When I was in year 11 I hung out with a large group of boys, who are still my dear friends. I was new to the school of 1500 and to this day am grateful I was introduced to this diverse group of people. Diverse because despite the obvious that they were all male, they were individuals from a mix of backgrounds, interests, and subcultures. They didn’t care less I was a girl. My psychology teacher did. In one of our classes he spoke of my overt sexuality, that I was ‘putting myself out there’ because I choose to be in a group of boys and rough house with them. As a girl I should be with other girls. Behave as a girl should. Curb my behaviour to be more feminine. I was humiliated but more so I was furious. Don’t tell me how to behave based on my gender.
At university several years later I walked into my first tutorial for 20th century feminism. On the day I wore a light blue sundress with a pair of Doc Martins and dark lipstick. Ten minutes into our discussion a vocal class member started to discuss the need for women to stop wearing bra’s, grow out their arm pit hair and then turned to me and said “Do you know the only reason women wear lipstick is so their lips look engorged as they do during sexual intercourse, to make themselves more attractive to the opposite sex and objectify themselves in doing so. You should take it off.” I pointed out that she
had just restricted my behaviour based on my gender and asked if she was in the right class. Do not tell me what to wear based on my gender.
I would like to think that 20 years later in 2013 we have moved beyond prescribing behaviour based on gender. Beyond telling women how to behave, how to appear to others in society. I have blind optimism that as women we support each other in this. This was why I was so dissapointed with David Koch’s comments on women breastfeeding in public and support he was given by women. Koch argued that we should be discrete and classy and not feed in high traffic areas. He has gone on to defend himself, saying that his children and grandchildren were breastfed and he supports it, but his wife covered up with a cloth. He has argued breastfeeding women should be aware of others discomfort.
I understand people are uncomfortable watching women breastfeed, so don’t look. I don’t understand why I would have to take my baby away, put a cloth over us, go to a toilet or change room because someone else is uncomfortable.
I understand some breastfeeding women are uncomfortable baring their breasts and choose to cover up or go somewhere quiet, as is their right. That is the beauty of choice. I don’t understand why some women said it was ‘yucky’ to feed in public and would not defend the right of women to choose for themselves what is best for them and their child. Defend their legal right to feed in public and acknowldege women have the autonomy and intellect to be able to deem what is right for them themselves. Do not speak for me because of my gender.
In short, do not tell me how to behave because I’m a woman. Do not turn something as natural as a baby feeding into something that is shameful or dirty to be hidden from view. And stop politicising my body.
I once did a study of Medieval literature and the space women occupied in it. The good woman occupied the private space and was covered in public. The bad, and usually sexually provocative, woman occupied the public space and didn’t cover herself in public. Thanks to the renaissance period we became enlightened and moved on. Didn’t we? Do I have to cover myself whilst breastfeeding in public to be a good ‘classy’ women?