The hue and cry over the picture of a breastfeeding woman in a Malayalam magazine Grihalakshmi is taking rounds on social media. The cover picture of a poet, model Gilu Joseph staring defiantly with suckling baby has literally shaken up the progressive state of Kerala. The photograph was published in the fortnightly magazine as a part of “breastfeed freely” campaign ahead of International Women’s Day which falls on March 8.
With vermillion on her forehead, dressed in a saree, the typical mother figure which appeared to have emerged from Malayalam serials is also striking a serious note.
It cannot be ruled out that the magazine might have deliberately chosen the fair model, who was also unmarried, to spearhead the campaign as a part of the marketing strategy. But for a society with an obsession for fair skin, it’s nothing new; it is taken for granted even when Kerala’s Human Development Index ranks high. After all, it has nothing to with HDI but with the mentality of the people. And Malayalis, still live ages behind, quite evident in the physical description of matrimonial ads.
The flak over the alleged sexy, glamourous pose of the breastfeeding mother draws attention to the mere sexualisation of a female body. It pops up when breast was seen nothing other than a sexual organ as conventional society has always demanded ‘perfect’ female figures.
“We don’t breastfeed child like this”, unnamed voices reiterated in the news feeds. The bare breast has shocked other women as well. The women have been taught to feed the child covering the breast with a piece of cloth often hiding the infant. As Sowmya Rajendran rightly points out in The News Minute, “Just as you would not like to eat a plate of biryani when stuffed under a blanket, young babies are not exactly overjoyed at the prospect of needing to have their food under wraps”.
Next, the selective outrage is over the unmarried model who is striking a pose breastfeeding an infant. Trolls are all over the internet with netizens hitting out at the magazine saying that the baby was betrayed. The sheer vulgarity and 'double meaning' intended by the memes only displays the regressive attitude which still thrives in Kerala society. This is not the first instance as actor Parvathy had earlier faced similar backlash over her opinion on a misogynistic film which had Mammootty starring in the lead role. This is simply because they just can’t take it, especially when it comes to women. The patriarchy cannot hold on when a woman openly says matters that defy their norms.
When some point out that a realistic picture could have been better, let’s not forget that the campaign was taken inspiration from Amritha U. The picture of the 23-year-old mother breastfeeding her baby was posted in social media by her husband.
The post invited mixed reactions with people irked over the picture as breastfeeding in public is still considered a taboo in Kerala. In such a scenario, living within the societal constraints, how many mothers will come forward to breastfeed their babies in public (leave alone posing for a picture in a popular magazine) is a matter of question.
Another interesting fact is the counter ‘campaign’ memes posted on Facebook. Some of the trolls even read, “Don’t stare at us, We need to urinate” with the picture of a lady staring at a boy/man urinating in public. One may feel pathetic just realizing the fact that the people can’t even distinguish basic necessities while hanging on the male privileges. They conveniently forget that even women have urinary bladders!
What is wrong with breastfeeding in public? Isn’t feeding a hungry infant a natural process no matter which place you are? No, it’s still a taboo. A case was even filed against the magazine for the indecent representation of the woman. We don’t have a problem with men urinating in open space but with a woman breastfeeding in public. Long live hypocrisy!