I have been watching and reading with interest the furore about a woman who took her mother to Claridges for afternoon tea as a Christmas treat, and was asked, when spotted by one of the staff, as she breast fed her 3 month old baby who she took with her, to cover up with a napkin, which they attempted to drape over the baby’s head. The woman said she felt humiliated and made a spectacle of, and that it was a deeply upsetting experience. I can only imagine.
There is all sorts of coverage of the story. You can read about it here.
Today I read this piece by Deborah Orr in The Guardian and I have to say that I agree with her for the most part. Apart from being offended. I AM offended. And saddened.
In 2010 a law was passed, which amongst other things makes it unlawful to ban or remove a breast feeding woman from your premises if you are a commercial venture. I am simplifying this here, but that is essentially what it means. I appreciate that Claridges’ did not ask her to leave the establishment. They did however, single her out for attention that was unwelcome and humiliating. Attention which when it boils down to it expressly identified her as someone who was considered unsightly or offensive to look at.
We encourage women to breast feed. We have finally realised that breast milk is absolutely brilliant at not only supplying all a baby’s dietary needs but also supporting their immune systems in ways we cannot emulate elsewhere. We, at times, hector women who don’t breast feed. So it is inexplicably sad that we have to pass a law making sure that women who breast feed are not punished or made pariahs for breast feeding in public places, because so many women have been asked to leave pubs, restaurants, cafes etc, because it seems that many people find the sight of women breast feeding a baby offensive.
I was reading some of these ‘offended of the Guardian’comments today. There are several arguments they trot out, which come up again and again. To whit:
My mother raised X number of children and breast fed them all but didn’t feel the need to do it in public so why should you?
Flaunting (and this word is used a lot) your breasts is unseemly and should not be allowed because it embarrasses, upsets people.
Breastfeeding is too sexual. This is in a nutshell what many people say in a much politer manner, but that is what they mean.
Breastfeeding is too gross to look at.
Just because breast feeding is ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it should happen at the dinner table. Pissing and shitting is natural, but nobody does it at the dinner table do they?
Women don’t breast feed for the sake of the baby, they obviously do it to create attention. They are examples of these modern ‘look at me’ women and I’m sick of looking at them.
Why don’t women breast feed in the toilets where these things should happen?
Why don’t women breast feed at home and stay out of the public way until they are less offensive?
Here are my answers.
Firstly, every woman in the history of ever, who has ever had a baby, up to the last eighty or so years, has breast fed babies, or if they didn’t, paid a wet nurse to do it for them. Until formula feed became readily available, bottle feeding was unheard of. For many people, when bottle formula first arrived it would have been too expensive to buy. Has everyone always been this horrified about something that must be done to ensure the survival of humanity? You most certainly wouldn’t be here if your gran or great gran hadn’t breast fed. You should be grateful to breastfeeding women, not ashamed of them.
Whether you like it or not, a woman IS allowed to feed her child in a public place. The law upholds that right. Whether you agree or disagree with it is pretty immaterial frankly.
I don’t care if you find watching a woman breast feeding her child embarrassing. I do feel sorry for you though. What sort of an upbringing have you had to make that something you are embarrassed about?
Watching someone breast feed is not as gross as say, watching someone chewing a sandwich with their mouth wide open, and plenty of people do that, and exhibit other parlous table manners, and yes, in establishments as classy as Claridges’, but we don’t throw tea towels over their heads. More’s the pity.
I have been to places like Claridges’ on occasion and witnessed boorish oafs who think they own the world shouting and carousing and dominating the dining room and generally making everyone else in the room suffer their ignorance and bad behaviour, but that seems to be acceptable for reasons that are entirely unclear to me, but which I find much more offensive and grating than if I were sat opposite a woman who needed to breastfeed her child.
There are plenty of gross things in the world. Watching someone eat a kangaroo penis on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ is gross. Millions of people watch it without a qualm but get indignant if a woman tries to feed a baby. Go figure.
If you don’t want to watch someone breast feed or chow down on a marsupial penis, don’t watch them. I have the same problem here as I did with Mary Whitehouse constantly being offended by things she saw on television. Turn over Mary. Turn off Mary. You have a choice Mary. When I go to a nice restaurant I am usually looking at a) my food or b) my companions. If someone choses to breast feed nearby I do not drop everything to sit and gawp at them while they do it so I can build up a nice sense of moral outrage. You are an adult. Choose to look away.
If you had ever actually watched someone breast feeding a child you would see that they do not whip their entire breast out and flop it on the table, leave it on show, sort the baby out, plug the baby in and then carry on cheerfully doing what they were doing before with their entire knocker on display. When a baby is being breast fed in public you see less breast than say, if a woman in a low cut dress were to come in and sit near you. Grow up why don’t you?
In a society where women wear increasingly fewer clothes in public, where sexualised images of women are everywhere, where bare breasts are an every day sight on mainstream television, and nobody bats an eyelid about this, why are people upset by the sight of a woman feeding a child?
Breast feeding is not about sex. Breast feeding is about feeding a child when it is hungry. Getting angry or upset about it is a bit like being upset by watching people having a picnic or eating their breakfast.
If you find breast feeding sexually upsetting or arousing this says more about you and your problems than those you attribute to a woman who dares to ‘flaunt’ herself. And if you cannot control your urges to the point where you are willing to attack someone about it, verbally or otherwise, then perhaps you need help.
I have NEVER seen a woman breast feeding who could be said to be ‘flaunting’ herself. Who the hell wants to flaunt greying maternity bras, saggy boobs and leaking nipples? If you know anything at all about the state of a woman’s breasts during pregnancy and afterwards, the word ‘flaunt’ would be the last word you would use to describe it.
Breast feeding is about feeding a child who cannot feed itself any other way. If a baby is hungry it needs to be fed. It can’t wait until lunch time, or dinner time, or whatever time suits you. It doesn’t have to fit in with your schedule.
Breast feeding mothers should not be locked away. When I was the mother of a young baby myself I remember at times feeling invisible, or worse, unwelcome in some establishments because people saw me and my baby as a nuisance. What sort of a world do we live in where people still think this?
This criticism that women who have babies are all about ‘me, me, me’. No. It doesn’t wash. Women who have babies simply want to go about their every day life, just like you, without being made to feel like a pariah, or a second class citizen, or someone who has to be grudgingly tolerated. Why is your comfort, ease, acceptance more important than a mother’s? If a new mother wants to take her family to a nice restaurant with their baby, why shouldn’t she? Her money is as good as everyone else’s.
Some babies are breast fed for a year or more. How long do you expect a woman to stay in the house in some kind of social purdah? Would you relinquish all rights to a normal life, going out, sharing food with your family and friends, socialising, for the benefit of someone who sees you as disgusting? Maybe I see you as disgusting. Are you going to stay in so I don’t have to look at you while I’m out enjoying myself?
What is interesting is that in many upmarket establishments you often see women with small dogs trailing around. I find the wide acceptance of handbag dogs a some kind of fashion accessory to be tolerated in places other animals would not be allowed to go, way more bothersome than a woman who might breast feed a baby, but nobody seems to get upset about that. Or see the double standard.
Your mother may have stayed at home to breast feed you and your delightful siblings. Maybe she did her laundry by hand and ran it through a mangle too. Maybe she didn’t have her own bank account because your dad controlled all the money. Maybe she smoked because it used to be considered healthy. There are lots of things your mother did or didn’t do that you would consider archaic and unnecessary now. Women now are not your mother, and time has moved on and we don’t accept the same standards now as we did then, so maybe you should move on too.
Maybe your mother would have loved to leave the house for a couple of hours and gone out for a nice dinner with you and the rest of your family, and not felt she had to stay trapped at home with wall to wall babies. Maybe you’re just idealising her situation, and maybe she just had to make the best of what she had because at that time there wasn’t any other alternative. But there is now.
Breast feeding is not the same as going to the toilet in terms of what is ‘natural’. Breast feeding is about FEEDING. We eat in civilised surroundings. Why shouldn’t a baby? Why should a mother go to a toilet to feed, no matter how clean or palatial it is? It is still a place where people urinate and defecate. Would you eat your dinner in a toilet? Babies can take a long while to feed. Do you really expect a woman to sit in a toilet for up to an hour while she is out with her friends and family so that she can breast feed a child?
What about you? What would you do if you were that breast feeding woman? Would you stay at home to please other, more finicky people you don’t even know? Would you let your baby go hungry so you didn’t upset a stranger? Would you feed your child in a toilet, however nice?
What about your mother, your daughter, your sisters, your wife? What do you want for them? Is it ok if we treat them like second class citizens? Is it ok if we accuse them of showing off, or flaunting themselves, or being too sexual, or wanting too much attention? Would you be happy if your daughter came home in tears because she’d been forced to feed her child in a public toilet, or had a cloth thrown over her in a restaurant like an angry parrot? Would you?
If the answer to those questions is yes then I just despair. Truly I do.