August 8, 2008

Staying Abreast of the Issues...

We all know a few ‘alternate’ terms for breasts. Boobs. Knockers. Mazungas. Cans. Headlights. Funbags. And, the less commonly known but perhaps most accurate: Milk Jugs.

The last few days, the local media and some national media has been covering the story of a woman who was in H & M department store with her husband, when she was asked by a store employee to stop breastfeeding her baby in the public space, and was given the option to move into a private nursing room set up within the confines of the store. The scene grew to involve a few store employees chattering to management, and trying to usher the woman into the feeding room.

Fast forward to a few days later, and more than a 100 women showed up at the same
H & M location to hold a nurse-in, and remind everyone that breastfeeding in public is not just a privilege: it is a human right. The right of a woman to breastfeed in public is enshrined by the B.C. Human Rights Commission, which states, "women who wish to breastfeed or express milk can do so while walking in stores."

And I am proud to say, at lunch hour yesterday, Kate and Sacha were in the thick of the nurse-in at the department store (six point five weeks old, and a social activist. atta boy!).

The mission of Kate and other women accomplished two things, I think. One, a public apology was issued by store management, and the national spokesperson concurred that what took place was in error, and that H&M do not, in fact, have policy against women feeding their babies in the store. So that was one victory. And second, the action stood to reassert what I mentioned above, that what the women were doing was their right.

Needless to say, the actions of the last few days have stirred as many controversial comments as they have supportive words. And I’m here to say that, as far as the former is concerned, I just do not understand, and see it to be a gross double-standard that is present in society.

We are a society—at least in North America, I would argue—that is obsessed with breasts. Why else would we have so many ridiculous names for a body part that, until utilized in child rearing, does absolutely nothing?

Our advertising is full of over sexualized images of breasts: Suffocated cleavage pouring out of tight fitting shirts in desparate attempts to breathe, shirt neck lines in a suicidal plunge toward the belly button, see-through peekabo sheer materials, and the list goes on.

So WHY, when given the opportunity to see a whole breast, pulled out in public for the purposes of breastfeeding, are people so appalled?

Is it because confident, self-assured women have all of a sudden taken the sex out of the breast and shown it to be what it’s actually for? Feeding children? The horror!

Is it because there’s some sort of breach of modesty? Surely not moreso than the lack of modesty present in today’s advertising campaigns, television shows, and movies.

Is it because we’re so used to media images of babies being bottle fed with formula that we forget that women into themselves are the only vessel for food that a baby needs at the start of its life? Don’t even get me started on the evils of the NestlĂ© Corporation!

I’m particularly surprised by the level of opposition that I’ve heard about public breastfeeding in my own office space, which is filled primarily with female lawyers. We’re taking highly educated people with a respect for the law, and they still think feeding in public is odd. I say that is, as much as anything, our overly-sexualized media culture at work, influencing their opinions.

And, back to the point of breastfeeding in public, there’s also the plain fact that some babies just won’t take a bottle. My own mother recently informed me, while we were discussing this very issue, that neither I, nor my older sister or brother, would have anything to do with a bottle. It was lait d’source, or nothing. When faced with that option in public, guess what? The headlights will get turned on whenever and wherever necessary, in order to cull the screaming fit that often precedes the need to feed.

In summary, I know that everyone is entitled to their opinion on this, and that’s fine, positive or negative towards the matter. I also know that lots of women are probably happy to find a quiet, out-of-the-way place to feed their babies if in a public space rather than be out in the open, and wonder what all this fuss is about.

I would suggest that many of those 100 or so women down at the H & M were those very types, more than willing to find a corner somewhere to breastfeed. But even they came out of the woodwork the other day, to ensure that people remember that when they decide to come out of the corner, or have no choice but to feed in a public space without cover, they have every right to do so.

Ladies, I say milk it for all it’s worth.


Bloggy Mama said...

You're hilarious and awesome.
I once blog-listed all the places (public, mostly) that I've nursed my kids... I've never run into any negative flack about it.
Good job, Kate and Sacha. Also, isn't it funny that "Nursing in Public" abbreviates to NIP?

