Well, there have been a lot of posts here that have brought up good points. Some were points I hadn't considered before, or things I hadn't thought about exactly that way before.
I appreciate those of you who have very graciously and gently educated me and allowed me to be exposed to different ideas in a polite way, even if you strongly disagreed with something I said.
I started this thread basically trying to understand where people were coming from, and probably also to explore why it triggered such strong feelings in me when people said things like, "I should be able to nurse topless anywhere I want to and nobody should be able to say a thing about it" or "nobody can tell me how to feed my child--that's rude, horrible and abusive!"
Now that I'm thinking about it more, I think that when people make comments about how horrible and rude and inhumane and inconsiderate it is for anybody to set limits or make requests of people about how they feed their children, ever, I think that makes me feel uncomfortable because, in an indirect way, they are talking about me.
Not about breastfeeding--I don't think I've ever said anything to anyone about nursing, except to encourage them to do it. But I have had to set limits on what people feed their children in my home because I had a child with severe food allergies (reactions triggered by even trace amounts of her allergens), and it was one of the most difficult and uncomfortable things I've ever had to do.
I felt like a horrible, mean, intolerant person doing it, but I felt it was necessary to protect my child, so I did it. Some people were offended or thought I was crazy and overreacting, and I had to deal with that.
My daughter has now grown out of her allergies, so this is no longer necessary. But, still, whenever I hear a comment about how terrible it is that anyone would ever try to limit where or how someone feeds their child, it stings a bit. Even though I know it's a different situation.
We all come from different backgrounds and are going through different processes.
Me, I come from a background where most people dress extremely modestly, to the point that most mainstream people probably think it looks wierd. Where breastfeeding is the norm, but mothers pretty much all nurse covered with a blanket every time unless there are no men in the room (if they nurse in the same room with men at all). Where spanking is a primary mode of discipline.
I used to think strictness and spanking were the way to go with raising kids. Now I take a very gentle, respectful, as non-punitive as possible approach with my kids. I used to think spanking was required, and now I think it's not a good tool to have in my parenting toolbox at all.
I now have a completely different attitude and approach to parenting than I used to, and it's still growing and morphing. Being exposed to ideas, asking questions, and engaging in discussions has been a big part of this change. The mothering.com message boards have been hugely instrumental in that.
It's very nice to have a relatively safe place to ask questions and engage in discussion, and try out different arguments to see if they hold water. Sometimes when we say something aloud or in type, the very act of voicing it and seeing people's responses can help us to know whether it's valid or not.
Some of the things I said in this thread were pretty stupid, I know. Like the decorative screen in the restaurant thing, for instance. Even so, I appreciate having had the opportunity to voice the thought and have people interact with it, so I could realize it was stupid instead of just never voicing it and still having the nagging thought in the back of my head, "Well, could
that be a viable solution?" for who knows how long.
I still don't understand how or why exposing the entire breast to nurse would ever be actually necessary. I can understand that it might be easier or more comfortable for some women, but I don't understand why it would be significantly more so.
If someone can explain why it would ever actually be necessary and unavoidable for a woman to expose the entire breast while nursing, I would be interested in hearing the reasons. I can learn.
I see why using a lightweight blanket or shawl to nurse should not always be the standard, although I guess some part of me still believes that anyone really COULD do it if they really wanted to and were willing to work with their child to teach them to leave it on, and use a lightweight enough blanket so that heat wasn't such a huge issue.
I do understand now (as I didn't a few years ago) that many women can be just as well covered and just as discreet (or is it spelled discrete?) without a blanket as with one, and that blankets sometimes draw more attention than nursing blanketless. I have even gotten brave enough to NIP without a blanket myself in some situations (though not in others).
I still don't quite get the "it's not wrong or shameful, so we shouldn't have to hide it" argument. I mean, I get it about nursing. I totally get it about nursing. Nursing should not have to be hidden, ever.
I just don't get it about breasts. I mean, there are a lot of things that are not wrong, shameful or sexual in our culture that we just don't show publicly.
