Disclaimer: This post is in no way intended as a criticism of people who formula-feed. I formula-fed my daughter because of reasons, so I have a foot in both camps. Whether you breastfeed or bottlefeed what matters is whether you feel comfortable to make the choice that is right for you and your baby. No one should ever feel belittled or discriminated against because they have chosen to bottlefeed (no matter what their reason), but the same is true of women who breastfeed.
Recently, I have been noticing people (sometimes breastfeeders themselves) commenting that the stories about women being asked to cover up are non-stories and should not be in the news. I disagree utterly with that viewpoint. I think it’s absolutely vital that every time this happens, it makes the news.
Every. Single. Time.
1. Sometimes we need a reminder of why feminism is necessary
I grew up not really thinking of myself as a feminist. I never felt that I was anything other than equal. It took a while for my viewpoint to shift, and for a while in my mid-twenties I began to recognise how patriarchy and male privilege can shape the lives of women in a way than many people aren’t even aware of.
When I became a parent, my view shifted again. As a woman on the street with children in tow I became invisible, which meant fewer catcalls, fewer insults, fewer men staring at my breasts. I don’t get out as much, so it’s been a while since I felt that my opinions were being discarded before I even started to speak, purely because of my age and gender.
So when a story hits the headlines about yet another woman being harassed for something she’s legally entitled to do, or asked by a business to cover up or leave the premises, it is a stark reminder of how a large section of society views women. And if you’re still doubtful, read the comments.
Let us be clear here: the unwillingness to accept something as simple and natural as a baby being breastfed in public is rooted in misogyny. The expectation that a woman should cover up or hide away or feed in the fucking toilets verges on segregation. In the early days, babies feel all the time. For forty minutes at a stretch in some cases, or even longer.
Oh dear, it puts you off your food? Well, then don’t fucking look. You having to look away from something that you probably wouldn’t even have noticed if you weren’t bent on being outraged is much less of an ask than the hoops you expect women to jump through. Such as feeding their babies at home, or cover up with a shawl (which not all babies will tolerate) or express milk at home and feed the baby from a cup (one astonishingly helpful suggestion, which ignores the slight niggle that expressing is often really fucking hard).
I wonder how many of the commenters who complain about women breastfeeding feel about, oh, I don’t know, Page 3? They must be behind the Ban Page 3 petition if they find inadvertant glimpses of boobs so offensive, right? Right?
2. It normalises breastfeeding and names and shames businesses who discriminate against women.
Although some might argue that all publicity is good publicity, and I do find myself wondering what Claridges’ policy is now, these news stories highlight businesses with stupid, shitty, discriminatory policies. And politicians too, now that I think about it. The more articles like this, the greater the likelihood that all employers and employees will understand their responsibilities and what the law expects of them.
3. It reveals how stunningly ignorant people are capable of being.
I mean, stunningly, jawdroppingly ignorant and stupid. Case in point: on a breastfeeding documentary I saw a while back, a man stated that breastfeeding in public shouldn’t be allowed because of’ ‘paedofiddlia’. He didn’t expand on what ‘paedofiddlia’ actually is, or how it connects to the method of feeding of a baby common to all mammals, but I’d imagine his grasp on that is just as shaky as his grasp on the English language.
4. Paradoxically, it makes me feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public.
Remember the woman who was called a slut for breastfeeding in a Costa Coffee in Purley, London? Shitty, right? But Costa’s response was clear:
‘Mothers bring in children of all ages to Costa and they are always warmly welcomed by us.
‘We have always been very happy for mothers to breast-feed in our stores offering a family-friendly environment that is the perfect place for mums to relax with their children.’
That’s pretty unequivocal, and although I should add that I have never felt otherwise, knowing their policy has made me feel much more welcome as a nursing mother in their branches.
5. It opens up a dialogue and opportunities for debate.
Because every so often, when the moon is fat and blue and pigs are merrily speeding through the sky, someone admits they are wrong on the internet. Hey, it happens. Sometimes. More often it’s just two sides repeating their argument at each other, with no one budging from their starting position.
But that’s not really the point.
A whole new generation is coming up, one who reads shit on the internet, and actually, y’know, thinks about it. Which is why calm, reasoned debate is the right way to go. Because people who may not yet know which side they’re on will be reading and thinking and eventually picking a side. And that’s good, because often they will pick the side which is most sensible and reasoned and backed up by evidence.
Can you guess which side I think that is? Here’s a clue: