood up and said to the entire group that “my feeling regarding this issue is that since breast are see as sexual object by the men who make these decisions, nobody is interested in looking at, touching or sucking any (70) year old breast. However since they are attached to us we want to know if they are healthy as long as we are alive. I further informed them that reseach on breast health pales in comparison to prostrate cancer. I reminded them of the fact that a simple blood test can detect prostrate cancer at the beginning stage. Not so for breast cancer.(I asked them if they could stand the same test for prostrate cancer that we have to detect breast cancer? Then after being challanged to a point where I could no longer contain my diginity I just told them that it’s obvious that women can have body parts remove at the drop of a dime, yet men have the pump, viagra cialis and lavitra, there is never a thought about removing those things even when they have passed their usefulness. I assured them of three things we may be old, but we had time, money and we vote! and all them would be hard pressed to find themselves in their positions this time next year if they vote to eliminate this program. While I’m typing this post there are (50) women between the ages of 50-70 e-mailing and making phone calls to our state elected officals. I apologize if I offended anyone, blame Fal for encourageing me to read (women who run with wolves smile). Despite the fact that I lack you education I appreciate being apart of your circle you inspire me and as long as I’m appointed to this health project I will stand up for the rights of all sisters young and old. I guess this issue of breast is bigger than we know.

  19. jbd Says:

    GO ‘HEAD, Georgia’s Angels!Yet again, you have me in tears (this time of laughter AND joy). I love your post…and especially the way you “schooled” the men from the AMA!

  20. Fal Says:

    Like the vagina monologues, these comments should be made into the “confessions of the breasted ones.” However, these confessions listed below are problematic because they demonize black female sexuality and devalue black female bodies.

    Chandra Hawkins states, “Breasts were created for the sole reason to suckle babies—not to become some lusty sex item.”

    Lauretta states, “However, I think that it is inappropriate to bare ones breast…or booty for that matter, in the sanctuary.”

    Talentedtenth, “If breast feeding mothers want others to respect their choice in doing so, I think the same respect should be had for those who may be exposed to it.”

    Kesha, “But like anything, like women wearing skirts too short in the pulpit, I would implore her to not make it distracting. If people are distracted by it after that, it is their fault.”

    I disagree with all theses statements. I think “our” breasts are extensions of both nurture and pleasure. Unfortunately, we live in a society where multiple feelings and meanings of female breast are shunned for those that conform to social norms of female propriety and black female respectability. I love to touch my own breast and I also love to have my breast “softly” kissed, suckled, caressed, nibbled, whipped creamed, (fill in the blank). And I believe there is nothing wrong with knowing your breasts are pleasurable.

    Ashe, Ashe, Ashe Georgia’s Angels!!!!!!!

    Your post is on point. As you have indicated, Georgia Angels, another part of the conversation is the health of our breast and what does nude breasts mean for women who have either had mastectomies or for older women whose breast are no longer deemed by male society as desirable? How do these breast stories figure into our own reservations about black female sexuality and black female worth?

    Georgia Angels your post was much needed because it will hopefully widen the conversation about our breasts. (And blame jbd for giving me Women of Wolves a couple of years back . . . LOL).

  21. Woman in Transition Says:

    Wow! This has turned into a regular Breast Fest up in here! I thought we were talking about breastfeeding during worship service!

    Well!

  22. wisdomteachesme Says:

    BRAVO-BRAVO !!!

    ladies, this has been quite the read for me today.

    laughing is a great gift, and i thank you all for giving me a venue to let it out.

    It can clear the path of rec’ing new information.

    all the points are relevant.

    BRAVO-BRAVO LADIES,,,

    in His Name~Joshua 1:9

  23. Fal Says:

    Woman in Transition:

    Yes, we are talking about breast feeding, but it can not be understood outside of the politics of the body and more specifically the politics of the breast.

  24. rjweems Says:

    It’s time for me to come back in here and interject a few comments.

    We’re grown women. Let’s be frank.

    There’s hardly a woman in this comment section arguing against nursing publicly who hasn’t experienced her breasts sexually. We’ve had our share of whip cream and jello romps with the best of the rest of you. We know that the breasts can (and do) have multiple functions.

    To argue for modesty when breastfeeding (covering the breast) does not mean you are a prude, sexually repressed, or are demonizing the female body. It means that you prefer not to flash certain body parts (and don’t care much for having other folks flashing parts of theirs) in public.

