Sparrow-Folk and Tara Moss want to Ruin Your Day
This year, as I like to do, I went to the National Folk Festival, albeit for only one day instead of my usual two. I love the music, but I also love the singer-songwriters for whom the lyrics are at least as important at the music. I came to folk through the protest songs of the Civil Rights era and so love to hear songs addressing contemporary concerns – political, social, global, local, they all have a place in the folk singer-songwriter repertoire.
For this post I’m just going to talk about one song, because it illustrates the point and it enables me to refer again to a book I read and reviewed earlier this year, Tara Moss’s The fictional woman. But first, the song. Seems like I’m late to the party, because it apparently made quite a splash early last year, not only in Australia, whence it originates, but overseas. It was even picked up by Huffington Post. The song’s title is “Ruin your day” and it satirises those who frown upon/are disgusted by/want to ban mothers breastfeeding in public. I must say, I’ve been astonished recently to realise that instead of breastfeeding in public becoming more acceptable since my time in the 1980s, it’s actually become less so. We 1980s mothers did not furtively cover ourselves with shawls or disappear into some dark nether regions of wherever we happened to be. No, we did what comes naturally, not brazenly but naturally. Well, at least my friends and I did, and while there were some demurs from some quarters, we fully expected the world to become more enlightened and tolerant as time moved on. Not so, it seems.
Anyhow, here’s the video:
As I listened to the gorgeous, locally-based “glam-rock” duo, Sparrow-Folk, perform this song over Easter, I was reminded of Tara Moss’s chapter on the topic. As you can imagine, she, a new mother in her late 30s, and a card-carrying feminist, had plenty to say on the subject. Her chapter, “The Mother”, is the longest chapter in the book, because there are many “fictions” attached to motherhood – and several have to do with breastfeeding, with the can-and-can’ts, the for-and-againsts, and of course the hide-or-go-publics. These “fictions” tend to be accompanied by a lot of either-or discussions which put women in boxes, and, worse, pit women against each other, creating what she calls “false divides”. I’m not going to go into all that now, but I will briefly discuss her section on public breastfeeding.
Moss beautifully unpacks society’s ongoing discomfort with breastfeeding, with the fact that “the very sight of breastfeeding remains inexplicably controversial”. “Images of breastfeeding”, she writes, “are still routinely flagged as offensive on Facebook and banned, accompanied by this message: ‘Shares that contain nudity, pornography, or sexual content are not permitted on Facebook … refrain from posting abusive material in future'”. Breastfeeding, pornographic? abusive? What is all this about? There has been some official relaxation of the “rule” she says, but reports still come in of photos of breastfeeding being banned on Facebook.
Confirming my 1980s memories, she writes that it wasn’t always like this. Sesame Street “once routinely showed breastfeeding, but since the 1990s it has reportedly only shown babies being fed by bottle”. These days, it is ok for magazines and advertising to feature “a sea of exposed female upper body flesh” but not ok for that breast to be seen doing what it was designed for. She argues this is “learned bias [and asks] since when did the natural way of feeding your child come to be seen as offensive or controversial?”
Our choices are influenced by what we see and what society portrays as normal or aspirational. In a very real way, visibility is acceptance. Unfortunately, while we have become accustomed to seeing the fertile female body used to sell us all kinds of products, we are not longer accustomed to seeing it perform this most natural task. But though anti-discrimination laws protect women’s right to breastfeed in all public places, without normalising the sight of breastfeeding in our society we have little hope of making more mothers comfortable enough to engage in the practice of publicly feeding their children naturally.
I love that Sparrow-Folk’s you-tube went global:
I’m not going to retreat
To the comfort of a toilet seat
No, no, I’m happy to stay out here where everybody else eats
Everyone knows new mothers are exhibitionists
Taking every chance they get to ruin your day with tits.
Go Sparrow-Folk, go Tara Moss – and go all you breastfeeding women brave enough to stare down pursed-mouth looks and abuse. This regressive tide must be turned.