Aside from the argument about appropriate uses for military uniforms, the attention this issue received is related to the highly sensationalized social context of breastfeeding and women’s freedom in public, says Hausman. Both the military breastfeeding mothers and the Time magazine cover are issues of women’s representation.
“It is puzzling, isn’t it?” says Stephanie Coontz, a professor of family history at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “Of all the X-rated things available on TV, sexual situations and sexual innuendos. They even show beheaded captives. But, boy, breastfeeding just freaks people out.”
Coontz has studied marriage and family relationships for more than 35 years. She says that Americans have a perpetual, simultaneous fascination and disgust regarding sex, much more so than other societies that don’t make as big of a deal out of it. She said these issues are central to Americans’ ambivalence about sexuality, the sexualization of breasts, women’s bodies and motherhood.
"Of course the Time magazine cover created a shock," she says. The media coverage presents a moment of opportunity for advocates to jump on the bandwagon and promote their causes, whether it’s attachment parenting or breastfeeding in public, she adds.
These messages create anxiety for mothers because they are being told what it means to be a good mother. There is a conflict between the health benefits of breastfeeding and the societal norms about what is proper for mothers to do in public, says Hausman.