    I’ve been with men who excused themselves and went around the building to take a leak when there was no toilet in sight. (Talk about having a body part with multiple meanings.) I would have been “pissed” if either of those men had whipped out their “john-boys” right there in front of me on the spot and startrf taking a leak.

    I don’t suggest that mothers step out the sanctuary but that they cover the breast while nursing. I’m stunned at the sight of exposed breasts, but I’m not repulsed by them. I’m flat out repulsed by the sight of a publicly displayed (uninvited) penis.

    Finally, after posting this blog piece I asked my Caribbean born husband (who is a pastor) what his feelings are about women nursing in church. He reminded me that he comes from a culture where women openly nurse on the bus, in church, at ball games, whereever. He wouldn’t be fazed in the least and would be quite offended if an usher at the church insisted that a mother cease and desist from nursing publicly, openly, nudely.

  25. talentedtenth Says:

    fal:
    i can’t speak for the others, but demonize is a pretty strong word to use in reference to the comments YOU didn’t like. hey…it’s your opinion; to each his own. IMO it’s simply an issue of respect for both sides of the argument (a point which i noted that you left out in response). in conclusion…calm down just a tad because by definition, i see nothing demonizing or devaluing in my comment.

  26. Woman in Transition Says:

    Fal, I’ll just cosign on Dr. Weems’ comment as well as the talentedtenth. I certainly wasn’t trying to slap the back of your hand for your comments. The Breast Fest thing was a joke and perhaps out of place for some. I apologize if I offended.

    And Dr. Weems: jello romps? Well, well…. LOL!

    My husband is Nigerian and guffaws at some of the things we find offensive in this country. The first time I met his family (and it’s huge - his granddad had six wives! don’t ask…), you would be surprised at how many nipples had been out by the time dinner was being served. And there were NO cute scarves or coverings in the whole house!!!! I didn’t know whether to run, stare or rip out my own boobs! Everyone seemed so comfortable with it, even with a few strangers in the house. But us westerners have made it into something completely different. I’m glad he’s not here to comment. This blog would get an earful.

    Great post, Doc. As always, you never disappoint.

  27. NDK Says:

    While I am not an advocate of public, indiscreet breast-feeding, it is a segue into another discussion.

    Some friends and I were talking a few months ago about what difference has been made in the church as a whole now that women have assumed positions of power. I joked that a life of professional ministry was not conducive to motherhood. To which CRT replied, “Maybe the issue is not that you can’t be a mother, but rather that you should write a nanny into your pastoral contract.” We began to discuss the many ways that the experiences of ministry and church should be reshaped by the presence of women. Women constitute the largest population in most churches. You would think that since women’s voices have been raised in the pulpits and board rooms of our churches, the issues of women would be considered in our decision making processes. With that said, how many of our churches are sensitive to the real needs of women? How many of us have advocated for lactation rooms in our churches or added baby blankets to the ushers’ supply cabinets? Does your church have extra diapers, wipes, or pacifiers? Mine doesn’t. There is no provision in our ministry for discretely accommodating mothering with worship. Why is it that (the majority of) our faith institutions don’t lend themselves to women’s lives, but instead women must conform… readjust… bend in order to be present? Sisters are seated at the table, but are we speaking up?

    I am reminded of another woman on the inside of an institution grappling with whether or not she should raise her voice in protest. “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, RSV)
    So maybe this text isn’t about babies and boobs, but perhaps it is about having the courage to redefine what we deem as sacred, holy, and permissible.

  28. Kesha Says:

    There is so much about our society that is contradictory. We say we care about children, but our actions are empty rhetoric. We know breastfeeding is the best nutrition, but we only half way encourage it. We give a woman two days in the hospital to master it. Then we tell her to drag a pump when she goes back to work so she can feed her child and keep her milk supply going. In certain cases she has to pump at certain hours and call them her “break.”

    And then we chastize her when she tries to return to some level of normalcy while mending from bringing life into the world.

    We send the mother into the corner. Or at church, we send her down to the basement with the crying child and then we wonder why some of our children are walking around under-loved, undernourished and undernutured. That’s my latest contribution to milk for the mind for this discussion.

    Women need more support from within the circle of women and outside of it.

  29. Anonymous Says:

    Fal,
    whip creamed,sucked,kissed, stoked whatever. Go for it!!Enjoy it! Have fun! My point is, as beautiful as it may be, I don’t think the sanctuary is the world’s best place to do it…I’m not demonizing whip cream or breast! I just ain’t feelin’ looking at that…or a whipped out “john-boy… uninvited” Dr. Renita! I’m with you on that one.

