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Discreet, Discrete, Euphemisms and Breasts

Nursing Mother with Red Blanket by Zelda Fitzgerald

I want to get a few things clear...because there seems to be some confusion about discrete versus discreet, euphemisms, and breasts. It all stems from this breastfeeding debate sparked by Mill Baher (yes, that's intentional).

1. Discreet versus discrete

Discrete = separate, or, in math, no calculus.

= judicious in conduct, prudent, modest and unobtrusive

As you see above, discreet can mean modest and unobtrustive, but the dictionary---although it defines those words---can't define the varying subjective interpretations of what qualifies as "modest" and "unobtrusive."

That's why the euphemisms are a problem. And interfering in the discussion about breasts.

2. Euphemisms

Opponents to breastfeeding in public enjoy employing words such as "obscene" and "offensive" and "private" as well as phrases such as "whip it out" and "boob hanging out" and "private moment between mother and child" and "nursing should be discreet."

Let's focus on that last one, shall we?

They don't mean discreet. They mean don't do it. They don't want to see it or know about it. They want it away from their mind, not their eyes, their mind. That's because of skeeves.

Modesty is a red herring, as are the rest of the synonyms for discreet. It really is about the act of breastfeeding. It really is about the skeeves some people get when they think about a baby nursing at a woman's breast.

But they don't want to make it about them; they want to make it about her.

You know, there is historical precedent for this, but that doesn't make it cool.

People can talk about alleged exposed breasts, discreet, and blankets all they want, but the truth is that a blanket isn't very discreet. It won't stop your mind from wandering into "milk flowing from woman's breast to baby's mouth." You will know there is a baby under that blanket. Plus, because it looks kind of odd, it is more likely to attract your attention, which will, of course, lead your mind to nursing.

Further, although some babies might not mind the blanket over them some of the time, I've never met one personally. Most babies object to the blanket, and we all know how babies object: vehemently. I don't blame them; it's dark, stuffy, gets hot, and blocks the view of the world around them, about which they are immensely curious. I wouldn't end up very modest if I depended upon a blanket.

Regardless, as I said already, blankets, modesty and the breast are red herrings here, anyway.

These things are all euphemisms for the real problem: the act of breastfeeding. The breast isn't the issue. Knowing that a baby is suckling at the breast is the issue. Because of skeeves.

I think until some people are honest enough to say, "It doesn't matter how discreet you are or what you do to try to hide it, if I see you and realize you are breastfeeding, I will skeeve out."

I think breastfeeding skeeves out a lot of people.

I understand skeeves; I get really skeevy about a lot of things.

People walking through my house in shoes. That skeeves me out. Seriously, do you know where those shoes have been and what they've walked in?

Public bathrooms skeeve me out, big time. Especially the floors. If only you knew the lengths I went to in order to ensure that no part of me or my stuff other than the soles of my shoes (see above) touched the floors of a bathroom...well, you'd laugh. It must be a real sight. (That said, do you think I want to take my baby in there to nurse? I'd be choking back gags and hurls.)

People who walk out of bathrooms without washing their hands. Skeeve skeeve skeeve skeeve!!!!

Celery skeeves me. Stringy vegetable that tastes like that. It's just wrong. Skeeve ick.

That rotten dishrag smell on restaurant tables. Skeeve.

Baby poo diapers. Skeeve!

Touching, cooking, cutting, dealing with raw meat. Skeeve! (I do not cook meat.)

Meat with bones. SKEEVE!!! (One of my most Horrible Moments was an Important Dinner where the gracious hostess proudly served each of us perfectly cooked---and whole---fancy birds. Dead fancy birds skinned, marinated, cooked and served on a plate. I about died.)

I could go on and on. We all have skeeves. Did you agree with my list? Yes? No? Yes and no?

See, skeeves are irrational and subjective, personal. They are personal problems.

Let me be clear...there is nothing wrong with serving roasted pheasant for dinner. It's generally agreed in our culture that this is a delicacy and ought to be appreciated and enjoyed. No, no, the problem is mine. The skeeves are mine, thus the problem is mine. It doesn't matter that somewhere out there people in the world or even people I know agree with these skeeves. It's still my problem.

Let me be even more clear...there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding a baby, even at a table in a restaurant (especially at a table in a restaurant). It's generally agreed in our culture that breast is best, and that breastfeeding is a great way to feed a baby. Feeding a baby is not something private, intimate, or shameful. It's not something that needs to go into another room, a public bathroom, around the corner or away from public. This applies whether it is feeding from a bottle...or a breast.

