Breasts shouldn’t be shown in public because they are sexual, just like penises.
In fact, the two are not comparable. Penises are genitals—that is, they are part of the reproductive system. Breasts are not genitals, because they are not part of the reproductive system. Scientifically speaking, breasts are erogenous zones—that is, an area of heightened sensitivity that can be stimulated to achieve sexual arousal. Genitals, since their primary functions are sexual, are legally considered obscene and cannot be shown in public. Erogenous zones are not primarily sexual and thus are not obscene.
Furthermore, if you really believed that breasts and penises should be treated alike, you would have to treat fake breasts designed to fill the role served by real breasts (which is all that pacifiers and bottles are) the same way you treat fake penises designed to fill the role served by real penises (in other words, dildos, butt plugs, and vibrators). If you don’t consider bottles sex toys, you don’t really consider breasts to be obscene.
But you admit breasts can be used for sexual arousal! Doesn’t that make them inappropriate to display in public?
Mouths, necks, and fingertips, are also erogenous zones frequently used for sexual arousal; however, like breasts, their primary biological functions are not sexual. Unless you want to argue that none of those should be shown in public, either, this isn’t a valid reason to declare breasts inappropriate for public view.
Incidentally, men’s nipples are not only erogenous zones but structurally no different than women’s nipples. They are likewise attached to breast tissue, which is why men can get breast cancer. In fact, there have been documented instances of men who have managed to breastfeed, yet men are allowed to show their nipples without any outcry. There is no logical reason why men’s bare breasts and women’s bare breasts should be held to different standards of public decency.
But breasts are “secondary sex characteristics,” doesn’t that make them sexual?
A secondary sex characteristic is simply any non-reproductive-system feature that distinguishes males from females within a species. In humans, that includes beards, Adam’s apples, and even height differences between men and women, none of which anyone would call sexual. Thus, simply being a secondary sex characteristic isn’t enough to make breasts sexual, either.
But teenage boys or pervy men could see you and get aroused, doesn’t that make it sexual?
No. Legally, conduct is only lewd if the person acting actually intends to arouse onlookers, not just whether the person who sees it is aroused. This is also common sense, as almost anything can be a turn-on for someone passing by. Foot fetishists consider women in sandals provocative. Orthodox Jews consider a woman’s arm above the elbow provocative. Pubescent teenagers consider just about anything that moves provocative. However, a woman wearing short sleeves and sandals walking past a group of teenage boys isn’t inherently sexual nor inappropriate for public view.
My intent when breastfeeding is to feed my child, not to make some stranger horny. If someone walking by finds my breastfeeding arousing, that’s no more my problem than a teenage boy’s being aroused by a pretty girl walking past is that girl’s problem.
Urinating/defecating is natural, too, but you can’t do that in public.
Urination and defecation in public are banned for two reasons: because feces and urine are unsanitary and because the act of urination or defecation require the genital area to be exposed. Breastmilk is not unsanitary, nor does breastfeeding expose any genitals. Thus, the reasons for banning public urination/defecation don’t apply to breastfeeding.
If breastfeeding is such an “intimate” thing, like I hear a lot, why do you want to do it in public in the first place?
Hugging and kissing are also intimate, but no one considers it inappropriate to hug or kiss one’s child in public. Intimate acts are just acts that foster emotional closeness between people. Emotional closeness can happen anywhere.
Also, this particular intimate act provides free, convenient infant food. If my child is hungry while we’re out in public, I think wanting to feed him then and there is a perfectly logical reaction.
There’s no need to breastfeed in public to feed a baby. You can just pump/give a bottle.
There’s also no need for you to buy coffee at Starbucks, because you could always make some at home and take it with you. We all do things in public that we don’t “need” to do, but as long as those things are appropriate for the public sphere, whether we “need” to do them or not doesn’t matter.
Additionally, breastmilk from the source is free, convenient, and doesn’t require lugging extra equipment or taking extra time to extract the milk and feed the baby separately. Formula and pumped milk don’t have all those advantages. There’s no reason for me to inconvenience myself in order to avoid doing something appropriate in public.
Once babies are eating solids, they don’t need to be breastfed in public. They don’t need the milk for nutrition.
Children don’t need to eat meat for nutrition, either, but they’re still allowed to eat it in public. See the previous answer regarding “needs.”
Breastfeeding where children can see is inappropriate. They shouldn’t be exposed to that.
It’s impossible to breastfeed where no children can see, since breastfeeding requires the participation of a child. If it were inappropriate for children to see breasts, then no one could ever breastfeed, publicly or privately, because the child being fed would see them in either event. Thus, unless you believe that all breastfeeding is inappropriate, you have already admitted that children seeing breasts isn’t a problem.
But how can I explain that to my children when they ask what you’re doing?
Tell them I’m feeding my baby. If they ask further, tell them that human mommies can make milk for their babies just like cows do. It’s a simple but complete answer.
Why can’t you be considerate and use a cover/go somewhere private?
Because there’s no reason to. As already proven above, there’s nothing inappropriate about breastfeeding in public. Would you ask someone eating a burger in the food court or someone talking on a cell phone in the parking lot to either cover up or go somewhere else? Of course not, because they’re doing nothing that’s inappropriate or infringes on anyone else. Would they be rude or inconsiderate to refuse such a request? Again, of course not—if anything, the person asking would be rude and inconsiderate for harassing them for no reason in the first place. Since breastfeeding in public is likewise neither inappropriate nor intrusive, the same logic applies.
Breastfeeding in public is exhibitionist and immodest.
Tell that to the Puritans, who despite their exacting standards of modesty saw nothing unusual or sinful about women breastfeeding outside the home. Or to the Christians of the Middle Ages, who required women to cover far more than our society but commonly hung icons of Mary breastfeeding Jesus with her entire breast exposed in their churches. Or even to observant Muslims in the present day—many women who fully cover their bodies, hair, and faces to comply with Islamic modesty rules still breastfeed in public. The idea of breastfeeding being immodest is less than a century old—it didn’t become commonplace in the Western world until formula became the norm, never became commonplace outside the Western world, and is no longer commonplace in most of the Western world today.
In any case, this is irrelevant. Women are allowed to walk around in skimpy bikinis in public. There is no law against immodesty as long as it isn’t obscene—and as there are no genitals involved, breastfeeding isn’t.
But I don’t want to see that! It makes me uncomfortable.
You have the right to feel uncomfortable. Likewise, I have the right to feel uncomfortable when I hear people preaching on street corners or see men wearing socks with sandals. But unless you want to also ban everything else from the public sphere that could possibly make anyone uncomfortable, this argument carries no weight.