    Lauretta

  30. Woman in Transition Says:

    Contradictory? Good Lord! What are we talking about here? How does not being fully supported as a woman in the church or the office translate into underloved/undernourished children? For the love of our God, what did our mothers do when they HAD to work to feed us because perhaps dad, for whatever reason, did not fully support the family? They got it done, didn’t they?

    I am a working mother of a 2 1/2 year old. I don’t get FULL support from anywhere if truth be told, especially my church. The church (the office, the friends, other blog friends, etc.) can only give so much support, but I have somehow managed to piece together what I need to keep moving forward and do what I believe God would have me to do. We have to get it where we can get it, and again, the church is just a strand in the larger tapestry of what womankind/humankind needs day to day. As for the church meeting the needs of women, seriously, ladies, you don’t even see a problem with yourselves even EXPECTING the church to do that? What ARE the real needs of women? And in your answers, think about ministries that perhaps have filled some of those needs, because it’s impossible to fill them all. We’re only in church for 4 hours a week if you count Sunday service and mid-week Bible study!!!

    I think the subtle attacks on the church in this blog and others that I’ve visited is ridiculous. What is it that people really want, I keep asking myself? Why are they expecting the church to be able to do it all, or even 90 percent of it, whatever IT is?

    I’ll keep saying it: get the support that you need as a woman wherever you can get it. The REAL work begins when you leave that church. Start with your personal prayer time with God and work your way down from there. No one on this planet will ever be able to meet your needs completely, the church included.

    And back to the topic of the blog entry: if a woman gets sent “to the basement” to breastfeed, it certainly isn’t the worse thing that could happen to her. It’s a momentary inconvenience that certainly should not be taken so personally. Doesn’t mean you’re not welcome there, just means that no one wants to see your boobs while they’re trying to get their shout on!!!! LOL!!!

  31. Fal Says:

    There are social norms outlining when and where certain behaviors and activities are permissible.

    Okay.

    So, maybe when some of the women and men on this post advocate for women to cover their breast or to run to the nearest nursery room to nurse are not “per se” demonizing the bodies of black women.

    Okay.

    But viewing a breast exposed even to the suckling lips of a babe causes some women on this post to feel uneasy. Why is this? What is it about the black female breast that makes you stunned to see it? Why are you shocked to see a breast, when most of us on this blog were born with two of them?

    And the answer, “I just don’t think it’s appropriate” will not suffice.

    Hm . . . maybe the angst people feel toward public nursing mommies has nothing to do with the nude breast being exposed while nursing. Maybe it has more to do with how “we” have internalized white notions of the black female body being sexually “deviant.”

    I think we struggle against many “negative” sexualized images of ourselves—the Jezebel, the Mammy, the Video Hoe, the Chicken head, the bust down broad—which forces us to be very careful about casting ourselves in any light that will reify these “sexualized” images and make our bodies the center of sexual voyeurism . . . which could mean covering up our bodies . . .

    Side note: I am amazed by how many white women can get away with flaunting and experimenting with their bodies. They can write books about sexuality, push for laws protecting their ability to nurse in public, bare their breasts and vaginas publicly for political statements, burn bras, and advocate for national orgasm day . . . why is there no “stigma” placed on white women for these acts? Could it have something to do with race? Can you imagine the stigma black women would garner from these acts.

    In general, I would like for us to push the envelope even more to examine why we feel uneasy about black women nursing in public spaces.

  32. talentedtenth Says:

    fal:
    your “side-note” comment is where you lose me…i can appreciate that you think the last sentence of the blog post had implications in other areas, but please take a breather. i also appreciate your passion on the subject, but your responses are coming across as if public breastfeeding (and things related) hold the key to life’s mysteries….in the infamous words of debbie allen on her different world appearance: “relax, relate, release!”

    lastly, please don’t assume that there is no stigma against white women when they do those things you mentioned above. it may not be on the large scale that you believe it would be if it was black women, but the stigma is there nonetheless. please don’t make it a race issue :-/

  33. Woman in Transition Says:

    I didn’t realize that the topic was on the black breasted one, but just the breasted one. I don’t care if the breast was pink, red or brown, when there is a baby suckling at it on a pew, I’m not demonizing the woman behind the breast because of her open sexual-ness, but just stating that perhaps, again, the pew is not the place to do it, just as I wouldn’t advocate changing diapers on a pew during worship service. Maybe it’s just my western-ness, but I think it creates an unnecessary distraction during the worship service. It has nothing to do with sexuality and/or sexual-ness of the female body.

