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.