In what is a historic first, a Malayalam fortnightly magazine Grihalakshmi challenged patriarchy among several social norms by featuring model, poet, writer and air hostess Gilu Joseph breastfeeding a baby on the cover of the magazine’s issue that hit the stands in March. While the act of breastfeeding is venerated as sublime and best representative of a mother’s bond with her children, it also happens to be seen in a ‘shamefully vile and sexualised context’ when in public spaces, to the extent of even making it a taboo. Especially in a country, where many have anointed themselves as moral police, this campaign is striving to start a revolution, no less. Joseph talked about what she feels about nudity, how this cover will be perceived, the doubts and fears she had before committing to this, to IE Malayalam.
While the initial responses the cover garnered widely on social media were a mix of praises and flak, in an encouraging judgement, the Kerala High Court declared that “obscenity is in the eyes of the beholder” and refused to identify the magazine cover as “obscene”.
When she was approached with the project, Joseph did not think twice before agreeing to be a part of this. She said that she thinks of breastfeeding as a privilege that only a mother has. Emphasising on how women should know that this a very natural phenomenon, she said there is nothing to be ashamed of if one has to feed her baby. “It is a problem to interpret this sexually. Isn’t it a beautiful thing, friends? Why do you think it is wrong? Which god will be angry if you feed your child” she was quoted saying.
On asked if she had any apprehensions before saying yes to this campaign, the 27-year-old said she had none of that sort. “I am extremely proud of my body and only I exercise rights over it. I only do things that I think is right for me, which is why I had no qualms in taking up this project,” she said.
Joseph said her family did not and still doesn’t support her decision of having taken this up. Her mother and two sisters, of which the older is a nun, live in Kumily, in Idukki district of Kerala. They staunchly opposed her when she informed them about this. She said she respects and understands why they refused. “But nothing can deter me from doing what I feel is right,” she said.
Upon asked why she has a thick line of vermilion smeared on her forehead while she is rattling the patriarchal bedrock on the cover otherwise, she said that this was an assignment the magazine gave her and focused on telling lakhs of mothers and wives that they can exercise their right to breastfeed their children fearlessly.
When she was approached with the project, Joseph did not think twice before agreeing to be a part of this. She said that she thinks of breastfeeding as a privilege only a mother has.
The magazine’s campaign ‘Breastfeed freely’ is a part of its International Women’s Day celebrations and was inspired by a 23-year-old mother Amritha U, whose photo of feeding her child went viral on the Internet in January this year, after her husband A B Biju shared it on Facebook. While on one hand, the campaign is raking in praises for taking a step towards normalising breastfeeding, on the other, it is receiving flak for choosing an actress and focusing on “aesthetic appeal” instead of a realistic representation of an actual mother.
Deepa Nisanth, a lecturer in Kerala called out the magazine for featuring “progressive mentality only on the cover” while otherwise carrying flimsy write-ups like “What mothers should know about how their daughters dress,” “25 ways to woo your husband,” etc.
Shamna Kolakkodan, another Facebook user, shared a picture of a mother breastfeeding her child and opinionated that the cover is an unrealistic representation. “I have seen mothers breastfeeding too, but not like this. She would run towards the loud cry of her baby leaving her meal half eaten, she would have red, swollen eyes because the child would not let her sleep the previous night. She would have her unkempt hair tied into a messy bun, wearing a sari with bits of her breast-milk sticking to the cloth after feeding the infant, she would worry about not taking enough care of her other children,” she said, further adding that the cover photo did not represent these real memories or images that define a mother. She also added that she believes no mother is so cruel that they would not feed their babies out of the fear of being stared at in public.
Another Facebook user called it the publication’s move to “use a woman’s body to bring a storm” into a “world run by men” and not because “feminism came calling to them”.
Translation – “Do not stare at us while we are breastfeeding”
Really glad to see Grihalakshmi a leading magazine is breaking the Society norms without sexualizing it
I love the way Gilu Joseph (Model) stares at the reader straight in to your eyes. The message is a bang on! pic.twitter.com/SFYvNgDQrS
— The Great Dictator.! (@tittoantony) February 28, 2018
“Don’t stare, we want to breastfeed!” says the latest cover of the widely read Malayalam women’s magazine @Grihalakshmi_
Kudos to this effort! 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾
As expected, morally upright people are offended alleging that the campaign is “artificial” / “commercial” & what not! pic.twitter.com/oYcqkK2WLN
— Ardra Balachandran (@ardramaanasam) February 28, 2018
‘Please don’t stare, we need to breastfeed’ Conveying a bold message, Kerala based Mathrubhumi magazine has now come up with a bold cover for their magazine “Grihalakshmi”. Malayalam writer and lyricist Gillu Joseph poses as Model here. pic.twitter.com/EuoQbLKrUz
— Siddhu Manchikanti✍🏽 (@TravelwithSid) March 1, 2018
I only wish Gilu Joseph (the model) wasn’t wearing sindoor. It’d have been more inclusive of unwed moms and women who don’t believe in marriage markers.
— Ardra Balachandran (@ardramaanasam) February 28, 2018
You can always count on #Kerala to stay one step ahead of the game!
This is amazing work from @Grihalakshmi_ magazine and actress Gilu Joseph.
Caption translation: “Please do not stare/glare/ogle at us. We need to feed our babies” pic.twitter.com/cLocnpjUJ2
— Neil Balthazar (@NeilBalthazar) February 28, 2018