I could list off tons of them, all of which everyone would say are bad comparisons (because, I mean, even comparing wearing a shirt that shows some breast while not nursing to showing some breast while nursing was deemed offensive on this thread), so I won't. Suffice it to say that hiding something or trying to do it where other people don't have to get a good long look at it doesn't necessarily mean we think it's wrong or shameful or sexual.
In general, we hide our breasts. I'm just still not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. I think most if not all women can hide at least the majority of their breasts and still nurse with only incidental or momentary breast exposure, if they want to.
Honestly, I'm very supportive of breastfeeding women in general. I'm always encouraging people to nurse or telling them they don't have to go in the other room to nurse in my home unless they want to, or talking about how wonderful and unique it is to be nursing a toddler (nursing this long is a first experience for me with my third child). I blog about nursing my toddler quite a bit, which is actually quite uncomfortable for me since people I know are squeamish about nursing read my blog. But I'm willing to stretch myself in that area because I do think it helps to normalize and promote nursing a toddler.
I can't really imagine myself saying anything to anyone about the way they were nursing, with the possible exception of a situation where they were taking their shirt off or maybe if they were exposing an entire breast while people I knew were uncomfortable with even "hidden" nursing were present in my home. Even then, I probably wouldn't say anything. But I'd be dying inside if I was in a situation where a friend was fully exposing her breast in front of people I knew would be so uncomfortable with it, and I was the hostess responsibe for everyone's comfort, but I didn't know what to do or say.
I understand that some women need to expose more of their breasts than others to nurse, even though I don't (yet?) understand the need to expose the entire breast. If I see a woman with more of her breast showing than I would feel comfortable with, I generally don't even think twice about it.
I would possibly be tempted to judge a woman nursing completely topless, but, you know, I'd probably actually start to judge her and then think of a thread I read here in Lactivism and smile instead. I'd wonder if, like the situation I'm thinking of, the poor woman just got so frustrated and overwhelmed trying unsuccessfully to latch the baby that she ripped her shirt off even though it was something she normally wouldn't do.
Knowing that there actually could exist a situation where someone was nursing without a shirt for a reason like that would make me less likely to judge her, and that lowered likelihood to judge would be completely from reading this board. So, people, your time and energy is not wasted by posting hee.
But (and this applies more to interactions here on the message boards, too) it's the attitudes and motivations that affect my opinions of people's actions more than anything else, I think. That's where my posts about courtesy and respect come in.
If I just saw a woman nursing with a lot of her breast exposed, I would probably be more likely to assume she had a good reason.
But imagine that a friend came to me and said, "I was visiting Mary at her house, and her grandpa dropped by to give her something. He always looks so uncomfortable when anyone nurses a baby near him, you know? So I decided I'd give him something to be uncomfortable about. I sat where he'd be sure to get the best view and then I pulled out my breast and tried to make sure he saw as much of it as possible while I nursed my babe. It was great watching him squirm! Maybe that'll teach him not to be such a prude."
My response to her wouldn't be, "Wow, that was great! You really helped advance the cause of nursing mothers." It would be more like, "Wow. That was an incredibly rude and disrespectful thing to do to Mary's grandfather in her home. I wouldn't be surprised if she never invites you over again."
My reaction would be NOT because of how much breast she did or didn't show, but because of the attitudes and reasons she communicated for having done what she did.
If someone has a good reason why they need to nurse topless or expose their entire breast, I don't have a problem with them doing it. But if they say they're doing it because they enjoy making people uncomfortable or because they just don't care, then it seems rude and disrespectful to me.
However, the arguments about social change actually have me reconsidering this idea somewhat. At least in general. I still think I'd be hurt and offended if someone I considered a friend decided to unnecessarily take off her shirt to nurse in my home in front of my husband or father, knowing he was uncomfortable, just to try to teach him (or me) some kind of lesson.
Anyway, like I said before, thank you for all of your posts. I know I'll be thinking about them for days, if not longer.