Military culture is changing a little bit every day. The military is no longer a man’s world. Military culture unites women and men, gay and straight under the same oath to serve the United States of America.
A recent photo that went viral on social media illustrates those changes in military culture. The photo, taken by former airman and military spouse, Tara Ruby, shows 10 female soldiers breastfeeding their babies in uniform at Fort Bliss, Texas. Ruby, who normally takes family portraits, said “her aim for the photo was to normalize breastfeeding in the military” and she planned to donate the photo to a new nursing room at Fort Bliss.
When she posted the breastfeeding soldiers photo on her Facebook page, she had no idea how popular it would become.
Ruby’s breastfeeding soldiers photo went viral when it rack up 2.5 million views on her Facebook page.
But why? Why did this photo go viral? Why did a photo of breastfeeding soldiers become a source of discussion on CNN and Fox News?
Here are the 3 reasons why I think that breastfeeding soldiers photo went viral:
National Movement to Normalize Breastfeeding
There are many organizations working to normalize breastfeeding. These organizations encourage mothers to post photos of themselves breastfeeding their children with the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding on social media. When Ruby posted her photo, she used that hashtag and I think that contributed to its popularity. Individuals who support breastfeeding are looking for that hashtag and ways to show their support on social media.
Movement to Normalize Female Service Members
While there’s a central and concentrated effort to normalize breastfeeding and support mothers who choose to breastfeed, there isn’t the same direct public relations campaign to showcase women in the military.
But it’s there.
There is a grassroots movement, especially among women like Ruby who are former active duty, to show that women can be soldiers, wives, and mothers all at the same time.
“Breastfeeding their babies doesn’t make them less of a soldier, I believe it makes them a better one. Juggling the tasks and expectations of a soldier, plus providing for their own in the best way they possibly can, makes (these) ladies even stronger for it,” Ruby told CNN.
Ruby said on Facebook that she thinks this is the first group photo to show support of active-duty military mommies nursing their babies.
One interesting aspect of this photo is the female service member’s eyes. They aren’t looking at the camera. They are looking into the eyes of their babies.
Civilians Are Intrigued with Military Life
As less and less people serve in the Armed Forces, more and more people know very little about military life. Their knowledge of the military comes from the media and let’s face, there aren’t any military movies showing a female soldier as the protagonist. Wait, correction. There’s one. G.I. Jane.
Therefore, when something like this photo hits Facebook, civilians are intrigued. They post comments on Facebook saying things like “soldiers can’t breastfeed in uniform!” when in fact they can or “oh boy, I bet the Army won’t like this” when the photographer worked with public affairs officer specifically for this photo shoot. Remember the Ruby’s intent was to donate this photo to hang in the nursing room at the Fort Bliss headquarters building.
Civilians don’t expect to see mothers as soldiers simply because they don’t see it in the movies.
In contrast, today’s service members aren’t surprised by this photo because they know that female soldiers pump breastmilk and deliver it to their babies at the child development centers. They know that female Marines return to work 6 weeks after giving birth. They know that female airman work with their supervisors to ensure that they are given an empty office in order to pump during working hours. They know mothers are soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.