TL;DR – The person who took the photo perhaps?
A photo of a mother breastfeeding on an MRT train went viral recently. The photo shows a lady, identified as a certain Cheryl Lee, seated beside her husband. The photo shows one side of her dress pulled down and her left breast exposed. The photo shows Ms Lee’s young daughter suckling on Ms Lee’s exposed breast. The photo was apparently widely circulated on social media and various local forums. It then made it to STOMP.
There were comments in support of Ms Lee, and comments criticising her. Some netizens felt that the image was provocative. They insisted that even if her child was hungry, the mother should have at least made an attempt to cover up more. Those in support said that breastfeeding is a mother’s right.
Ms Lee has taken to social media to respond to the whole saga. She posted this on her Facebook.
Essentially, she said she’s not bothered that the photo has gone viral. She insists there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public. Why did she not cover up? She explained:
“I have a nursing cover, but my girl will cry and struggle when I use it. Those who suggest using a cover should try eating or drinking under a cover and see if you like it or not. I put my baby first so as long as she is comfortable and feeding well, I don’t really care what others think.”
She has a point. As a mother, it’s understandable that the welfare and comfort of her daughter is her foremost concern. That said, there is a case to be made that there are social norms that should be respected. True, social norms are often illogical. But they are there. And they help us maintain some order in society.
A comment on Facebook explains it this way:
“At the extreme end, some groups argue that clothes are entirely a weird unnatural human construct and nudist colonies are the right way to go. On the other extreme some believe that even ankles and faces should be covered up.
The balance between those extreme is where most societies, including ours, find peace. Not all will agree with it ; I’m sure there are nudists and hyper-conservatives in Singapore who think the current balance is wrong for different reasons.
So while I emphasise with the mothers who see breasts in one way, I hope you can also emphasise with those who see it differently. And also recognise that today, our society has chosen a particular balance between those extremes that tries to balance and respect the wishes of differing groups : you can breastfeed in public but try to cover up. If you really cannot for some reason, so be it, but I think society today would prefer that such instances are the exception not the norm. Again, maybe this isn’t the balance you would choose if you could design society, but it is the balance society has chosen given the differing views. (emphasis ours)”
Indeed, we live in a society of differing views and opinions. As long as it’s not harmful to any group, or any individual, we should try our best to meet the social norms. So in this case, while Ms Lee is correct in saying that she has the right as a mother to breastfeed her child in public, even without covering her daughter so that her daughter is more comfortable, could she have done something differently so that she didn’t go so far from the social norm?
For instance, could she have done it in a less conspicuous area of the train. Was that not possible? From the photo that went viral, the train didn’t seem to be packed. If her husband moved to her left side and she turned a little to the left, her act of breastfeeding her daughter would probably be a lot less open to criticism.
As for the people who are more conservative and had their delicate sensitivities offended by Ms Lee’s maternal act, perhaps they can do their part by not looking. As Ms Lee said:
“It isn’t that hard to just look away if you don’t like to see a baby drinking milk.”
It’s not as if Ms Lee’s act of breastfeeding her daughter openly on MRT harmed society or any particular individual. But you know what’s the worst part of this whole incident? The acts of taking the photo breastfeeding her daughter and posting it online.
And who should receive the most criticism in this incident? The person who took the photo and posted it online.