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Breast is Best…But Not Everywhere: Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes Toward Private and Public Breastfeeding

Abstract

Although breastfeeding is encouraged by the medical community, many women do not breastfeed because of perceived social sanctions. This experiment examines the level of positive evaluations, negative affect, and normalcy accorded a woman who is breastfeeding. 106 undergraduates and 80 older adults from the Midwestern U.S. were shown photos of a woman breastfeeding in public or private. It was hypothesized that the breastfeeding mother would be seen more positively when breastfeeding in private than in public, and that this response would be moderated by participants’ familiarity with breastfeeding, gender, and levels of benevolent and hostile sexism. Results supported these predictions. Three explanations for the negative view of public breastfeeding are discussed: familiarity, sexist attitudes, and hypersexualization of the breast.

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Acknowledgement

Thanks to Dr. Thomas Nelson and Dr. Laura Bennett-Murphy for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Michele Acker.

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Acker, M. Breast is Best…But Not Everywhere: Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes Toward Private and Public Breastfeeding. Sex Roles 61, 476–490 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-009-9655-z

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Keywords

  • Breastfeeding attitudes
  • Sexism
  • Media