  34. Fal Says:

    Okay talented tenth,
    Since you insist on telling me to “breathe” I thought it would be okay for me to release a very intense, but short exhale . . . just for you my sistah or my brotha.

    First and Foremost, I think it is easy throw (with RESPECT) “word jabs” (i.e. Breathe, don’t be so intense, I admire your passion, BUT . . .), without offering “constructive critique,” a “constructive” critique that either builds or challenges my argument that racism and stereotypes do affect how we as black women and black men see our bodies and a critique that offers something more “constructive” than my argument . . . sensing that you disagree with me. It is easy to disagree, but it is more difficult “sometimes” to say why one disagrees with and than offer another “constructive” perspective.

    Once again, talented tenth, it is easy to throw these clever “lets deflate Fal and be more humorous” word jabs because they accomplish their purpose which is to cast my comments as “too serious comments” for a blog. Your comments remind me of what we tell young people when they come to us with such big and grand ideas, “This is too much and too big for you take on.” Not realizing that our age and possibly our sex, class, sexuality, personal fears, and yes Talented Tenth even race may be affecting how we are responding to the youth. We must be careful not to extinguish fires that need to burn because of our love of breathing.

    Mind you I am not saying that your comments or anyone else’s comments should be an argument or an intense argument. People should do what is comfortable for them, however, given your desire for me to “breathe,” it would seem customary for you talented tenth to tell me why you:

    1. Breathe so easily around this topic of bare breast feeding;
    2. And most importantly, breathe so easily when I say stereotypes and racism may affect how Black women see their bodies and certain body part displayed publicly;

    Honestly, I admire your concern for me and my passion, but I am very capable of knowing what breaths to take.

    Once again, I think it is easy to be “negative” and to throw clever word jabs, but it takes more wit and sometimes “No breath” to make a constructive point that pushes the envelope even more to examine why we feel uneasy about black women nursing in public spaces.

    Side note: I agree with you that white women experience stigma, but there is a difference between perpetual and ephemeral stigmatization. I placed the side note there to push some of us to think on how race is operating underneath these conversations of black female body parts and images. And yes Woman in Transition, in “my comments” I am usually talking specifically about black women.

    Now, Talent Tenth, that was a great exhale!!!

  35. melva Says:

    okay, here’s two cents well maybe three from a first time mother of a two month old. Prior to having a child I would have been much more conscious of where, when and in front of whom I would whip out my breast. However, in light of the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a new born (at least from my perspective) I have become more lax and when my baby girl cries I don’t care who’s around to see. My brother-in-law has even become more familiar with me than he ever thought he would. As one who still gets a little nervous because of the embarassment that might occur at the sound of my wailing baby, I find no harm in tending to her needs in public including church. I must admit, I am a bit clumsy with those nursing covers that don’t quite cover when you’re a healthy well endowed woman, if you know what I mean. They always seem to get in the way and make my baby sweat something awful. Recently, when I was preaching a friend of mine whipped out her breast and began to feed her son. Yes, she was covered. I thought it was phenomenal that she was able to do such so unassumingly. Indeed, I think the church has some learning to do in this area. Indeed, we have become to westernized with many of our preferences. I agree, that much of this is centered around our thoughts about the black female body. Will we never escape the gaze even from our own sisters? When our foremothers nursed entire communities do you think she did so in shame? In some ways asking women to cover perpetuates the shame that often accompanies black women’s feelings about their bodies. My personal preference is to have a light covering in public however, I have been known to nurse bare breast at the doctor’s office (inside the examine room), in the car without tinted windows and in my living room with other guests. It is natural and I don’t think it’s something that can be likened to going to the bathroom. I have to say, I agree with Fal on this one. One cannot truly engage this topic without noting the negative affects of body politics and the role the commodification of the black female body has had on the most natural of things–nursing! that’s my two or three cents and I’m sticking to it.

  36. talentedtenth Says:

    1) i did indicate why i disagreed with some of what said, but i viewed your “that will not suffice” response to apply to those comments you found problematic. i never based my comment on scientific fact, but rather my opinion (as you and others have done in their posts…offered your opinion). i felt it may seem awkward in the midst of service and i cannot disagree with another response that said it may be distracting.

    2) Your question - Breathe so easily around this topic of bare breast feeding

    My response: Because the question as it was posed at the end of the blog was a simple basic question, not an issue of life or death. In addition the question specifically noted “in public”, which I think is key to the discussion.

