The Fem Spot

Dear Hillary…

Posted in Feminist Theory, media, News, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009

Dear Hillary,

On Saturday night in suburban San Francisco, California,  a 15-year-old girl was reportedly gang raped by as many as 10 male teenage attackers while another 10 stood by and watched, maybe even cheered. She was left unconscious beneath a bench on Richmond High School property after more than two hours of this ordeal.

I read about this incident on CNN.com on Tuesday morning and couldn’t believe it had happened. I found it reminiscent of the gang rape of a mentally challenged teenage girl in Glen Ridge, New Jersey in 1989, which I’d read a book about. Well, thought I, after stomping my fists and wailing at the top of my lungs; at least these types of incidents are few and far between.

But later I remembered that in 2008, in the neighboring town of Montclair, N.J., three teenage boys sexually assaulted a female teenage special education student. As in the Glen Ridge incident, the young men used a broomstick to penetrate the girl. Well, thought I, after scratching my head and whimpering; at least that’s only two recent incidents in the United States. I don’t, after all, reside in Afghanistan, for instance, where 90 percent of married women are abused by their husbands. The U.S. is a safe haven for women and girls.

On Tuesday, I waited for other news outlets to pick up the story of the San Francisco teen. I periodically googled “San Francisco gang rape.” Surprisingly, I found very little about the Saturday night incident, and instead stumbled across a December, 2008 gang rape of a lesbian female by four men, two teens and two adults, also near San Francisco. The four had spotted the woman’s car, which displayed a rainbow bumper sticker, shouted hateful epithets at her, struck her with a blunt object, raped her, drove her to an abandoned building, raped her again, and left her naked just outside the building before driving off in her car. Well, thought I, after gasping and digging my fingernails into my thighs; at least gang rape is just a San Francisco and northern N.J. thing.

But then I remembered the similar hate crime of Brandon Teena (nee Teena Brandon) in 1993 in Humboldt, Nebraska. Two men raped and murdered Teena, and also murdered two bystanders, because they hated – and likely feared – Teena’s choice to live his life as a male, though born a female. Perhaps you’ve seen the film adaptation of this incident starring Hilary Swank: Boys Don’t Cry? Well, thought I, after reliving the horror of the film and emotional ruin it left me in; at least it’s only gangs and pairs that hate women enough to murder them indiscreetly.

Oh, wait: George Sodini indiscreetly shot at women in a Pennsylvania gym in August, killing three women and then himself and wounding nine others because, as his personal blog so clearly stipulated, he was tired of 19 years of rejection by women and sexually frustrated. “Thanks for nada, bitches!” he wrote in June. And previously, in 2006, lone gunman Charles C. Roberts IV shot 10 girls, killing five and himself, at an Amish schoolhouse in Pa. leaving behind a hint or two about his unfortunate longing to molest little girls. Perhaps, he shot them out of rage and bewilderment that they existed to tempt him. Well, thought I, after digging to find all the facts of these two incidents and finding myself thoroughly disgusted and alarmed; maybe there’s something in the water…in Pa., Neb., N.J. and Calif.

Why do some men hate women, in the U.S. and abroad? Why do they want to beat us into submission? Why do they want to kill us in heinous ways? Why don’t they want us to be happy with powerful, singular identities and exciting, fulfilling sex lives? Why won’t they let us take control of our reproductive rights without a fight? Why won’t they let us be mothers and lovers at the same time, sinners and saints simultaneously?

There exists a pervasive hatred and fear of women in our American culture. Whether movies, television, art and literature reflect or cause this fear escapes my understanding. But it all culminates at a rigid point: collectively, we believe women are one thing or the other, limited by our sex to be either good or bad. The “good” women are loving mothers, faithful wives, compliant sexual partners and obliging victims. The “bad” women reject their obligations to the “good” tasks, opting for personal pleasure. In other words, “good” women sacrifice themselves for this goodness, while “bad” women sacrifice nothing. As an unnamed Hollywood executive said of Ms. Swank, “Her look and demeanor are not soft, so it’s hard to see her as vulnerable or as a love object.” (Entertainment Weekly, 10-30-09)

Ergo, this Hilary like another Hillary we know, does not fall cleanly into either the “good” or “bad” categories, and is therefore a “difficulty.”

