Wednesday Opinion: TIME magazine, innovative or exploitative?

By Nanny X (c) 2012 
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When TIME magazine hit the news stands with this controversial image an explosive media buzz about attachment parenting ignited. AP in part is the practice of allowing children to suckle on demand and for longer than traditional periods, to ages 3 to 5 for example. There’s no need to get into personal particulars of the mother and son involved except to say that the child looks older than his actual age, and that the choice of army fatigues was interesting. The child’s mother stares into the camera defiantly daring us to comment on her public displays of lactation. 
Of course the editors at TIME would have you believe that the piece was timely, that it was an opportunity to open up a public debate on AP, and that if the image shocked you it was because you found the idea of women breast-feeding somehow offensive. To add an even more aggressive tone to the article, mothers were challenged, “are you mom enough?” – the not so subtle and overtly masculine suggestion being that if you do not engage in AP then you are less of a mother. 

TIME magazine’s Mother’s Day issue
Unfortunately for TIME and its editors, a vast army of women did not agree. They furiously blogged at what they believed to be TIME’s shock-value attempt to boost magazine sales at the expense of motherhood. Some went further. Huffington Post’s senior columnist Lisa Belkin stated:
I am not Mom enough to think that the debate over how to feed our youngest children — an important and nuanced conversation about nutrition, and workplace policy, and government responsibility, and gender relationships — can be boiled down to a simplistic, unrepresentative, staged photograph. The breastfeeding conversation is not titillating. The TIME cover is.
Breastfeeding is not a macho test of motherhood, with the winner being the one who nurses the longest. In fact there ARE no macho tests of motherhood. Motherhood is — should be — a village, where we explore each other’s choices, learn from them, respect them, and then go off and make our own.”
I think Belkin nails it here. The core issue is not whether AP is more beneficial as a practice – it is the assumption that a single media image can consolidate the complex, diverse and powerful choices that mothers make. It also emphasizes the over-availability of the female body for public debate and consumption. Unlike the male body which has been classically represented for centuries as an autonomous authoritative entity – the female body – has and continues to be merged with nature, with theology, with (male) sexuality and with child-rearing. As though a woman’s body does not in its wholeness belong to her. 
what ideas does society at large and the media allow of a woman’s body?
The recent GOP debates over the accessibility of contraceptives and reproductive choices for women, along with Rush Limbaugh’s sustained misogynist attacks on Sandra Fluke,  underscores that as a collective, a hefty % of adult Americans do not see a woman’s body as a sovereign entity, but rather, they see it as an arena of public and religious control. 
you are looking at a sovereign state
This stems from the Judaic-Christian-Islamic belief that a supreme patriarchal deity manufactured the female body for her male counterpart. On the other hand we have the post-feminist liberals who believe that censoring the media, that legislating against the porn industry and that any attempt to regulate the exploitative exposure of the female body in advertising or in magazines, is just prudish. Whatever the position a woman’s body remains public property. 

either invisible or over-exposed, a woman’s body is seen as public space
If women were globally redefined as autonomous entities, distinct and equal to that of men, as sovereign beings not subject to religious opinions, as separate human beings not potential mothers, we would witness an enormous shift in the ways women’s bodies and choices were perceived. 
In my opinion the TIME cover did nothing to advance the cause of women. It evoked innumerable reactions and generated discussions through-out the internet, for sure. But it fell head first into the trap of exposing the female body for titillation value. The core argument that TIME challenged the assumption that a woman cannot be all things: strong, sexy even and a good mother, was sabotaged by two intrinsic elements. Motherhood is not something to be quantified, justified or glorified. It shouldn’t be cloistered but neither should it be stretched wide open and exposed for public view. Motherhood just is. It exists only through the choices autonomous women make for themselves.
Secondly, the child in the photograph is now immobilized, as the copyright property of TIME magazine and as being permanently suckled. As a consequence he will be perpetually subject to the image’s messaging. For despite his sturdy frame, carefree glance and army camouflages he has been made subject to his mother’s philosophies. This is the antithesis of what motherhood is about: the nurturance and protection of the young.