Caught in the Breast Trap

In the controversial Time cover photo, there was a hint of perversity, no doubt aimed at annoying the self-righteous of both sexes and stirring them to react.

Generally speaking, it would be better to have on the covers of all the magazines in the world - and not just last week's Time Magazine - pictures of women offering their breasts to their children, whether the latter are 3, 4 or 5 years old, and not the opposite. By "the opposite," I mean women holding the bodies of children killed in a bombardment, by famine or in one or another natural disaster.

To tell the truth, in the controversial Time cover photo, there was a hint of perversity, no doubt aimed at annoying the self-righteous of both sexes and stirring them to react. What achieved the kinkiness was the sharp contrast between the nakedness of the maternal breast and the manly little face of the nursing tot, who was fully dressed.

It was this kinky effect that stirred the tempest, one that also reached our shores, eliciting two predictable kinds of reactions: the reaction of the conservative sort and the reaction of the feminist sort. One feminist declared a day of mourning and lamentation, on the grounds that pictures of this sort plunge women back into the stereotypical abyss, reinforce images from which they have long worked to disengage themselves, and essentially liberates men at the expense of women. Therefore, she said, the photographer of the picture, along with the anti-feminist woman and her son who appear in it, should be thrown into a deep pit.

The opposite reaction - in support of nursing a child until he is of an advanced age - sounds equally stupid and bizarre: Journalists were subsequently sent to every corner of the globe to interview nursing women, who suddenly felt that they and their boring lives were being given center stage. These women in turn presented to the public in a manner that was vulgar and perverted, in its own way, the list of arguments and rationales that have led them to continue to breast-feed children for a number of years.

It is difficult, truly difficult, to state a preference here: for the belligerent retorts along the lines of "Yeah, while you're nursing your kid, your husband is out having a swell time, conducting life as usual and maybe even cheating on you" - or for ponderous platitudes such as, "Listen, God gave us boobs and it is our obligation to nurse, with God's help." Both camps equally assume a priori that a woman as an individual has no ability of her own to make decisions, and needs a guiding ideology or advice from some other authoritative person about what to do with her body.

Nonetheless, there is something groundbreaking about that staged photo on the cover of Time. It has nothing to do with feminism or the status of women or the question of how long to breast-feed. What the picture in fact shows is the kind of new, 21st-century person, who in this case happens to be a woman but could also have been a man, who opens his, or her, shirt and cries out: "People, I'm totally fed up! I've had it with your ideologies and your modernist and postmodernist theories that dictate to me what to do and what is right. And don't try to force-feed me with psychology and other stuff about the unconscious. Let me live in peace, damn it."

This is what the boobs of the gal on the cover of Time are saying to me. And this is also, incidentally, what I am hearing from the cheeky tyke suckling his mother's breast at the age of 4. Here's what he is saying: "You've tried out on us babies every theory in the world - and just look what has come of the infants of previous generations who have grown up: for example, a stupid cow like my mother who gets photographed exposed on the cover of a weekly magazine. Let us grow up without experiments and let's see what becomes of us."

The truth of the matter is that when you look a bit more closely at the photo, you can't avoid the conclusion that the main focal point of it is the kid who is nursing - not the breast-feeding mother. And he is a self-aware child, a representative son of the current century who has known how to use a computer and smartphone apps since the age of 18 months, and who even earlier than that was aiming the TV remote control at his favorite programs. The same kid who talks on Skype to his father who is in Amsterdam with his life partner ("My daddy is gay and anyone who doesn't like that can kiss my diaper" ). And this manly little fellow is also whispering in my ear: "My mom doesn't know yet but a few years from now, when I enter first grade, I'm going to sue her for about a million bucks for invasion of privacy. The photo that will be published then on the cover of Time will show me standing with Mommy lying at my feet and wailing: 'What a son I have suckled from my breast!' And I'm stomping on her face with an expression that says: 'Here is what I got from you, you stupid cow.'"

Cut this out and save it.