I am reminded of a magnificent argument a certain Secretary of State and former First Lady made to a N.J. Representative in April, 2009 in support of reproductive health and the reproductive health education of women globally and at home, which went largely unnoticed by the media. I am a feminist blogger and I hadn’t heard about it until another blogger called it to the attention of the feminist blogging community. Madame Secretary said:

Congressman, I deeply respect your passionate concern and views which you have championed and advocated for over the course of your public career. We, obviously, have a profound disagreement. When I think about the suffering that I have seen of women around the world; I’ve been in hospitals in Brazil where half the women were enthusiastically and joyfully greeting new babies and the other half were fighting for their lives against botched abortions. I’ve been in African countries where 12 and 13-year-old girls are bearing children. I have been in Asian countries where the denial of family planning consigns women to lives of oppression and hardship…It is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so anywhere in the world, and so are we (the Obama Administration). We happen to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare. I’ve spent a lot of my time trying to bring down the rate of abortions and it has been my experience that good family planning and good medical care brings down the rate of abortion. Keeping women and men in ignorance and denied the access to services actually increases the rate of abortion…I’m sad to report that after an administration of eight years that undid so much of the good work (of the Clinton Administration), the rate of teenage pregnancy is going up (in the U.S.)…We are now an administration that will protect the rights of women including their rights to reproductive health care.

This statement eloquently confirms the Obama Administration’s commitment to the inalienable human right to life that pregnant women were born with; and that right to survive includes access to legal, safe abortions. The statement also makes clear that Pro-Choice supporters are not crazed baby killers: we are, instead, female protectors fighting for the safety and wellness of women, worldwide. We don’t cheer for abortion but instead believe it to be a necessary component to female reproductive health.

I fear, however, the administration now championed by the Secretary – i.e. that of President Barack Obama – does not share her passion. I fear that President Obama may be… distracted from the goals so clearly described in Madame Secretary’s speech. In July, the President hosted a “Beer Summit” at the White House in honor of a truce struck between affluent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and a Cambridge, Mass. police officer who had – under national scrutiny – engaged in a “disorderly” scene, which resulted in… no damage to either party.  Earlier this month, Obama traveled to Denmark in a failed attempt to woo the International Olympic Committee into naming Chicago, Illinois, his home town, as the site for the 2016 Olympic Games.  And later this month, Obama hosted an all men’s basketball game at the White House. While he didn’t specifically restrict women players, he didn’t make a point of including them either; just as he doesn’t make a point of following women’s basketball. Personally, I don’t care what the President does during his free time; but on work time he should be cognizant of women’s equality.

The fact that the President is publicly, and “as the President,” interested in “man” activities like drinking beer, shooting hoops, welcoming a “big rambunctious dog” rather than a “girlie dog” into the White House and spectating the Olympics; combined with the fact that his wife seems more than happy to play the part of First Lady “Fashionista,” means that the U.S. is continuing to tolerate and even support traditional gender roles.

Traditionally, a woman might be expected to make way for her husband’s comments on major issues rather than issuing her own. It is possible that the reason a Secretary of State and former First Lady bristled when asked to speak for her husband at a question and answer forum in August in Kinshasa, Congo was because of the invocation of said tradition. News anchors rolled their eyes at the scene, but the offense was legitimate. This is 2009, not 1909. Women can and do vote, own property, hold public office, etc. And when a woman does hold an important position, her opinions on subjects relating to her office’s authority are of greater importance than any adjacent man’s: husband’s, President’s and former President’s alike.

I value your opinion, Hillary. I want to know why this misunderstanding of who we women are and what we can do exists in the U.S., masquerading as hatred and violence; and I want to know what we – what I – can do about it.

With deep admiration,

femspotter

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The New York Times lament

Posted in media, Personal Essays, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on August 26, 2009
Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

Shark at the Jersey Shore? Hardly!

August 26, 2009

Several weeks ago, The New York Times surprised me with a smug Saturday morning edition that bashed New Jersey in every way it could. The front page depicted a large photo of a junk yard in Hackensack – not attached to any story I could find. Another trash dump adorned one internal section, while still an even greater horror awaited readers on the cover of one of the Arts sections: a great white shark, mouth open under a headline that read “Ah, That Jersey Shore: The Fish Are Really Biting.”

