For me, Giselle’s advocacy has prompted some thought about bigger questions of tolerance—and what that word practically means—within our society.
First, there has been a huge movement within the United States to make breastfeeding in public more acceptable. It's a natural thing to do. Of course breastfeeding mothers should be accommodated in public.
But if a man (or woman) thinks this very intimate action should be done discreetly, does that make him (or her) intolerant of breastfeeding? Would it have been okay for that man shown curling Giselle’s hair in the US photograph—eyes directed at the back of Giselle’s head—to ask Giselle to take a moment to tend to her child before he continued his work?
I suspect that the lactating billionaire might not have felt very sympathetic—or shown much tolerance—for the feelings behind such a request.
Conversely, if a woman other than Giselle chooses to not breastfeed for any reason, does that make her a bad mother? Should she be forced to make a different choice when few dispute breast milk offers massive benefits for babies?
I think Giselle Bundchen would say women reaching for bottles are hurting their children.
Furthermore, though she has modified her public statements to no longer condemn those women who don’t breastfeed, I suspect the private Gisele still feels not only completely in the right on this issue but smugly justified when judging people with whom she disagrees.
Remember. She once wanted to codify her opinion!
Ultimately, whatever one thinks about her methods, Giselle has sparked an interesting and vigorous debate about breastfeeding, which is productive enough.
But how would one feel if suddenly Giselle convinced the government to support her view and breastfeeding became a requirement of parenting?
What do we call it when changes that challenge core beliefs about choice are foisted upon people by their own government?
For a different example, though some people think their views are practically “medieval,” is it okay for the owners of Hobby Lobby to not pay for a morning after pill in the health insurance policies they are told they must carry for their employees?
This calls to mind one of the most thought provoking texts I’ve encountered in graduate school. In her book Charitable Hatred, Alexandra Walsham considers some of the religious views of people who inhabited early modern England and the implications for free thought.
Once upon a time, people in power would burn an individual at the stake in an attempt to change his mind about the most important questions of the day, those that dealt with his salvation. This was right versus wrong! If a man had to go up in flames to save his soul—or to stop him from corrupting the souls of others—then so be it.
The zealous destruction of individual deviants from the monarch-endorsed opinion was completely justified—even considered a kindness—in the minds of those who stoked the flames.
Fortunately religious (and intellectual) freedom in England evolved out of public burnings. But becoming more "tolerant" for those early modern groups did not mean becoming more “accepting.”
For a complex society to work and continue to expand, it was very important for people who made different judgments to show tolerance of others with whom they disagreed. This didn’t mean that they didn’t still hate each other’s beliefs.
Just to clarify, I’m not trying to suggest that Giselle Bundchen with her breastfeeding crusades—or healthcare mandates that have come down from on high—are equivalent to Mary Tudor ordering Hugh Latimer to be burned to death in Oxford!
I am trying to use a fairly benign example of a contemporary debate in the public square prompted by a super model to ask a few questions that have been asked for centuries.
When do attempts at persuasion turn into impositions of opinion? When do actions to further a political goal seen by many to undergird a moral right—i.e. the goodness of having healthy babies in a society or the goodness of having minimum standards for healthcare—turn into the practical oppression of individuals?
I don’t have the answer. I simply feel it’s worth careful consideration.
Those broader questions are actually more important than a celebrity’s opinions on any one issue as conveyed through an image included in a glossy magazine.