Saturday, February 4, 2012
Dr Karleen D Gribble BRurSc, PhD, University of Western Sydney
Locked Bag 1797
Penrith NSW 2751 Australia
University of Western Sydney
College of Health and Science
School of Nursing and Midwifery
Building ER, Parramatta Campus
Telephone: +61 0 43 1118485
Dear Facebook Management,
Breastfeeding is a social activity, something that happens within groups and in a variety of locations and circumstances. As such, it is not surprising that women might share photographs of themselves breastfeeding with others on Facebook since Facebook is about connecting people with one another including the sharing of their lives and experiences with one another. Breastfeeding is an extremely important part of the lives of many women and sharing photographs is one way that women show how important breastfeeding is to them and how proud they are of their achievements in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can be difficult for women to achieve.
Breastfeeding is also a learned skill. It is something that is best learnt about over time and through repeated exposure to seeing other women breastfeeding and listening to them talk about their experiences. On Facebook, mothers share with one another and with others their experiences of breastfeeding. By doing so they are helping one another as “friends” do. This builds community and Facebook is a wonderful conduit through which this “community service” can be provided. The photographs that women share on Facebook is just a part of the way that women share with one another but a necessary one, as the old adage goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words.” Women who share photographs of themselves breastfeeding are doing a good thing.
Every day in Australia women who are breastfeeding their infants and young children in public places are told to that they are behaving indecently and that they should cover up, leave or stop breastfeeding. Sometimes they are refused service or have their employment terminated because they are breastfeeding. When this happens to women in Australia there are options open to them; they can complain to the anti-discrimination board in the state in which they live or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission because such actions may constitute illegal sexual discrimination. The person who has refused service or treated a woman poorly for breastfeeding in public may have done so because they thought that breastfeeding is something that should not be seen, that it is indecent behaviour, that it is akin to having sex in public. However, the law disagrees. Someone who has sex in public can be charged with being engaged in an indecent act in public, they may be found to have broken the law. In contrast a woman cannot be charged with indecency for breastfeeding in public because breastfeeding is a protected activity, to discriminate against a women who is breastfeeding (or expressing milk) in public is to break the law. Facebook seems to have confused having sex with breastfeeding. Just as it is not possible for a woman to be charged with acting indecently for breastfeeding in public it is not possible for a photograph of a woman breastfeeding to be pornographic.
Facebook may be in an interesting legal position. Facebook’s removal of service to women in Australia who have included photographs of themselves breastfeeding or expressing milk may be a type of illegal sexual discrimination. It would be of great interest to the media and the general public should such a case ever be brought against Facebook.
I would add my voice to those requesting that Facebook cease harassing breastfeeding women, removing photographs of breastfeeding and removing their service from breastfeeding women.
Dr Karleen D Gribble BRurSc, PhD