If it disturbs you (skeeves you) the skeeves are yours. Thus, the problem is yours. Therefore, the easy solution is...look away. Exercise mind control. Ponder more important issues, such as an impending recession or inflation.

That's what I did with the bird. I focused away from it, paid attention to dinner conversation, and ate the vegetables around it. Then, I discreetly swapped plates with my husband. I didn't stand up and rant that the hostess ought to have known I was vegetarian and was skeeved by dead animals on my plate. I didn't demand to have all the dead birds removed to accommodate my skeeves.

That's for the following reason that I made in a comment at Velveteen Mind in response to a man who claimed it was a private act, full of exposure of intimate body parts when women "pulled off their shirts" and therefore made him uncomfortable
James, why? What's the uncomfortable part? You have many rights, but yours don't trump the nursing mother's. I know...not fair. But fair is a place for ferris wheels and cotton's not a state of being.

That's adulthood. Sometimes we swallow our discomfort when we realize it is irrational and not defensible against another person's needs.

I also said

The people who are uncomfortable about women breastfeeding in public and wish a woman to be more “discreet” by finding a “private location” in which to breastfeed?


It’s not my obligation as a person—much less a breastfeeding mother—to make sure everyone around me is not uncomfortable or unhappy about anything I am doing.

Do I care about other people around me?

Of course. I care. I am considerate. I do my best to respect those around me.

But not to ridiculous levels, and expecting me to bend over backwards, awkwardly, uncomfortably, ridiculously is past the level of reasonable.

I will put my shopping cart in the carrel so it doesn’t hit your car.

I will not cower in a public bathroom to feed my child.

I will let a person with two items ahead of me in the shopping line.

I will not juggle a heavy baby for half an hour while leaning against a wall around the corner of a public place, while my friends, family, husband, whoever waits for me to return.

I will not play loud music or run a buzz saw at midnight.

I will sit quietly at my restaurant table, in my airplane seat, on the bench at the park and so forth and nurse my child. I guarantee you 95% of the time nobody even knew.

I’ve never seen a woman—and I’ve been around plenty—be anything other than as discreet as possible, even at a playgroup with only other moms.

It’s not about how long it takes to get around the corner. It’s not about respecting that some people find it “offensive” or feel “uncomfortable.” It’s not about whether a boob is for prurient interest or more practical purpose of feeding. It’s not about whether people ought to have children at all or even out in public.

It’s about a mother taking care of her child. The best place for a mother to nurse is where she feels most comfortable. When the mother feels comfortable, the milk flows well and lets down properly. Anxiety and discomfort inhibit that. The former case is good for the baby, the latter is not. Good for the baby is what it is about.

You want a mom to breastfeed in privacy?

Then give it to her.

Mind your own business.

The bottom line is this: just because you know about something, just because you see it, just because it is public...this doesn't per se make it your business. Just because something affects you doesn't mean you have some sort of right or say as to what goes on. You aren't entitled to not have to deal with something that makes you uncomfortable. You aren't entitled to demand someone do something bad for them to stem the tide of your skeeves.

You are entitled to act like a grown-up, acknowledge you feel uncomfortable, and geez, sometimes? That's just the way it is.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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Christine said…
i heart julie pippert.

YES YES and YES!!!!!

Wonderful post and right ON!
Anonymous said…
Julie, you are on a tear this week. All your posts have been so fabulous I keep intending to come back and make intelligent comments. However, time contstraints being what they are, I'm facing reality: I won't get around to it. So here's a lump sum YAY JULIE! You're doing a great job! Thanks for using your words.
Lawyer Mama said…

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

Way to go, babe. You hit this one out of the park.
Anonymous said…
Thank you -- this is SO SO SO perfect. I am so sick of "of course I support breastfeeding, BUT.." No. No but. Just butt out!
Triple amen! You nailed this one.
Exactly what the other people said. I can't say it any better. This was perfect!
Magpie said…
Ditto the above. You've written a great post.

This was my favorite part: "You want a mom to breastfeed in privacy? Then give it to her. Mind your own business."
Anonymous said…
This is awesome:

"You want a mom to breastfeed in privacy?

Then give it to her.

