PART II: Milk and the Nature of Things: Gender, Race, Class, Species
“The concealment of breastfeeding rests equally, if not more, on squeamishness relating to bodily function: the fact that food comes out of our bodies is an unsettling thought in a culture that rarely remembers food growing on trees”
--Fiona Giles Fresh Milk [*]
“Separate lexicons suggest opposite behaviors and attributes. We eat, but other animals feed. A woman is pregnant or nurses her babies; a nonhuman mammal gestates or lactates. A dead human is a corpse, a dead nonhuman a carcass or meat”
--Carol Adams “Foreword” to Animal Equality[*]
"[W]ithin Linnaeus terminology [Homo sapien], a female characteristic (the lactating mamma) ties humans to brutes, while a traditionally male characteristic (reason) marks our separation”
--Londa Shiebinger "Why Mammals are Called Mammals"[*]
Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” Londa Shiebinger writes:
the female breast ha[s] been a powerful icon within Western cultures, representing both the sublime and bestial in human nature. The grotesque, withered breasts on witches and devils represented temptations of wanton lust, sin of the flesh, and humanity fallen from paradise. The firm spherical breasts of Aphrodite, the Greek ideal, represented an overworldly beauty and virginity.[51d]As we saw in parts one and two, female breasts may represent all that which is most beautiful and divine to humans (i.e. the virgin mother of God) while any digression from their use to titillate males (i.e. lesbian sensuality) or nurture the young (i.e. sexual feelings while nursing) may represent all that is wrong with the world.
I will argue here in section two that the function of the human breast acts as a particularly sensitive subject because it is a site that may not only contest gender identities but that which may also contest modern “white” men’s proximity to “the animal.” Just as gynecomastia, male breast cancer, and male lactation challenge presuppositions about male identity, so does the very biological function of human breasts. As Shiebinger notes, "that breasts have "long been considered less than human, yet simultaneously "more than human."[51f]
Is it to men that nature confided domestic cares? Has she given us breasts to feed our children?”
--Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette quoted in "Why Mammals are Called Mammals"[*]
Experience may tell you that producing milk and nursing youngsters is a job for the female mammal, not the male. But your experience is probably limited, and the potential of biology--and medical technology--is vast.
--Jared Diamond "Father's Milk"[*]
"For those who claim male lactation is "unnatural," I would have to ask: how natural is canned formula from Nestle' or pacifiers made from petrolium byproducts? If milk production in men were truly unnatural, it wouldn't exist.”
--Laura Shanley "Milkmen: Fathers who Breastfeed"[*]
3. Male Lactation: An Unnatural Act?
The identity politics of human breasts come to full fruition in the question of male nipples. As male children we are taught that girls have “boobs” and boys have “chests,’ but the question of male nipples cannot be evaded. For thousands of years breasts have been one of the most significant markers of one’s gender, and hence male breasts and their nipples pose an existential dilemma to those who identify as male. This has never been truer than within the present visual culture that fetishizes the (female) breast.
Take for example the reception of the 2006 Nickelodeon film Barnyard. While critics had diverse opinions on the film, nearly all their reviews shared one particular quip: the protagonist of the film, a steer, had utters. As one late reviewer ranted:
Every single review whether by a critic or just your average John Q. Moviefone seems to be possessed by the urge to point out their extensive knowledge of bovine anatomy and remind the reader that male cattle do not, in fact, have udders.While filmgoers often suspend disbelief during films, especially animated features, the audiences could not suspend “the truth” about male anatomy. And, of course, there is also the double standard. Female pigs (who have ten or more nipples) and chickens (who don’t have any mammary glands) are often represented with a pair of giant breasts in cartoons yet male reviewers say nothing—they probably are not even conscious of these transgressions. The existence of DD breasts on a chicken somehow seem quite natural, but udders on a male, no! (But if male goats can grow udders, why not steers?)[*]