    3)Your question — And most importantly, breathe so easily when I say stereotypes and racism may affect how Black women see their bodies and certain body part displayed publicly;

    My response: Because I felt it had little to do with the same basic question at the end of the blog. The discussion has gone in some different directions — cool. Am I saying that your comments are invalid — no. What I am saying is that I didn’t think it was the main focus of the question asked.

    if you felt that my response was an attempt to deflate you or be humorous, i apologize. the humor comes as a result of the topic getting borderline testy; for what i don’t know. and my “clever” comments were not an attempt to deflate you (no more than i took your comments as a calling out or personal jab as being demonzing and problematic). what i was trying to say, was step back, look at the question as it was asked and answer it — alone. period…

  37. Fal Says:

    Okay Talented Tenth,

    So you are not trying to deflate my comment.

    Cool.

    And of course we are all giving our opinions.

    Cool.

    So you feel Dr. Weems’ original topic and or question was purely focused on breast feeding.

    Cool . . . because everyone is entitled to their interpretation.

    However, “my interpretation” is based on the premise that one cannot talk about black mother’s breast feeding in public without talking about or at least “nodding” at the politics of Black female body imaging, images, and negative sexualized stereotypes of Black women.

    But clearly you do have problem with the discussion venturing into territory that “YOU” feel Dr. Weems’ post was not trying to venture.

    Cool.

    But what worries me, is that anytime we have discussions and some choose to bring in theoretical reasons for why we may be alarmed or a little uncomfortable with a black woman breast feeding in public (i.e. church, bus, etc.) whether she is bare breasted or covered, the conversation in your words become “borderline testy” or the person is too serious instead of engaging these comments.

    And I apologize for using the word demonizing to convey my thoughts; it was too strong of a word to use . . .

  38. Fal Says:

    And thank you Melva for your comment, you gave more than two cents sis!

  39. sister k Says:

    This new virtual world of Facebook, MySpace and Youtube.com add a new dimension to public space and the notion of private lives. These spaces are powerful and many young women are making way too much public.

    Pictures and videos of themselves that may make them prey and/or may later prove harmful in life. You should really ask the young women in your life to share their virtual world with you.

  40. Woman in Transition Says:

    Wow… no further comment from this one.

    To Melva: congrats on the newborn! Just two months old, huh? That was a great time. Enjoy it.

  41. sister k Says:

    Breasts do have sensual as well sexual meaning and when exposed many feelings may erupt. You may have had a reaction of many sorts when you saw the picture posted with RJW’s essay on the blog. I think to prevent harm (e.g. staring and gaping or worse) in church, mothers should cover up and be as discrete as in any public setting. Depending on where you worship women should oblige the custom of the faith community. Churches have become no more safe than pubic places and so perversion is possible. Is it possible to pump breast milk for the few hours of church service? Yet, church communities should be equipped with compassion and empathy to be sensitive and anticipate the needs of breastfeeding mothers who may not have help during worship service.

    From the story I assume that this sister was not a member of the church, regular attendee otherwise through observation she may have understood whether or not breastfeeding in the sanctuary during service was commonplace. I just don’t think that we live in an age where breastfeeding is widely accepted as a public practice (thanks for sharing georgia’sangels). Women who breastfeed (especially those without a spouse of mom close by) in public are likely to find themselves in uncomfortable and vulnerable situations – people do stare and still gape at the sight at what should be a loving and nurturing exchange between mother and child.

    Make no mistake about it, women should be breastfeeding! It is good for the mom and provides protective immunity and nurture for the baby. If possibile, exclusive breastfeeding at the very least until the baby is three months of age is recommended.

    Note: When I was born I could not be dedicated/christened in my family’s church because I was born out -of-wedlock. I don’t think mom was allowed to breastfeed me in church.

  42. Lisa Says:

    I think that it is reasonable to suggest that a young mom might find a more private spot if she is openly nursing during a service. Being in church is about being in community. For those seated around her, it might be distracting to see a bare breast right in front of their eyes (not because people are especially prudish or breast are bad, but because it is outside of the norm of what you would expect to see). Churches establish rituals to allow people to settle into a rhythm and enter into the spiritual moment. It only takes something small and out of the ordinary to make our attention wander away from what is being preached or done. I don’t think breastfeeding moms are being obscene, and breastfeeding certainly is a holy and beautiful act of love and nurturing from mother to child, but moms also have to be considerate of those around them. There needs to be a balance between the baby’s physical needs and the spiritual needs of others present. If there is a place where the mother might also be comfortable and be afforded some more privacy, I think this would be a good compromise.