Mind your own business."
painted maypole said…
everyone is writing such great posts about this, and even though I first thought "oh, here we go again" I found myself loving your post, with such great points. It's THEM that have the problem, not nursing mothers, and so they just need to get over it. And yes, I so agree, no mother I know has ever "Whipped it out" to feed their child. They do it carefully and so as to draw little attention to themselves, and show as little skin as possible. I was SO SO lucky to never run into problems with this. I knew I was lucky then, but after all this hullabaloo I realize it even more. No one ever gave me crap, or even a weird look. ever. lucky me.
Kyla said…
This was perfect. Great one.

And also, I don't touch raw meat OR eat meat with bones. Blech! LOL.
Anonymous said…
This was, by far, the best post I have read on this issue. Just fabulous. And that's not only because we share so many of the same gross-outs (meat and celery - eww...)
Anonymous said…
While I think that "skeeve" is kind of a silly word to refer to it, I think you've nailed the issue: growing up and getting over the demons in your mind.

Good post.
Anonymous said…
Hell. Yes.

This post makes me want to breast-feed Hailey in the middle of mall right now.

Except that she's three and that kind of skeeves me out.
Unknown said…
thank, that was about as well thought out as it can possibly be - game on, girl!
Mad said…
Ya, what everyone else said. BTW, I have never heard the word "skeeves" before.
Liv said…
Get 'em, girl. My son would have been the darling of breastfeeding haters everywhere because he refused to latch on "in public." He'd only do it at home, in our car, or some other dimly lit quiet space. Wonder how he'll feel about this debate as an adult?! :)
Bea said…
Yes - this is exactly the post I've been trying to formulate in my mind, and failing.

Thank you for writing it so perfectly.

(And I too have never heard the word "skeeves," which leant this post a kind of idiosyncratic charm, especially in light of the whole discreet/discrete vocab lesson at the beginning.)
Excellent. One of the best posts yet on thsi subject. Thank you for putting it all so clearly and reasonably.
S said…
Fantastic post, Julie. You have an agile, quick mind. And damn can you use your words!
Julie Pippert said…
My dear lovely is it that we have not yet exported the word "skeeves?" It's a good export! It's so much more delicious than "disgust." It's got a sort of onomatopoeia about it: you know it's about feeling disgusted but you can see the hairs on the nape of the neck stand on end and cause a shudder that begins between the shoulder blades, moves up the neck through the scalp and ends up sinking like a stone in the stomach.

Here, my gift to you: skeeves. Use it well. :)

You may also have "chaps my hide" to be colorfully qualified along a scale of degree of chapping, i.e.:

chapped ash black = worst kind of mad, to that point past fury

Chapped ripe red = fury

and on through the color wheel. Be rules with colorful expressions. :)

So on this topic? It chaps my hide white. LOL
Julie Pippert said…
Wow, the ringing endorsements are overwhelming. I was out getting my asbestos undies and flak jacket ready for comments. LOL

De, thanks. Consider your commenting all covered. :)

PM, glad I was able to have a fresh approach and keep it interesting. I do hesitate often to step into a topic that so many are covering, and really well, for this reason. But this post just flew off my fingertips; could not help myself LOL.

Thanks to all for the great comments. :)
Catherine said…
I don't understand how the sexuality/modest issues with breasts have gotten so blown out of proportion that everyone seems to have forgotten the most fundamental thing in the universe:

The baby needs to eat.
If the baby does not eat, the baby will die. Or, in the short term, scream its head off.
My breast were made to feed the baby, and are full of milk.


How can there be a debate over whether or not WE FEED BABIES?!?!?!?!??!
Catherine said…
And here's something else. Breasts are important in the following order:

1. As a part of MY body.
2. Created with the obvious express (no pun intended) use of nourishing babies physically, emotionally, socially.
3. For the occassional attraction of men.

Guys, you are wa-ay down in the breast priority list. Please do not think that your breast related issues/needs are number one because they are NOT even close. If breasts were created for you, then you could have an opinion on who used them and where. But, contrary to the media, they were not (see above list).

(Julie, you know I'm not yelling at you, right? I'm agreeing with you...yelling at...I don't know..."them.")
kaliroz said…
Wonderful post. And I love the use of skeeves. It's a silly word ... but it's also rather silly people get bent out of shape over a women feeding her baby. Well, it's more than silly ... but I'm attempting to curb my use of curse words. :)
I echo the accolades above.

I laughed about your comment on shoes. It's a fact that every pair of shoes contains trace particles of feces on their bottoms. One time at a McDonalds we saw a woman stand her toddler on the counter while she was waiting for her order. My wife got so feaked out she screamed, "You can't stand your baby up there. Don't you know there's poop on those shoes!"