That’s irresponsible journalism in my book. The article (online 7-31-09, in print 8-1-09) was announcing Shark Week on Discovery Channel and, though it alluded to the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 which were to be covered by programming scheduled for Shark Week, the photo (right) was taken off the coast of South Africa rather than New Jersey. Nonetheless, the editors at The Times decided they have the right to mock the people of New Jersey – 127,101 of whom subscribe to The Times daily edition, 182,557 to its Sunday edition, according to the New Jersey Press Association – with an incessant flow of visual insults in the wake of the great corruption scandal of 2009: 44 elected officials – the mayor of my town among them – and rabbis indicted for taking bribes and other corrupt acts in one sweep of the judicial net over the state that many already consider to be “the armpit” of the United States. I even got a letter from a relative in a seemingly moral part of the central U.S. remarking about what a corrupt part of the world I live in. (Ah, the Midwest… That’s where they kill abortion doctors, isn’t it?)

Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty?”

I love my state! Sure, we have potholes and insane drivers – nobody knows what a yield sign means – and 4-inch acrylic nails and discordant accents galore. But we also have Victorian Cape May, beautiful beaches, great public education (including Rutgers University, my alma mater) and the Statue of Liberty. Many a talented celebrity has emerged from the smelly bowels called Jersey: Frank Sinatra, Judy Blume, Jack Nicholson, etc.

But, in reality, New Jersey doesn’t smell bad…at least, not outside of Hudson County.

My husband and I chose New Jersey over the cardboard box we could have afforded in Manhattan or neighboring Brooklyn, or the the relatively cheap spaces in the other three boroughs of New York City. In New Jersey, we’re property owners living close to jobs in Manhattan. We’ve lived in historic downtown Jersey City and loved it! We got married in Liberty State Park facing Lady Liberty herself. And if that weren’t enough to convince you that New Jersey is a fantastic state, check out this photo I took outside my condo – less than five miles from Manhattan – in the middle of August, 2009 – also known as just two days ago:

Canadian Geese Visit Beautiful New Jersey; Who Wouldn't Want to Be Here?

A New Jersey River Near New York City at Night: Who Wouldn't Want to Live Here?

So, suck it TNYT!

Your biased portrayal of New Jersey on Aug. 1, 2009 was at best pert and at worst cruel. A corrupt government does not a corrupt population make. We good citizens of New Jersey are the victims of this corruption, rather than the perpetrators of it!

I was just on the verge of canceling my subscription when I picked up the following week’s edition. There, a couple of pages in, was an Op-Ed piece by Bob Herbert entitled “Women at Risk.” In the wake of all of the critical and academic silence about misogyny in our culture during the Hillary Clinton campaign for President and the Sarah Palin campaign – such that it was – for Vice President; in the aftermath of a tremendous victory for the black man Barack Obama, who won our nation’s top office; on the footsteps of the Henry Louis Gates arrest fiasco in Boston that prompted the historic beer bash at the White House…here was a black columnist writing about sexism instead of racism. Did he miss the band wagon? Reacting to the recent slaughter of three women and the wounding of nine others by sexually frustrated assassin George Sodini in a Pennsylvania gym, Herbert had this to say:

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.

According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.

One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.

Well, thought I…I can’t give up my subscription now. It’s true that The Times has much to make up for. After all of feminist Maureen Dowd’s lazy and pointless columns and the make believe feminist insights of film critic Manohla Dargis – who criticized Pixar for taking until now to hire a female director (yeah, because Pixar is the real problem for feminist filmmakers in Hollywood, right?) and chastised people who point out that Kathryn Bigelow is a female film director who makes man movies (I think that’s noteworthy, don’t you? We expect women to make sappy, romantic movies. They do, but they also direct stylish horror films like Ravenous and visceral dramas about sexuality like The Piano.) – The Times owes all of its feminist readers, from New Jersey to Timbuktu, a real feminist thought or two to chew on. As it turns out, the best feminists over at The Times are men: A.O. Scott, Nicholas D. Kristof and Bob Herbert, to name a few.

Herbert’s column is opinion-based and he alludes to statistics that he doesn’t provide, which bothers me. I want him to make an argument about misogyny supported by facts rather than rantings. He writes “A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so.” Is it one every two minutes…every three minutes? That makes a big difference.

Still, I’m glad that somebody is getting angry about this besides the women who’ve been complaining to deaf ears for years. There are those haters out there who jumped all over Secretary of State Clinton a few weeks ago after she flew off the handle in the Congo when asked by a male student what Mr. Clinton thinks, “through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton,” about the World Bank tampering with Chinese contracts. The incident was met with eye-rolling from CNN “news” correspondents and a heap of criticism from columnists and comedian’s alike. But as this Times news blog points out, Clinton may have gotten a raw deal. She was, after all, standing up for herself and her position at the top, one she’s worked toward for many years. Additionally, she did what Herbert and others have done when something is wrong with the world: she got mad. It is unjust to be asked to speak for your husband when yours is the opinion that should really count. And we won’t right the world’s injustices if we don’t first get mad about them. (To be fair, however, a woman who once did cooking demonstrations on television, posing as Suzy Homemaker to get her husband reelected to the Presidency, doesn’t have a sturdy leg to stand on when it comes to declaring an independent, emancipated status!)

