I saw this, was disgusted by it, and then passed it by as a topic for a blog post, but the topic has been brought up here and is still being heatedly discussed here and there. It's surprising how vehemently some people are defending this behavior.
First, my immediate reaction beyond 'ick' is that Time is trying to gin up some controversy; it's publicity, and all these PC 'mainstream media' mouthpieces are failing financially. If they are not, they deserve to be. But any publicity is good for business, is the general rule.
The story -- although it represents a rather aberrant practice -- ties in with a lot of social trends, mainly the sexualization of nearly everything in our culture, including children. Most commenters -- or commentators (by whom I mean paid media figures) seem to avoid or miss this aspect of it. Breastfeeding women are obviously sexualized in our libidinous culture. And the child in the picture, by extension, is also part of that, repellent as the idea is (or should be).
The woman seems to be luxuriating in the attention. It's trite by now to say that she is a 'look at me', narcissistic type. The fact of her adopting and breastfeeding a Third World child, as well as her natural child, is also part of the 'look at me; I'm so wonderfully special' attitude.
But behind all this is the feminist movement, which in turn is part of the whole counterculture circus which has dominated our society for the last half-century. And it's all part of the larger picture of deconstructing our society, turning everything on its head, calling evil good, and good, evil. It's all Frankfurt School theatrics.
Just to look back culturally at attitudes on breastfeeding, I remember from my childhood that many women breast-fed in the late 50s and early 60s, before the Counterculture reared its ugly hairy head. However, breast-feeding, while dealt with matter-of-factly, was not something that respectable women would do in public. It was private, (just as childbirth once was, unlike today when the whole family, in-laws and all, are watching mothers give birth, whether via video or in person). But breast-feeding was done discreetly, only among other womenfolk if there was a group present, or with only younger children present, not the whole family.
The post-modern take on the above is that people back then were oh so 'repressed', so inhibited, so ashamed of bodily functions. How backward; how uptight. How mid-Victorian. Nowadays, of course, we are so much freer and more honest and open. Aren't we deserving of praise, we 21st century enlightened people, enlightened by Oprah, Dr. Phil, Deepak Chopra, and Abraham Maslow.
But though many women back in 1960, BPC (Before Political Correctness) breast-fed, they did so privately and with modesty. Were they uptight, or just too classy to flaunt their breasts publicly, or give birth before an audience?
But even before the hippie movement, an advanced stage of the social revolution, happened, with its promotion of natural everything (natural childbirth, children sharing a bed with parents, breastfeeding) there was the La Leche League, which, founded in 1956, grew to be an international organization with a degree of influence. Who exactly was funding them is not clear to me.
At the time of the campaign to encourage breast-feeding, many women bottle-fed their children with evaporated milk, mixed with sweetener and water. Although some today cringe in horror from the idea of that, it did not seem to have harmed the generations of children who were brought up on it. In my opinion, the advent of commercial baby formula, which was a much more expensive option, brought a great many problems of its own. By the late 60s or so, it seemed most women fed their children commercial formula, though there were problems: melamine found in formula, contamination by insects, and so on. Yet its use was widespread, and hospitals pushed the use of it. Marketing and advertising seemed very effective in establishing this as the alternative to the old-fashioned evaporated milk formula mixed at home.
At the same time that breast-feeding was being touted as the only choice for caring parents, the feminist movement was on the march, promoting the idea that women should postpone, if not avoid, marriage, and keep their families as small as possible if they did marry. And then, as the 60s and 70s rolled on, the message was that if you must have children, by all means put them in day care or persuade your 'partner' to be a house-husband so you can go out and make a career for yourself. Domestic life, homemaking, cooking, tending to children, was unworthy of any woman with a brain or with any 'self-esteem.' So they said.
So there was very much a mixed message: on the one hand, marriage and childbearing is demeaning. It's slavery. It's unworthy of women. It's boring and stultifying. Yet the other message was that women should emulate Third World women and adopt Third World child-rearing habits, such as breastfeeding to a later age as more 'natural' cultures were said to do. Breastfeeding was touted as the best choice for the health-conscious mother. The counterculture tended (and still does) toward food-faddism and food prudery. Natural, raw, organic.
Yet breast-feeding poses its own health issues. We do live in a society in which a great number of people are on prescription antidepressants and other medications. This poses a hazard with breast-feeding. We also have a number of heavy drinkers and drug users, especially among the younger age groups. How many of these breast-feed? Obviously there are cases where it is not a healthy option.
I am not sure how women who follow these trends reconcile their desire to compete with men in a men's world, with the domestic life, in which they are busy breastfeeding their child and/or preparing organic, healthy meals for everyone. The two images of domestic bliss along with the feminist idealization of the working world are not reconcilable.
The catchphrase is always 'quality, not quantity', and many of these driven women talk of 'quality time' with their kids while they also seek to 'take time for myself' and have 'girls' night out' with female friends, and still pursue the career.
Perhaps this 'extreme breastfeeding' fetish (and it is just that, a fetish in some case) is a way of trying to compensate for not devoting full time or attention to the small-and-ideal family.
To return to the public reaction to the sensationalized Time story, the majority seem turned off by it, while a sizeable minority, mainly of women, fiercely defend breast-feeding, even of the 'extreme' and atypical kind shown in the photo. To them, breast-feeding is such an absolute good that it is wrong to put any curbs or social sanctions on any manifestation of it. Public breastfeeding? Why not? these women say. "Don't sexualize it!" they say, but the fact is, it is alreadly sexualized because that is the nature of our lascivious society. Once upon a time, it was thought of as a natural function, though innately private, to be kept discreet. But now, our society seems to balk at any limits and boundaries, seeking absolute 'freedom' to do whatever we like, even if our public standards suffer by it, even if many people are offended or 'grossed out' by the less modest among us.
Just as with so many normal and natural things, this breastfeeding issue is being distorted out of all recognition. And the extremists and exhibitionists seem to be winning the day, as in most things, while the normal and sane people are marginalized. Just read the comments on the Time website, and you see yet another example of how divided we are as a society; we no longer share widely-accepted standards of propriety, morality, or even simple public manners and courtesy.
Notice how the clashing commenters call each other 'ignorant' and 'judgmental.' Those terms are almost always the retorts preferred by the liberal types. The latter label, "judgmental", is ironic when the very fact of calling someone 'judgmental' is itself a judgment.
But such is life in the world through the looking-glass, in 2012.