Power, the “two sexual truths” of the female breast, and public breastfeeding

Power, the “two sexual truths” of the female breast, and public breastfeeding

Vol. 1, no. 1, 13-21
Author: Harry French
University College Utrecht, Utrecht University

Abstract

Breastfeeding is widely classified as the most beneficial way to feed an infant, however the sexualisation of the breast can lead to the modification or interruption of breastfeeding practices due to the manner in which this effects the perception of breastfeeding in public. The purpose of this study was to identify how the female breast as a sexual entity is constructed and continually legitimised, and how this effects a mother’s breastfeeding practices. The study utilises Foucauldian theories of power, truth, and repression in order to trace this cultural phenomenon. It was found that outsiders, fathers, and mothers all take part in the construction of the “two sexual truths” of the female breast, that these sexual truths can contribute to the modification of a breastfeeding regime which can in turn have negative medical effects on the mother and her infant, and that the act of constructing these truths through social behaviour is itself the sense-making practice that legitimises such truths. The research contributes to the wider analysis of how bodies and the use of bodies in public space are part of larger societal structures such as gender inequality and masculine and feminine hegemonies.

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