At 3 PM on Saturday, hundreds of mothers protested the mistreatment of a woman in San Isidro, Greater Buenos Aires Area, who was told she could not breastfeed her child in public.
At around 2:30 PM, the crowd at the Mástil of San Isidro is calm. Journalists mill around and wait for the official protest to start. When it does, it happens without fanfare. A mother calmly lifts her child’s mouth to her chest and begins to nurse.
A few cameras crowd around her. The child doesn’t seem to notice. And with a slight yawn, the child releases his hold around his mother’s breast, and closes his eyes. “Ah,” the mother says, half to the cameras and half to herself. “He’s sleeping.”
At first, photographing this protest feels voyeuristic. Essentially, it is. Part of this protest’s power is that it makes public the private routines of a mother and her child. As it is amplified through hundreds of bodies, breasts, children’s smiles and mouths and cries and arms, the intimacy of this ritual is juxtaposed with the politicization of a woman’s body. Who would stop to call this act immodest? Who would dare?
Last Tuesday, July 12th, 22-year-old Constancia “Coni” Santos visited the Bank of San Isidro around 3:30 PM. Her nine-month-old child Dante was hungry, so she sat down to breastfeed him at the Mástil. After she began to nurse, two female police officers told Santos that it was illegal to breastfeed in public. She disagreed, and asked them to explain exactly which law she was breaking. (As The Bubble previously noted, there is currently no law that opposes a women’s right to breastfeed in public). The police officers asked for her and her child’s identification, and threatened to arrest her for resisting authority, all this while Santos held a crying child in her arms.
Santos attempted to report her experience, but the Women’s Police Unit ruled that since what Santos experienced was not gender-based violence, what happened to her was not a crime. In order to express her dismay, she posted a Facebook status as testimony.
The response was overwhelming. Thousands of people noted they would attend the #TeteadaMasiva, or a massive breastfeeding protest. Celebrities including Lola Bezerra and Evangelina Anderson spoke out in solidarity, instagramming photos of themselves breastfeeding their children.
On Saturday, Coni Santos attended the protest she galvanized. She smiled with Dante as hundreds of women nursed their children in the same place she was harassed. Victoria Donda, the deputy who famously breastfed her child in Congress, was in attendance, along with Nobel laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
Similar protests unfolded in various other Argentine cities, including Mar del Plata, Tucuman, Rosario and Neuquen. Those who could not attend joined a “teteada virtual.”
While this protest was not explicitly tied to any particular party, the nature of the teteada — calling into question who can tell a woman what she can do with her own body — is necessarily political. People hold signs advertising Frente Popular, Frente Renovador, Juntas Izquierdas and other leftist parties. Rodrigo, a 27-year-old man in a Patria Grande shirt holds a plastic baby doll.
As I walk around the square, I encounter many people who speak on behalf of the women’s right to nurse wherever she wants. They are protesting a singular incident, yes, but also gathering to affirm this fundamental right that seems increasingly less fundamental. When Argentine actress Griselda Siciliani posted a photo of herself and her child in support of this teteada, Instagram censored the photo because it apparently violated the rules of the site. This is not limited to Argentina — in recent years, the United States has faced its own “breastfeeding controversies,” among increased legislation limiting what women are allowed to do with their own bodies.
I speak to a woman named Liliana and her two-month-old baby Benjamín, one of the first mothers to arrive in the square. She found out about the movement on Facebook and, along with Benjamín’s grandparents Horacio and Nancy, she is here to show her support. To Liliana, “It doesn’t seem right that there’s a law that prevents women from breastfeeding their babies.”
“There isn’t a law,” interjects Horacio.
“It was the two police officers that said it was,” Liliana continues. “It doesn’t seem fair. So we’re here to support mothers.” So this family protests, with three generations between them.
Nearby, a young couple, Anita and Octavio, cradle a small plush doll. Octavio explains that, right now, this doll is the only way they can express themselves at this protest. They’ve named the doll Ludovica.
Two women stand together in the crowd, their babies strapped to their chest. I ask them if they are friends, and they say yes. Friends who protest together?
“Obviously,” one replies, and they both laugh.
The protest is surprisingly quiet for all the children present. Some mothers are silent, bending their heads to cradle their children against their breasts. Some arrived with friends and let their babies play together atop blankets on the ground.
“It’s your first protest!” a mother exclaims, as her child sits dazed in his stroller.
The group of protesters are not limited to nursing mothers. There are many men in attendance, some with children and some without. Some have rather creative ways of approximating nursing. One man’s shirt is adorned with a plush breast. “It’s artisanal,” the woman next to him says, beaming. “I made it.”
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of men who have come to show their support. I speak to Matias, who holds his daughter Serena in his arms. “I’m an advocate for nursing, an advocate for nursing when a baby is hungry. It doesn’t matter where it is.” To Matias, it’s important that men support women in their rights. “It’s not difficult,” he says. “Sometimes the father needs to nurse the children too.” Matias has other young children, he tells me, so this issue means a lot to him.
Other protestors choose to illustrate their allegiance through art. A young woman named Florencia tapes a drawing onto a press van. In this illustration, a breast doubles as a loudspeaker, with three thick lines emitting from the nipple. “NOURISHMENT IS NOT A CRIME,” the sign reads. Close by, two women giggle, and hold a sign depicting, “The Mama Sutra,” an illustrated “Manual of Breastfeeding Positions.”
Milena, who works as an artist, begins to paint in the center of the protest. The subject of her illustration: a nursing mother.
“I’ve really just started,” she says, “but I wanted to show that a mother can breastfeed wherever she wants. No one can tell her where she can. No one can take away that liberty. It’s completely natural.” In the picture, ochre vine tendrils root their way into the earth, as the mother holds her child serenely in the foreground. The trees signify the open air. “I want to support through my art,” she says, and continues to paint.