Anonymous said...

Plus ca change, c'est la meme chose! Or, in other words, I can remember the same stupid arguments going on when my kids (your cousins) were babies! All right to get your tits out for the boys but god help you if you were feeding your baby!

Anonymous said...

Yeah Kate and Sacha!!! And yeah Stu for talking about it! Breast is best anytime, anywhere. And you'll be more than welcome to feed away anywhere at the wedding :-)

Mehrnosh Eftekhari said...

I don't have children, but if I did, I would proudly nurse my child in public and I encourage other women to do so as well. Breastfeeding confirms a woman has enough confidence in her self-worth to protect or in some contexts, demand her rights, including her most natural right to nurture her offspring. It's hardly a surprise that in our society where there is a strong wind of conservatism, a woman's right to breastfeed in public is often heard to be threatened ... Breastfeeding challenges the media model of women as consumers and objects. When a mother hesitates to nurture her infant in public, she is assisting the success of a male-dominated sex industry that objectifies woman's breasts. It's not exactly shocking when men feel uncomfortable with women breastfeeding in public but it's absolutely saddening when women show signs of discomfort around nurturing mothers because they are actually conforming to the male created media model of women that in most cases is the root to the various forms of abuse women receive in their public and private existence. So I say celebrate your gender, your rights, and the beauty of giving life and cherishing its growth: Breastfeed when you need to where ever you are.

Steel Toe Joe said...

Hey Stu- great post. Long time reader, first time writer.

I'm fully in support of the family activism, but find that this story has a small caveat. H&M had (has) a nice, private room set aside for breastfeeding. They have the space. They weren't kicking the lady out of the store, they were just saying, "hey, we know you have to do this... but could you do it here?"
They have changing rooms so big burly men don't take their shirts off in public to try on a shirt off the rack... it's just polite to keep "it all" under wraps.
The argument that lingerie adds are more revealing is really besides the point. The picture of a buff tanned guy, shirtless, in his briefs, is not a license for me to whip off my shirt in the middle of the store.

As a Dad with two kids who have (and are, for the latest) being breastfed, I really appreciate the need to feed whenever and wherever... but when they have a spot for you to do it, why not make the nod to modesty?

Love to the fam!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Steel Toe, for your comments. Right off the bat, let’s just get this point straight: the reason there's a change room for the likes of you in particular, is simply so you don't get mobbed by adoring masses if indeed you did take your shirt off in store :)

As for responding to the rest of your comment, I think your reflection on the store clerk saying ..."hey, we know you have to do this... but could you do it here?"... hits the nail on the head.

Don't poke the bear. Particularly when legally, it can be sitting there in public.

Someone asked Rosa Parks to move to the back of the bus, didn't they? "We know you have to get where you're going…but could you sit at the back of the bus while you get there?" Look where that got the civil rights movement!

I suppose as much as anything, it is human nature to immediately push back against doing almost anything one is asked / told to do, and that's why all those women--your family member included-- did what they did.

And, they would surely argue that putting themselves into the feeding room to 'be polite' would actually just be them bending to pressure from a collective portion of society that is unnecessarily self-conscious and awkward-feeling towards something as natural as NIP'ing (Nursing In Public, as I have recently learned... there's an acronym for everything these days!!).

Cheers, and hello to your clan!

Kate said...

I am glad that you and other women are proudly showing the public that it is natural to breastfeed, and that women should be able to breastfeed whenever and where ever they want. I am only 20 years old, and whenever I see women breastfeeding I smile at the proudly. My boyfriend's sister-in-law was with us at a Red Sox game when her son got hungry, I tried to get her to breastfeed him right there instead of going to the restroom to do it... but she did not feel comfortable and left to feed the baby in the restroom. I felt bad for her and the baby to have to be fed in a public restroom! A reason I feel so strong about breastfeeding is because my mom is a RN and a lactation consultant. We talk a lot about breastfeeding and all of the great benefits, and also about how bad the formula companies are. I know that when I have kids I will proudly breastfeed in public. Thank you for writing about this very important topic!