Monday, July 05, 2010

The Words We Choose

Welcome to the July 2010 Carnival of Nursing in Public

This post was written for inclusion in the">Carnival of Nursing in Public hosted by Dionna and Paige at"> All week, July 5-9, we will be featuring articles and posts about nursing in public ("NIP"). See the bottom of this post for more information.

I have never had a deep and abiding love for the word discreet.  Perhaps it is because it sounds like if discord and secret got together and had a love child.  I know discreet basically means modest and careful or discerning, but to my ears it has connotations of kyriarchy and shame.  As a child it was a word I mostly heard on soap operas as people whispered about salacious affairs or on commercials peddling new and improved menstrual products that guarantee that no one will ever find out that you bleed, both of which sent a loud message "this must be kept a SECRET, and you should be ashamed." 

It wasn't a big hang up on my part, really just a small one.  A small "I wish there were a better word for it" word.  But now that I'm a nursing mother I loathe the word. Every time I hear my husband use it it makes all of the rebelliousness I have left in me want to scream and shout and kick and rage.  And he doesn't get it.  He doesn't get that when we're going to a cookout and he judges my wardrobe and says I should change into something more "discreet" for feeding the baby that he's saying that low cut top was fine when he was showing off the lovely rack his many years younger wife had, but when it's used for feeding a baby, well, that'll never do because nursing a baby must be kept discreet. A secret. A discordian secret.  Just like no one must ever know I bleed, no one must ever know that my baby eats.  I must be modest.  Not modest for modesty's sake. Oh no, breasts as sexual symbols are just fine, but I must be modest because someone might not enjoy seeing a baby nursing at a breast whereas they'd otherwise all be fine with the amount of exposed cleavage in any of my outfits.

I hate the word discreet.  I hate that I'm told it's okay to nurse in public so long as no one sees it. So long as I put the sensibilities of everyone else ahead of the needs of my child.  I hate it. I hate that I'm told it's okay so long as no one sees it.  

On the other hand, I hate even more when my spouse falls over himself to tell me that he's proud of how discreet I am.  Like I'm trying one way or another and as though how he feels about it should ever be a reward, incentive, or influence over how I feed my baby.  It makes me cringe.

So please, please, please stop telling me to be discreet.  Please stop telling women that they must be this mythic version of modesty which only applies to the feeding of infants but never to the arousal of men.  Please stop acting like there's something sinister in feeding a child such that it must be kept a secret. Stop telling us with that word that our nursing habits are subject to third party judgement.

If you don't, I just might have to get a hooter-hiding monstrosity with a lingere ad on it, just to establish how ridiculous this notion of discretion is.

When we work this word out of our Nursing in Public vocabulary, I suspect it will be easier for a lot of women to stop cringing at the thought of doing so.

Art by Erika Hastings at

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9 reflections:

Aly said...

An excellent post! Why can't breasts be seen as part of nurturing a child and not as sexual objects? I'll pop back tomorrow to read more.

melissa joanne said...

I am in complete agreement! Love this post!

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Wow - you're right - "discreet" DOES make me think of pantyliners! My main problem with it is the arbitrariness of the word. Exactly whose definition of discreet are we all supposed to adhere to?

Rebekah C said...

Thanks so much for this post! I never really thought about the word "discreet" in this context but I think you make an excellent point. You're right, discretion carries with it the connotation of shame.

Slee said...

Thanks for stopping by, it's funny that right after writing this post spouse and i had yet another argument about that word and whether or not i was bringing some sort of nursing cover to the fireworks. you know, because nursing in the dark while everyone's looking at the sky, well, that surely calls for the utmost discretion. Dopey pants.
Also, yes, I think a huge problem with it is how arbitrary the word is. Everyone has a different opinion on it, and even one person's judgment of what is seemly or discreet tends to change from one day to the next, one situation to the next. It's an awful lot to have to try to keep up with when you're primary concern is the feeding of you nursling.

Anonymous said...

Brava! What a wonderful and empowering post.

Erin said...

I love the idea of a Hooter Hider with a lingerie ad on it - ha! That'd make a great point!

Melodie said...

Amen! Panty liners indeed! I truly empowering post as already mentioned!

Slee said...

I wonder if a hooter hider made from my VS catalog would sell on etsy...