While I am angry at The New York Times, I forgive it because of its forward-thinking feminism. The Aug. 23, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine was centered on women’s rights with five major articles pertaining to the current status and potential advancement of women’s rights. “In many parts of the world, women are routinely beaten, raped or sold into prostitution. They are denied access to medical care, education and economic and political power,” it’s cover boldly reveals. “Changing that could change everything.”

Inside, “The Women’s Crusade” by Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tells us that “(t)the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time.” Hey, if that’s the case, then why is Obama drinking with Gates at the White House instead of with Saima Muhammad of Pakistan, who “was routinely beaten by her husband until she started a successful embroidery business;” or Goretti Nyabenda of Burundi, who was also routinely beaten by her husband but who turned a $2 microloan into a crop of potatoes worth $7.50 and her resulting salvation. In fact, Nyabenda is a banana-beer brewer as well as a potato farmer. That would have been a better beer to choose than Bud Light, which, though American, is also the product of a large corporation wielding perhaps unfair tax breaks. Again I ask, why is Obama having drinks with cops and professors when he could be uplifting the impoverished, abused and uneducated women of the world?

Racism is a serious problem; but the cause to abolish racism isn’t helped when an affluent academic screams bloody racism and the media turns the spotlight away from the real injustices of the day to watch the President booze with the battered egos of the world. As far as I know, nobody at that round table has ever been raped or had their genitals removed because of the notion that their sex is inferior to the alternative.

Sharks don’t discriminate between men and women, but Peter Benchley did. He allegedly based his 1974 pulp novel Jaws on the 1916 shark attacks at the Jersey Shore. In reality, there were four victims of the attacks: all male. In the book, and subsequently the 1975 Steven Spielberg film of the same title, the first victim of the man-eater is instead a woman, and she is horribly de-sexualized in the process of her slaying. In the first place, she is swimming naked after dark as part of a sexscapade. Later, when her body is found, it is shredded in all the parts that physically distinguish the girls from the boys: namely her breasts and her womb. Benchley had said in interviews that he regretted writing this novel because it instilled a previously unfounded fear of sharks in the masses. Perhaps, he should have regretted his own misogyny and stuck to the facts: in 1916, three New Jersey men and one boy went into the water and were killed by a beast that didn’t seek to hurt or humiliate women. It was just hungry.

While The New York Times and I have made peace with each other for now, and I still get to look forward to reading the newspaper on Saturday and Sunday mornings in my bathrobe with a big mug of steaming coffee; I am forever wary of the verbal and printed slights marring my beautiful Garden State…just as I am of the general misogyny that pervades our culture.

That’s right: I’m a Jersey Girl now. And you don’t wanna mess with no Joysey Girl! POW!

Legal rape in Afghanistan?

Posted in Marriage, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009

When I go to bed at night, I have the luxury of falling asleep. I use the word “luxury” because this option is not always available for some women; and it looks as though married women in Afghanistan may be prohibited by law from falling asleep when their heads hit their pillows in the near future. There will be no “Honey, I have a headache” reprieve for these unlucky ladies, whether they have headaches or just say they do because they lack that special tingling sensation between their legs.

According to CNN and other news outlets, the Afghan parliament recently passed a bill – with good intentions – that may inadvertently harm the rights of women. “(C)ritics say the latest draft (of the bill) strips Shia women of rights as simple as leaving the house without permission from a male relative and as extreme as allowing a man to have sexual intercourse with his wife even when she says, ‘No.’

These critics wonder how what amounts to rape in marriage could be passed by parliament and signed into law by President Hamid Karzai.”

Last weekend, Karzai explained that key elements of the bill have been misinterpreted by western observers stating, “We understand the concerns of our allies and the international community. Those concerns may be due to an inappropriate, not-so-good translation of the law.”

That begs the question: what is there to misinterpret? Either husbands can rape their wives or they can’t according to law. There’s a clear distinction between the two.

Karzai also vowed to consider the bill against the nation’s constitution, which allegedly requires equal rights to both sexes. According to the Times Online, “(t)he Afghan Government is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines equality in dignity and rights regardless of religion or sex. Article 22 of the Afghan Constitution also explicitly reiterates the equality of men and women before the law.”

