I've already said a little bit about my reasons for taking this action, but I'd like to give more detail in this post. Whilst it may at times make uncomfortable reading, I think it's relevant, not just to this blog, but to all of us who are parents and who, to one degree or another, share photos of our children in cyberspace.
So, let me tell you the story. The fact that there might be a problem, and that individuals might be finding this blog for all the wrong reasons, came to my attention in two ways. The first was by seeing, via a part of Blogger called 'Stats', the words and phrases that people were typing into search engines that were subsequently leading them to my blog. And the second was by two rather disturbing comments left on the post, Amazon, We Find Child Abuse Offensive.
Let's look at the issue of search terms first. Somehow it seems that the stars have collided and through a combination of naivety and coincidence I've managed to bring together in one place a collection of words that you wouldn't necessarily associate with a blog about parenting. Here they are:
breast / breast feeding - from a selection of breastfeeding posts
nude - from the post Acceptance Nude about post pregnancy bodies
bending over naked - from a description of my own post natal body in Acceptance Nude
spanking - from a guest post about corporal punishment: Spanking, Regret and Parenting in Technicolour
child abuse - from the post title Amazon, We Find Child Abuse Offensive
xxx - on many of my replies to comments I have ended with three kisses - Triple X
the mule - this pseudonym has an association with child abuse
So, it turns out that someone googling any combination of the above terms could find their way to my blog. A while back, myself and blog followers on Facebook shared a titter about this, when I discovered that someone had found a picture of my wrinkly post birth tummy after googling ''bending over nude'. I thought this was a one off, but of course, it wasn't, and my laughter turned to concern when I started to see search terms such as 'breastfeeding xxx'.
Then there were the comments. The first, a few weeks ago, made reference to the connection between 'The Mule' and child abuse. I don't want to give any more detail about this connection, but the comment disturbed me, as it was clearly left by someone who either had ill intent towards children, or a sick sense of humour, or both. Then, about a week ago, another anonymous comment was left. This second comment was extremely unpleasant in its content, and left me feeling deeply concerned. Both comments were anonymous, and left on the post 'Amazon, We Find Child Abuse Offensive'.
I wondered what to do, and gave the matter much thought. Although the comments made no reference to breastfeeding or any of the other images on the site, I felt that what I had here was clear evidence that a person or persons will ill intent towards children were visiting this blog. I thought about my own photos. One image, in particular, ran through my mind. My eldest daughter, then three, snuggled close to me and beaming up at the camera whilst taking a break from her beloved Boobie. I couldn't bear the thought of anyone looking at this image in an abusive way. I then thought of all the other beautiful pictures, entrusted to me by women all over the world, of their intimate moments of breastfeeding and birth. I felt I had to act. And so, this was how I came to find myself deleting almost every image on this blog, while across the world women were protesting their right to share their nursing images in cyberspace.
Did I do the right thing? Most people seem to think - yes - that I had little choice under the circumstances, in particular as so many of the photos were of other people and their children. However, a few people have shared the thought, summed up well by this comment, "I refuse to live my life catering to the perversions of others. People can be turned on by literally ANYTHING, and I'm not able, nor willing, to wrap myself and my family in a bubble on the off chance something I say, do, or publish might get somebody off." Whilst I agree with this admirable desire for freedom, what I've been wondering about this week is whether we really understand the Internet, its impact, and its implications just yet. It feels so strongly a part of our lives that I found myself watching The Social Network the other evening and marvelling that they weren't in period dress. But this wasn't long ago, or even in the nineties that Mark Zuckerberg was coding out Facebook - it was 2004! This method of sharing and communicating, that many of us are confidently using every day, is only a few years older than my daughter. We think we know where we're at with it all, but like my daughter, we haven't really thought it all through, nor can we, with our understanding still so much in its infancy.
Let's take the example of images of breastfeeding. I'd be first in the queue to extol the virtues of sharing images of nursing. I created two online breastfeeding galleries on this blog, and have happily shared images of myself nursing my children on my Facebook account. Up until now, I've been convinced that doing this will help to normalise breastfeeding, help women to feel confident in their choices, and even help to improve breastfeeding success rates. Just like nursing in public? Right? Well...maybe not.
When we nurse in public, we get to look around and see who we are going to breastfeed in front of. This might be a small collection of people in a cafe, or a park, or a busy high street. We get to decide if we feel comfortable with the people who are around us and in the setting we find ourselves. We might feel that we are ok with nursing at our local toddler group, but would prefer not to feed our baby in a pub full of football fans on a Saturday night. Or we might be absolutely comfortable to nurse our baby anywhere at all (that's me by the way). But if we fall into this category, there is still a difference between nursing in public and sharing our breastfeeding images online. Because once our nursing pictures are on the internet, they can be viewed again and again by absolutely anyone. They can also be copied, shared, printed out, or even doctored, without our knowledge.
Still feel comfortable sharing your images? Let me tell you about another revelation that the events of this week have brought to me: there are people who find the act of breastfeeding itself erotic. Perhaps I'm exposing my naivety here, but I'd always assumed that people who had a problem with nursing in public were concerned about someone else seeing their (or their partners) exposed breast, a part of the body that is traditionally kept covered and considered erotic in our culture. But a quick google of 'breastfeeding xxx' enlightened me, and I was pretty shocked by what I found. I've always nursed in public and shared my breastfeeding images online because I was of the mentality - "I don't care if you get off by looking at my breast - I'm feeding my baby". But the idea that someone might be finding the act of breastfeeding itself sexually stimulating bothers me, because this involves my baby or child in the erotic experience.
I contacted breastfeeding guru Dr Jack Newman about my concerns. By coincidence, he was asking on his Facebook page for people to send him images of breastfeeding in unusual locations, exactly the kind I had just removed from my blog. I wanted to share with him a little of what had happened, and ask whether he knew what a large amount of pornographic content online is devoted to breastfeeding. And I wanted to know his view on my action of removing the images. He replied, "I don’t know if you should have taken it down. Maybe if people going to see these photos are doing it for the wrong reasons, they may, at least some of them, get the message that breasts are not just for titillation (sorry for the bad pun)." I'm a huge fan of Jack Newman, and I'm grateful to him for his response, but I felt he was missing the point. I'm desperately keen for positive messages about breastfeeding to be spread worldwide, but not at the expense of images of my children being used for someone's sexual gratification.
In child protection training, I have been given the message: be vigilant, and don't be tempted to talk yourself out of your uneasy feeling or suspicions. Above all, don't let your desire for something not to be the case be so strong that it blinds you to the actual truth. We can't afford to be naive about this, to the extent of hoping that someone viewing the images with ill intent might suddenly have an epiphany about the wonders of breastfeeding. I don't want to paint a picture of the internet as a threatening world full of perverted predators, but at the same time, there are issues here that need to be discussed, and not just regarding breastfeeding images, but indeed ALL of the images of children that we share in our online world. On the one hand we wouldn't be happy with a stranger taking photos of kids at the park, on the other we are happy to put photos of our kids at the park on Facebook; on the one hand we sign a consent form so our school can take photos and share them in a newsletter, on the other we add pictures to blogs that are viewed globally and without limit. We need to think these things through.
As always, I welcome your varied views. It's by talking that we can move things forward in positive ways. But please don't try to comment anonymously. I'm afraid that's no longer possible on this blog. If you've got something to say, you'll have to put a name to it, or keep your opinion to yourself. And for now, I'm really sad to say, you won't find any images here, now or in the future.