Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Krishanti Vignarajah, the only female candidate out of seven Democrats running for Maryland governor, recently released another campaign advertisement. The video’s message is that women are underrepresented in politics, and studies have shown when there are female leaders in the government, public health issues and social welfare policies are given more attention.
But it’s more than a standard campaign spot. As Vignarajah discusses her gubernatorial ambitions, she’s shown breast-feeding her infant daughter. This ad kills two birds with one stone: It’s making the case for Vignarajah to be governor, while also aiming to destigmatize breast-feeding in public.
Vignarajah isn’t the only female candidate to use breast-feeding to drive home her political platform. Kelda Roys, a Democratic candidate in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race, also released an advertisement showing her breast-feeding her daughter. CNN describes this tactic as a “bold move in campaign ads as a strategy.”
But why is breast-feeding in public such a big deal in the first place? Some people view nursing in public as inappropriate and distasteful. Nevertheless, most of these same people would agree that breast-feeding is beneficial to an infant. In fact, the positive outcomes of nursing have been scientifically proven.
According to the National Institutes of Health, breast-feeding is linked to reducing the risk of developing allergies, asthma, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Human milk strengthens a baby’s immune system by transferring a mother’s antibodies, immune factors and other nutrients to her child. Furthermore, early skin-to-skin contact has been shown to improve maternal-infant bonding.
So, in a modern society, where the benefits of breast-feeding have been scientifically proven, why does a double standard exist? People want infants to grow up to be strong and healthy, yet are offended by the completely natural process that gets them there. We must not only change the attitude around nursing in public, but also fight the stigmatization of women for the choices they make with their own bodies.
Many people and political leaders are obsessed with controlling every aspect of a woman’s life. From dictating when it’s appropriate to breast-feed, to reducing options for contraception, to the president saying during his campaign that there should be “some form of punishment” for abortion, women are told left and right what they should and should not be doing.
Scrutiny over women’s bodies start from a young age. According to a study conducted by Yahoo Health, 94 percent of teenage girls have been body shamed. Body shaming includes negative or critical comments about physical appearance that can come from anyone, including family members.
So when harsh criticism of what women do with their bodies is ingrained in our society, many mothers struggle over whether they should breast-feed in public. This is a huge problem. A mother should never have to place the way others perceive her over the well-being of her child. When people shame mothers for breast-feeding, there is a clear “lack of public support for maternity,” which is disgraceful.
The general public needs to grow up. There is nothing wrong or sexual about a natural process that reaps many benefits for an infant. We need to do a better job of supporting mothers like Vignarajah who are just trying keep their children healthy and happy.
Asha Kodan is a sophomore biology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.