(Pause for hysterical laughter – the kind that makes you pee a little – and rolling around on the floor.)

Women do not exercise equal rights with men in this nation. If the Afghan government is even considering such a legal measure, then women are not on equal terms with men.

Let’s review the evidence, shall we? 

Under the Taliban regime (1996-2001), women were not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort and girls were not permitted to go to school. While some things may have improved for women since the overthrow of the Taliban, Amnesty International (AI) reported in 2005 that “Afghanistan is in the process of reconstruction after many years of conflict, but hundreds of thousands of women and girls continue to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of the state itself such as the police and the justice system. There are reported increases in forced marriages; some women in difficult situations have even killed themselves to escape such a heinous situation whilst others burn themselves to death to draw attention to their plight.” AI, which campaigns for universal human rights, found that violence against women in Afghanistan was widely tolerated by the community and widely practiced by men as recent as four years ago.

According to the Pajhwok Afghan News, as translated by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, in 2006 “(s)exual abuse, murder and other crimes of different types (we)re increasing in the Northern provinces of Afghanistan” where violence against women has reached levels as high as 80 percent of women being victimized.

Under the Taliban, women were required to wear blue burqas which covered their bodies from head to toe except for a net-like fabric that covered their eyes permitting them to see the world through a translucent barrier. According to the CNN article, those burqas are still worn today.

AI – which also proclaims on its Web site that many women’s rights advocates living in Afghanistan have faced death threats, kidnapping attempts, physical attacks and even death, while others have fled their homes – released a statement saying it is opposed to the “rape law” because it will “seriously undermine women’s rights for millions of Afghanistan women.” Reached for a comment, United States President Barack Obama called the law “abhorrent.” (I guess that lame reaction is better than saying the law is “really, really bad.”)

Considering the other side of this issue means wondering who are these men who would benefit from such a law. What kind of person wants to rape another person? Is it something men are capable of on a large scale? When I think again about my own right to sleep, I think about how the sexuality I’ve experienced has mostly been based upon mutual enjoyment. Do men in Afghanistan enjoy having sex with women who don’t also enjoy the experience?

In Saudi Arabia, men and women are prohibited from mingling in public. Apparently that hasn’t kept men from trying to interact with burqa-clad women by commingling their dogs. As of July, 2008, the selling of dogs and cats as pets, as well as the walking of such pets in public places, is illegal in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh. In March, a Saudi court ordered the lashing and exile of a 75-year-old woman for mingling inside her home.

Perhaps, in Islamic countries where men and women are kept entirely segregated or where men cannot even see women, their sexuality has been warped to the point where they consider themselves entitled to sex even when subordinate females do not want it too. I’m just speculating, of course. But we do know that some people in these countries have access to the Internet; and where there’s Internet, there’s the capacity for looking at and downloading pornography, some of which is very degrading to women. Often times, such imagery reduces women to the status of inanimate objects. Sexuality, when it is forbidden, can often become corrupted by pornography-fueled imaginations; imaginations that later create insatiable appetites for sexuality that can be unpleasant for some.

The bottom line is that Afghanistan is not a happy home for most of its women, especially those who find themselves beaten or burned when they disobey their husbands or fathers. Legalizing spousal rape is only one more step in the direction of the total annihilation of women’s rights in this country.

If you value your unburned skin, intact bones, revealing clothing or right to a good night sleep, then help the cause to stop violence against women throughout the world. Act locally by volunteering to help at a shelter for homeless or abused women and children, just like my friend M****. Donate food so that they can eat well while they recover. Or – if you’re a busy working woman like me – make a monetary donation to AI by visiting its Web site.

I just made a $20 contribution. It’s not much but I feel a little better.

By the way – as I just found out on Feministing – spousal rape only became entirely illegal in the U.S. as of 1993. This issue affects more women than just those in Afghanistan and other Islamic nations.

Salma Hayek supports breastfeeding rights of African women

Posted in Feminist Theory, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on February 24, 2009
February 24, 2009
Salma Hayek and daughter Valentina

Salma Hayek and daughter Valentina

Actress Salma Hayek, perhaps best known as a sex icon with beautiful breasts, has made headlines because – she says – she is standing up for the rights of breastfeeding moms in Africa. Time Magazine reports that, while Hayek was visiting Sierra Leone during a tetanus-vaccination promotional project, she breastfed another woman’s newborn baby. “She did this, she told the (ABC News) camera crew, in part out of compassion for a suffering child, but also to help lift the stigma against breast-feeding in Africa, where men often think women can’t have sex if they’re still nursing. ‘So the husbands, of course, of these women are really encouraging them to stop (breast-feeding),’ Hayek said.”

