Friday, March 1, 2013

She Took It Out

Even though the details are sketchy, Feminist Mormon Housewives posted a brief story about "a dear friend...being released from her YW calling...for breastfeeding at church." Not complying to the complaints of others in the various meetings could supposedly jeopardize her temple recommend, according to these local leaders. I imagine their bishopric discussion regarding the matter sounded a lot like Elaine Benes' recap of her date with Jerry's friend Phil.

I understand that public breastfeeding can potentially be a bit awkward for observers (or at the very least momentarily shocking). While this may be due to prudishness, it could also be attributed to the simple fact that one is not used to seeing it. I've been thrown off-guard before by those who are perfectly comfortable with breastfeeding in public, though I easily recovered. As others have pointed out, the LDS Church supports breastfeeding and encourages a mother to "breast-feed her baby if she can." Furthermore, the Church leadership recognizes that modesty is situational.[1] As the Feb. 1975 issue of the New Era reads, "Modesty in dress is at least partly dependent upon the appropriateness of a particular costume to the occasion or activity for which it is worn. What is appropriate and modest for one activity may not be for another. We have to exercise judgment and make every effort to obey the spirit of the law." One blogger provided this concluding sentence to the article: "You can have situational modesty during swimming, professional dancing and sports, doctor's visits, and birth." Unfortunately, the current online version does not include this sentence. I wonder if it was removed from the website, but can be found in the printed versions. Nonetheless, "situational modesty" is a perfect way of framing the topic of breastfeeding. Examining our history (even ancient history and art) is another way to address predicaments such as this. Just as leaders used to pass the sacrament during sermons and hymns (due to the size of the congregation), women used to breastfeed in the midst of the meeting.

Harpers Weekly, September 30, 1871

The reaction by this bishopric (if real) is certainly absurd. While nursing mothers should be sensitive to the feelings of those around them, they should receive the very same sensitivity (if not more) from the rest of us.

Update: Peggy Fletcher Stack just weighed in on the issue and Christianity Today demonstrates that this is not unique to Mormons.

1. For an interesting take on LDS modesty and gender roles, see Rosemary Avance, "Worthy "Gods" and "Goddesses": The Meaning of Modesty in the Normalization of Latter-day Saint Gender Roles," Journal of Religion & Society 12 (2010). 

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