(Some Not Suitable For Work links included in this post).
Not long after her baby was born, Madison Young, an adult actor – also an artist, film director, gallery director, and activist – put on an art show titled Becoming MILF at Femina Potens, a gallery she owns specialising in queer, trans and non-gender-binary art. In the show she apparently questioned the way mothers are both stripped of sexuality and conversely, also made a fetish. Her exhibition included breastmilk milkshakes and a baby quilt made of burp cloths and “porn star panties”. Yes, thought-provoking.. and impressively energetic, too. How is this new mother managing to do it all?
I’m brand new to motherhood. My little girl is only eight weeks old right now. I’m sure that sharing my life with my daughter will inspire, influence and affect my work in different ways as she gets older. Right now, as the mother of a newborn, one of my greatest challenges is time. I’ve always tried to balance more than is humanly possible in a day but now I have a tiny little being who needs and demands my attention 24/7. I’ve had to really prioritize what areas of my life I need to be giving my energy to right now. I’ll be working mostly local for at least Emma’s first year, and if I decide to take out of state or country gigs next year then it will be a family affair. I take Emma along with me whenever I can, such as to university speaking engagements and to the art gallery, and Daddy watches Emma during the more adult-oriented work experiences.
The photograph above, modest as it is for a breastfeeding portrait, fired up another pornographer and sex work activist, Furry Girl, who accused Young of exploiting and sexualising her baby: “You are a revolting person. Your child will need so much therapy when she grows up and finds out how she was treated by you”. Young, in reply on Twitter, has been understandably shaken by these attacks: “The facts are not presented accurately and this whole thing just creating pain and danger to my family”.
According to Furry Girl two issues are at stake here – the first is that a baby can’t give permission to be included in her mother’s artwork, and the second is that Young may bring a certain audience with her to her feminist artwork. Could her porn audience see things that aren’t appropriate in the breastfeeding image? In short, Furry Girl believes they’ll be sexualising Young’s baby daughter and because of this Young is knowingly exploiting her child. (There’s something else at stake here, too, and Furry Girl must know it. Sex workers face a special kind of risk when it comes to anyone questioning their fitness as parents – they have a history of seeing their children removed from them by the state).
Furry Girl – who I retain a degree of fondness for on account of us both being vegetarian, and also, on account of her impressive achievements in activism – identifies as child-free, and many of her tweets on this issue read as classic, shitty child-free/anti-mother rhetoric:
Maybe I should squeeze out a kid, too. Being a mother apparently makes one more qualified than everyone else to form opinions on any subject
I pissed off the feminist mommy club. But since they don’t buy porn or do sex workers’ rights activism, it really doesn’t matter.
Boring: having all the hysterical leftist mommy bloggers bitching at me, Blah, blah blah….
I like reading conservative/Christian anti-feminist blogs sometimes. But no group is more hysterically pro-motherhood than modern feminists.
Outside of stupid feminist hippies, who sees breast feeding a baby as sexual? What kind of people want to see those photos? Not good people.
It is telling that Furry Girl doesn’t see the “feminist mommy club” as including any sex workers. Furry Girl’s reaction also says a lot about the difficulty we have in separating the sexual function of breasts from the nurturing role, something Young was attempting to explore in her art exhibition.
My exhibit Becoming MILF was a visual and performative journey through my pregnancy and into the throws of motherhood while still working in the sex industry. I wanted to express the challenges of balancing the life of the whore and the madonna at the same time. At the opening reception I sat in a corner hand whisking whipped topping for milkshakes while pumping breast milk, and then added the breast milk to the whipped topping. I was using traditional women’s work and the re-appropriating of my breasts for nourishment to create a dessert, encouraging gallery goers to address their thoughts on breastfeeding, breasts of mothers versus breasts of adult film actresses, and the consumption of breast milk past infancy. It spurred some fascinating conversations around nurturing versus sexualizing.
While Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young are apparently out of step with the rest of the kink community, they’re quite typical of mainstream anti-breastfeeding views. There is something peculiar about the way breastfeeding is seen as exhibitionism, when really, it is simply feeding a baby. It says something about the way we objectify women and about how women can’t just ‘be’, they’re always on display. It seems to be particularly troubling for those uncomfortable with breastfeeding to see a celebrity breastfeeding, someone for whom the private is so readily collapsed into the public. While it is true that Young is deliberately making her breastfeeding experience public, she isn’t exactly being ‘showy’ about it. Young’s porn and art audiences may overlap but this is not a sex show. If anything, the whole exhibition sounds achingly sincere.
I don’t know what Young’s fans see when they look at her breastfeeding photograph, but I can tell you what I see. I see vulnerability in that photograph, not a ‘Marilyn Monroe sex goddess’ vulnerability but the vulnerability of mother-shock, raw and fragile and calling upon all your reserves. I see pride, too, in her decision to pose breastfeeding. Pride in mastering a new skill and pride in her first baby. And I can’t help but relate to the excitement and creativity she is experiencing in exploring her new identity as a mother – after all, I started a blog as an outlet for my thoughts. It breaks my heart to think how exposed Young, still such a new mother, must now be feeling about all of this.
There is something else worth considering about Furry Girl’s criticisms of Young, and that is the way in which she can’t distinguish between mothers and mothering. Yes, Young’s daughter can’t give permission for being included in her mother’s artwork, neither can mine give permission for my writing. But who owns Young’s experience of motherhood? Who own’s mine? Where do Young’s and my experiences of early motherhood and our desire to explore these all-consuming aspects of our lives end, and our children’s ownership of them begin? Can Young, who describes her devotion to her baby daughter so lovingly, not be trusted to know? Does being sexual as women (or even sexually objectified unintentionally) spill dangerously over into our responsibilities as mothers? Does it prevent us from good mothering? Because incidentally, I also attract readers here from time to time looking for something apart from feminist discussion, who are instead seeking ‘sexy breastfeeding’ stories and images. (And what a crushing bore they must find it all, once here).
There are boundaries, of course, but they need not impose the complete separation of mother from self.