How dare you, Time magazine?
Today on More than a Mum we have a guest post from Fiona. Fiona is definitely ‘More than a Mum’. She writes her own blog at Peeling an apple and also makes pretty things for her jewellery website Morgan and Pink. Her post today is on the Time magazine article “Are you Mom enough” I know that there has been a lot of debate on the subject and here Fiona gives you her view-point.
The recent Time magazine cover photograph and accompanying article has sparked the kind of response that marketing gurus can only dream of, and has made the concepts of attachment parenting and continued breastfeeding the subject of a hotly contested debate. So what’s the fuss about? First, there’s the issue of breastfeeding a 3 year-old at all; second, there’s the issue of the pose used for the cover photograph; and third, there’s the issue of the article’s title: “Are You Mom Enough?”
The cover depicts Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old mother from Los Angeles, breastfeeding her 3 year-old son, who is standing on a small chair. The photographer, Martin Schoeller has explained, “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.” But is it really that uncommon? Worldwide the average age for weaning is between 3 and 5 years old, with some cultures considering it perfectly normal for a 6 or 7 year old to breastfeed occasionally. Perhaps the key here is an understanding that breastfeeding at that age is something that happens from time to time, as the child “checks in” with that sense of closeness and safety in their relationship with their mother. It’s not much about food or nutrition (although, certainly in the first 2 or 3 years, the mother’s body adapts the nutritional content of the milk to match the needs of the child). And studies have shown that this close connection between mother and child, as manifested in continued breastfeeding, is very important in the child’s development of secure independence. American researchers have found evidence that prolonged breast-feeding promotes psychological health, and that breast-feeding for less than 6 months is associated with increased risk for mental health problems during childhood and adolescence. Perhaps, for many mothers, more important than all this is the sheer joy they feel in feeding and nurturing their children in this way, and I feel very strongly that if women chose to do this, they should not be vilified, hounded out of public places, or even, as anecdotal reports suggest has happened to Jamie Lynne Grumet, receive death threats.
The other complaint most vehemently leveled at the photograph (and by some critics, the whole practice of feeding a toddler or older child), is that it sexualizes breastfeeding. This goes to the heart of why so many women find it hard to breastfeed, when they feel that people will be looking at their breasts, and thinking sexual thoughts about the exposed flesh. I think this is desperately sad. Firstly, there is NOTHING whatsoever about breastfeeding that is to do with sex. Yes, breasts are wonderfully sexy, but when they’re being used for feeding, that’s all it should be about. And as for the idea that a small child thinks of sex when he’s feeding, clearly that’s nonsense too. The Time photographer is taking a very provocative stance in dressing Grumet, who looks like a model anyway, in skinny jeans and a skimpy vest top, and in depicting her feeding her quite grown-up looking 3 year old standing up and wearing combat trousers, which makes him look older and tougher than he really is. Sexualizing this most beautiful of relationships is demeaning to women, and downright scary if you consider what it says about the way society thinks about small children. If children are to grow up with a healthy respect for people’s bodies, women’s in particular, they need to see and understand the body with all its lumps and bumps, and come to appreciate the marvelous way it works. Society as a whole might have a much healthier attitude to nakedness, sex, and body image if seeing people’s bodies doing what they’re designed to do was a more normal part of our culture.
Finally, the title of the article, as displayed on the cover: “Are You Mom Enough?” Frankly, how dare you, Time? When women the world over are fighting battles every day to be the best parent they can, the last thing we need is another challenge to our way of doing things. I believe in, and try to practice attachment parenting, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge other women or to claim that I am in any way “better” than anyone else. The cover model herself said in an interview, “There seems to be a war going on between conventional parenting and attachment parenting, and that’s what I want to avoid. I want everyone to be encouraging. We’re not on opposing teams. We all need to be encouraging to each other, and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at that.”
Time magazine’s executive editor Rick Stengel said in an interview with the Washington Post, “Judging by the reaction on Twitter this morning, some people think it’s great, and some people are revolted by it. That’s what you want. You want people talking.” Let’s hope that once the dust settles, it is the voice of sanity that emerges, and that this deliberately provocative stance can be seen in its true colours: as a ploy to sell more magazines.