In April 2021, I wrote an article that tackled the topic of creating photographs of women breastfeeding in public. I asked a simple question: “In the world of street photography ethics, is it okay to photograph a woman breastfeeding?” My conclusion was, if it’s happening in a public space and the intentions are pure, then it has to be fair game. However, a recent article on the BBC shows that members of the public and the authorities disagree.
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Photographs of Women Breastfeeding
England and Wales have made it illegal to make photographs of women breastfeeding without their consent. Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said it would prevent women from being “pestered” and harassed. The change in the law is happening after activists pushed to make it illegal. Several women shared stories of how men photographing them while breastfeeding made them feel uncomfortable. After writing to their local MP, the work began, and the law was changed.
As a street photographer and someone who believes we all – men, women, and trans – should have the right to photograph in public, how do I feel about this?
Banning Photographs of Women Breastfeeding
This is a classic case of a few bad eggs ruining it for the rest of us. When I wrote my article in 2021, I knew the photographer who was the subject of the piece (Monospectrum) operated ethically and responsibly. Breastfeeding is a natural part of being human, and I fully support it happening in public spaces. With that, I support the action of documenting it, especially as it’s a huge step forward for society. Naturally, then, I’m not too fond of this law change. However, that doesn’t mean I disagree with it. In fact, I’ve begrudgingly come to think it’s the right move.
Women are fighting hard to remove the unfortunate taboo that comes with breastfeeding their children in public spaces. That requires a lot of courage, and the last thing they need is someone making photographs of them for inappropriate reasons. Sadly, we know some men will sexualize breastfeeding. There are categories dedicated to it on adult sites (without the inclusion of minors). So if a man (or, in a rare case, a woman) has that type of fetish and a camera at hand, inappropriate things are going to happen. We can’t let them stain the name of candid photography without consequences.
Should the Law Only Impact Men?
Of course, this law doesn’t only prevent a man’s right to make photographs of women breastfeeding; it targets women and trans people too. If I’m a betting man, I will put good money on it only being men who photograph women breastfeeding for sexual gratification. But we can’t create laws on the basis of a feeling. And I don’t agree with laws only targeting one demographic. It’s a tricky one, but because of the actions of a few, I think we all need to feel the impact of this law change.
Of course, this isn’t a global law at the time of writing. But with a major nation like England making a move, other nations may follow suit. And this does open the door to potentially more restrictions in the future. What if activists say they don’t like people making photographs of them in general? Could the breastfeeding law create a domino effect, thus making it harder and harder to practice candid photography? It’s possible.
But I think we have to deal with matters on a case-by-case basis. If the lawmakers tried to ban public photography, I’d be at the front of the protest march. But when it comes to making women feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, I think we, the candid photography community, need to take a loss on this one.
What do you think? Should people have the right to make photographs of women breastfeeding in a public space? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.