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June 01, 2006

Storm in a D Cup: the Great Breastfeeding Boycott of LiveJournal

I've written about this in LiveJournal as well, so apologies to people who see this twice.

LiveJournal has decided that images of breastfeeding that show any part of the nipple or areola cannot be used as default icons on the site. Here are three examples to give you a sense of what I mean; you will see that they are unlikely to trouble your office censors. In all three of these cases, LiveJournal threatened users with suspension for using these pictures as default icons.

it's the BVM breastfeeding, natch I can't actually see the nipple in this one turning off your pics was a good idea because this one is really depraved

If you're thinking 'oh, it's all right because they're only restricting default icons', or 'they're being reasonable by only restricting pictures with visible aereolas', I'd like to disagree. Many women are put off breastfeeding, or discouraged or embarrassed about doing it in public, because they believe that people will be offended. The position LiveJournal has taken is one that only works if you believe that breastfeeding is a little bit dirty; all right in private, or under a blanket, but not where people might see.

But there is only one way to feed babies properly, and that's breastfeeding. Artificial feeding is a poor substitute. Poorer, younger women, and those with less education, are less likely to breastfeed, and if they start, they're more likely to stop quickly. And one reason for that is that they don't feed comfortable about breastfeeding; they don't see women around them doing it, and they don't see positive images of breastfeeding. Lawmakers are beginning to understand this; California, where Six Apart is located, has express legal provision exempting breastfeeding from obscenity legislation. The NHS explains "What we need is an environment where women of all ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds are comfortable with feeding their baby anywhere and at any time".

To make that vision a reality, we have to challenge those who attack it. It's no good to decide that this time it's trivial. Six Apart made a positive decision to go after a pile of entirely unobjectionable pictures of breastfeeding babies. I wouldn't have been remotely as angry if they'd always banned nipples and said 'sorry, breastfeeders, just bad luck'; though they'd still be wrong. But they specifically altered their terms of service from disallowing 'sexual or graphically violent' icons to disallowing nudity to crack down on breastfeeding icons.

Six Apart think these icons are 'inappropriate', and they're wrong. I can't take my money away from them, because long ago I bought a permanent account. And of course I'm a long-standing (paid) Movable Type user.

LiveJournal users are protesting by deleting their journals, just for a day, on 6 June. If you're a Six Apart user (that's Movable Type, TypePad or LiveJournal), you might want to write them a letter (though be careful, because many letters of complaint have been flagged as spam because they contain the word 'breast'). You might also want to stand up and use your real name, as I have here, to show that it isn't just an issue about a few anonymous bloggers.

Those of you who remember when my children were babies will remember that I was a militant breastfeeder, especially with my second child. I'm long past the nurse-in stage now, but I remember the process of moving from worrying that I'd offend people, to worrying that people would be offended, to believing that it was critical to breastfeed wherever I happened to be when my baby was hungry.

I still believe that, and I believe that I need to be one of those who are standing up and being counted. Just this once.

Posted by Alison Scott at June 1, 2006 11:18 AM


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