  43. Rev. Angela S. Says:

    Christian Century’s January 29th issue lead story is “Nursing Virgin: How a Symbol Got Lost.” When I got this issue in the mail my thoughts immediately went to this highly discussed post. The article posits that in late medieval and Renaissance era the “Virgin’s breast was a symbol of God’s loving provision of life, the nourishment and care that sustain life, and the salvation that promises eternal life.” It talks about how Western Christianity moved from the nursing virgin symbol as a prominent image of God’s love to that of the cross. Hmmmmmmm. I’m just saying…

  44. lj Says:

    my niece is a freshman at tcu and she’s attending a function at which you are speaking today. sooo excited for her! now on to the breastfeeding. El Shaddai - The Breasted One? Really? who among the brethren would have told us that? all i’ve ever heard is the All Sufficient One. of course one would have to have breast in order to be all sufficient wouldn’t S/He?

    a society’s comfort level with any social standard is usually determined by men. men have no problem w/breast or the exposing of them per se. but breastfeeding is altogether different. they can’t breastfeed and breastfeeding is neither for or about them. hence its designation as publicly inappropriate.

    i am not at all bothered by the sight of a breastfeeding woman. in fact my heart is usually warmed by it. the only time we can feed in the sanctuary is during infancy. what better than the breast to feed upon at such a time, in such a place? the idea of a child learning from infancy to associate the comfort of mom w/the comfort of God (being fed during the sermon) seems ideal to me. would not The Breasted One want such an association? emotional, spiritual, and physical food all at once – would that not lend itself to the development of a highly evolved well functioning God fearing adult? perhaps womankind would be further along if “mankind” had been nursed in the sanctuary. perhaps they’d be better able to recognize our sufficiency. perhaps they would be better equipped to use our gifts to advance The Kingdom and less inclined to use us to advance their agendas. perhaps mankind would be less threatened by the sufficiency of womankind if they understood that female sufficiency, like male sufficiency, is of the ALL Sufficient One – The Breasted One!

    and now that you are older, more courageous and more confident the milk flows more freely than ever and we are all (men and women alike) blessed to feed upon it. thanx

  45. Elizabeth Says:

    I do not think nursing in public should be taken so seriously. If the mother is discreet, I see no reason to say anything to her. I nursed 5 children, and thankfully only had one encounter that puzzled me greatly.

    I was in the nursery at a church. I wished to nurse my baby, so I sat in a rocking chair and did so. I was told later, by a woman sent to talk to me that I had made the men standing around in the nursery uncomfortable. Well, why were there men just standing around anyway? From what I gathered, they were not there to work with the little ones. It all seemed ridiculous to me.

  46. Memama Says:

    Wow, I was just talking about this with a friend today. Great post and I completely agree! I was just saying, I wish I had been more adamant/courageous to nurse in the sanctuary with my littles. I don’t ever see any moms in our church nurse ANYWHERE, especially not an older baby! I am still nursing my 1.5 yr old and I am getting way more at ease with nursing her anytime/anywhere. Maybe I’m just getting tired and I just don’t have the time to stop and go somewhere to sit with her when she is only going to nurse for a few minutes anyway.

    Why don’t people just stop and think about it. Jesus was breastfed, do they REALLY think Mary went and hid in a corner or spare room or someone “confronted” her because she made others “uncomfortable”?!?!? Our babies are made in the image of Christ, Next time someone says to leave, ask them if they are requesting that “baby christ” be removed from the service for disrupting others comfort zone by getting his nourishment from his mother and the word? Really, WWJD?!?! :O

  47. Mom of 4 Says:

    I came upon this blog today by accident and found it very entertaining and interesting. It says “Leave Your Two Cents”, so here’s mine.
    I nursed all of my children for about 12 months each. Yes, I nursed them in church (and many other public places) and no one ever knew. I was a master of discreetness. Want to know why? Because I believe in the Golden Rule. I don’t want to be walking/standing/sitting in public with my husband and have him see another woman’s breast for ANY reason. Just because a baby’s attached to it doesn’t make it any less sexy. Oh, and “Elizabeth”, the reason why the men were “standing around” the nursery was because they were dropping off their children, picking up their children, working as a childcare worker, and a million other legitimate reasons. Even if you are not dressed in ‘nursing clothes’ or have a baby blanket, diaper, or scarf handy, I promise you have a kleenex or SOMETHING in your purse that will work. If you truly want people to support nursing, then quit offending so many people.

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