You should have seen the look on the manager's face. It was priceless.
NotSoSage said…
This is why I have such a girl-crush oon you. You ROCK.

BTW, two points of interest. I'm Canadian AND I've heard skeeves before (though in my circle we tend to use "squeebled out") AND I had a baby who 90% of the time happily nursed under a blanket. But the NOISES! The smacking, slurping, gurgling, cooing...there was no way anyone could be oblivious to what was going on under it. :)
Annie said…
What a fantasic post! You have so eloquently put the same argument I rather clumsily pointed out in my own blog.

I've seen comments rage on other posts about this - oddly the naysayers are eerily silent in here - I love it!
Great post, Julie!

Yes, among the things that skeeve me out are

- kissing people with snotty noses

- seeing Harrison Ford still taking hits to the face in a movie (he just looks so frail these days)

- empty swimming pools

- stirrup pants

All, except possibly the first, are my problems to deal with. And I know my mother means no harm with her stirrup pants fetish. It's just the way things are.

Again, great post.
Anonymous said…
I sucked at breastfeeding. Me breastfeeding--totally topless screaming/crying hysterically with milk shooting like geysers from my breasts while desperately shoving said geysing breasts into the moving target mouth of my infant. But, I have never witnessed such a spectacle by any other breastfeeding mother. I really can't believe that anyone could find a mother feeding her child obscene.
Anonymous said…
"You want a mom to breastfeed in privacy?

Then give it to her.

Mind your own business."

That says it all right there!
Bravo, Julie.
Aliki2006 said…
I hadn't heard of the word "skeeve" either and it's so deliciously appropriate that I'll use it from now on.

Great post, Julie. I agree with the others--you are on such a roll!
TZT said…
Fantastic post!

If only, if ONLY more people could recognize when things were really about them, instead of something outside of them, what a wonderful world it could be.

And I like skeeves too - it sounds exactly like what it means, and with more elegance than the heebie-jeebies or the willies.
Anonymous said…
I think I love you. ;-) (In as non-creepy a way as humanly possible, of course!)

And AMEN to the meat on bones!!
Sukhaloka said…
Came here from BubandPie's blog. Awesome, awesome post, lady! You rock!

This also ties in with the idiotic concept of "women provoke men to rape them." WTF??? As you say - it's their skeeve(LOVE that word. :D)

There's a reason why we aren't animals. We have some semblance of control over our desires. These people need to learn that.
Carrien Blue said…
This post may be my very favorite contribution to this discussion ever.

moplans said…
"You want a mom to breastfeed in privacy?

Then give it to her."

Brilliant. This is what bothered me about breastfeeding in public. I could never feel comfortable because I worried about how someone else might react. It was terrible and I want to do anything I can to speak out so other women don't feel the same way.
Chaotic Joy said…
I have stayed mute on this topic for the most part, but this is the best response I have seen by far. It was wonderful, and I am in awe of your mighty pen! (or keyboard as it would be)
dawn224 said…
Right on. Encouraging personal responsibility - you are my hero of the day!
Sukhaloka said…
I just blogged about breastfeeding on my own blog. check it out if you feel like - here.
Anonymous said…
First, I am mortified that I have been misspelling discreet all these years. Thank you.

Also, thank you for the entire piece. My breastfeeding days are long gone but I still become agitated by the folks who object to it in public. I had never realized why I get angry when people say women should be discreet; after all it seems like a reasonable enough statement.

Lastly, I had the privledge of attending a dinner honoring Betty Friedan many many years ago. One of my first 'grown up' events.

Major skeevishness when the waiter plopped a plate down in front of me and I was looking into the nether cavity of a cornish game hen. Listening to Ms. Friedan speak was a joy and a pleasure. Watching her go to town on the greasy little fowl - not so much.
Dana Seilhan said…
1. Reeeally late response to another comment here: Yes, we are animals. We're just animals who overthink everything we do. In fact, we are mammalian animals, which is why we have breastfeeding to debate about at all. :)

2. I really, really, REALLY hate these discussions about breastfeeding where a pro-bfing person says, "It's not like she WHIPS THEM OUT ALL OVER THE PLACE." So what if she does? If breastfeeding ain't obscene--and it's not--then it shouldn't matter how "discreet" a bfing mom is.

3. My daughter's three and still bfing and while it sometimes annoys me, it doesn't skeeve me. :)

Great line about privacy, though. And I fully intend to use it. :)

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