Is that true? According to a 1995 article (“Women’s Reproductive Practices and Biomedicine: Cultural Conflicts and Transformations in Nigeria”) by Tola Olu Pearce, Ph.D., professor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of Missouri at Columbia, many married African women are forbidden the use of contraceptives when engaging in sexual intercourse with their husbands because it is believed that each family unit has a predestined number of offspring; and any attempts to hinder the conception and subsequent birth of that fated group is morally wrong. However, the article goes on to point out that Yoruba Nigerian women are using contraception, not as a means to limit their family sizes, but “as a substitute to the long period of lactation and sexual abstinence for desired birth intervals.” (quote from S. Alade’s “Contraceptive Use and Fertility among Yoruba Women in Urban Nigeria”) This indicates that, despite a religious aversion to contraception, women may be utilizing modern means of birth control in order to keep having sex with their husbands who won’t sleep with lactating mothers.

Almost everywhere Google sent me when I asked it whether or not breastfeeding mothers can have sex, indicated that new mothers can resume sexual activity when their doctors tell them it’s okay. The issue may have less to do with what happens to our breasts during childbirth and more to do with the condition of our vaginas. Ouch! How quickly do these African men want women to resume sexual intercourse anyway, breastfeeding or not? Lactating mothers can have sex…they just may not want to.

Along comes Salma Hayek to tell these men what’s what: “I’m a sex symbol,” she seems to be saying. “And I breastfeed.”

This act of sharing nourishment with a hungry, crying infant has rattled Americans perhaps more than Africans. Time: “But if breast-feeding is taboo in Africa, cross-nursing — in which one woman suckles another’s baby — is taboo in the U.S. While crunchy sites like Mothering.com have exploded with hundreds of giddy posts praising Hayek for promoting the cause of breast-feeding, plenty of online reactions were more squeamish. EW.com gave the YouTube clip its ‘biggest eyebrow raiser’ of the day award.”

Apparently, the sharing of milk in Hayek’s case is something quite scandalous…even dirty. I’ve read many comments on the Web from people who say they admire Hayek. And I’ve read an equal number of comments from people who just want to talk about how big and beautiful her breasts are. Can’t we have an intelligent discussion about a woman’s right to breastfeed a baby, as is the natural order of things? Can’t we let Hayek do with HER body what she will?

I want that same consideration if and when I become a mother. But I too have a lot of things I need to think about before that time comes. Perhaps – as the African men do – I associate my breasts only with sexuality. My husband is a “boob guy.” My breasts bring us both a lot of pleasure in bed. I don’t have the same narrow understanding of my femaleness as some men (and women) do: I don’t think that mothers can’t be sexy and that sex symbols can’t be mothers. I don’t believe there are only two kinds of women, the Madonna and the whore. Still, it’s difficult to think of my breasts as useful in a different kind of way than they are now.

While I may think of breastfeeding as gross – something that looks painful and messy – plenty of other women think of it as beautiful, as a bonding ritual and as a sacred act of mothering (my own mother included). The La Leche League (LLL) was founded in 1956 by seven women after breastfeeding rates had reportedly dropped 20 percent in the U.S. From its mission statement: “LLL believes that breastfeeding, with its many important physical and psychological advantages, is best for baby and mother and is the ideal way to initiate good parent-child relationships. The loving help and support of the father enables the mother to focus on mothering so that together the parents develop close relationships which strengthen the family and thus the whole fabric of society.” It would seem that LLL has found a champion in Hayek.

“I actually think my baby would be very happy to share her milk,” Hayek told ABC News about her decision to breastfeed the hungry baby, who – she claims – was not diseased but who was weak because he hadn’t been nursed by his own mother owing to her lack of milk. Hayek said she plans to instill generosity and kindness in her own daughter, who still receives breast milk from her mother. Hayek also told reporters that her grandmother had encountered a starving baby in similar circumstances and had made the same decision many years ago. Clearly, Hayek’s breasts are a vessel for non-sexual love as well as nourishment.

And according to Time, LLL’s concerns about Hayek’s emergency nursing of the Sierra Leone baby (disease transmission, psychological confusion for the nursing baby, and scarsity of supply for Hayek’s own child) are not legitimate owing to the briefness of the encounter and the physical health of both participants.

So what’s our hangup?

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