Why I’m Glad When Anti-Breastfeeding Stories Hit the Headlines

breastfeeding gif

Yes, this really is a gif of my son getting squirted in the face with breastmilk. This is his second favourite use for it

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.

Here’s why.

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.Β  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:

breastfeeding baby

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About allpastmidnight

Hi, I'm Alison, I am a mid-thirties mum to two children, Little Man and Wee Girl. Wee Girl is pre-verbal and has autism, while Little Man is the sort of happy chatty little guy who gets into everything and sings at the top of his lungs β€” until the moment he makes eye contact with a stranger and he goes silent. I am cynical, sweary, and a bit disorganised, and I blog about parenting, ASD, food and just about anything else I can think of. Feel free to follow me on any of my social media. I can also be contacted by email at allpastmidnight [at] outlook [dot] com.
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22 Responses to Why I’m Glad When Anti-Breastfeeding Stories Hit the Headlines

  1. Silly Mummy says:

    I agree with all these. (My youngest has always been really shocked when she accidentally squirts herself in the face with breastmilk. She doesn’t seem to find it as funny as you little one does!) #mummymonday

  2. Jenni - Odd Socks and Lollipops says:

    I always find it so sad that such a fuss is made about breastfeeding, with national breastfeeding week a few weeks ago, and the study which came out of Brazil a while before that – it seems that we are not allowed to celebrate breastfeeding, without being accused of making other feels guilty, or making a show of ourselves which is really depressing for want of a better word.
    I agree with you and I do like the fact that these stories raise awareness but I worry how many people would be uncomfortable to feed in public because stories like this seem to be everywhere – and in turn how many then stop breastfeeding sooner than they would have if they didn’t fear what might happen if they were to feed in public?

    • Hi Jenni. Thanks for visiting and for your thoughtful comment,

      I can understand there being a certain amount of defensiveness on the part of breastfeeders, which is why I think it’s important to make it clear that no judgement is intended. THe other side of the coin to ‘Breast is best’ is ‘Formula is bad’, so even if that message is not intended, it’s still the one people can hear, particularly if they’re already defensive and unhappy about the choice they’ve made. And there is a (small but vocal) faction who really can be very nasty about formula-use, so no wonder people get on edge.

      As for the ‘making a show of ourselves’ bit, I tend to think of this as another way of wanting to silence women and taking back our control over our bodies. Why is Page 3 tolerated and consumed, but a woman feeding her baby quietly in the corner something to be take offense over? It’s also a bit of a Straw Man argument, this mythical breastfeeding mother who feeds her baby while dancing on a table, flashing her breasts and squirting passers by with the nipple that’s not being munched on.

      ‘I agree with you and I do like the fact that these stories raise awareness but I worry how many people would be uncomfortable to feed in public because stories like this seem to be everywhere’

      You have a point about the stories making people feel uncomfortable, but I think that’s also why it’s so important to get the message out there that discriminating against breastfeeding mothers is unacceptable.

  3. Thank you for this great, well-reasoned post. I particularly like your point about dialogue being necessary to normalize breastfeeding as I think a lot of people react negatively simply because it still isn’t that common and it still makes them uncomfortable because of a lack of habituation. Following your blog now too! #mummymonday

    • Thanks! I think that’s why it’s so important to remain calm and reasonable; even if you never change the minds of the people you’re debating with, other people will be reading.

  4. helen gandy says:

    Such a good post and so well written! I really do not know why people make such a fuss about breastfeeding, it’s crazy! It’s such a natural thing to do!!

    Helen – #mummymonday

  5. Julie S. says:

    YES!!! Shaming these businesses for giving breastfeeding mamas a hard time is great for empowering other mamas and for normalizing breastfeeding too. Great post!

  6. Becky, Cuddle Fairy says:

    I agree, these stories should be shared in the hopes that people will be more open-minded in the future – or at least mind their own business. I never understand why breastfeeding offends anyone, just look away if you don’t want to see it happening. Beautiful photo of you feeding baby! #ShareWithMe x

    • Thanks Becky. It’s just baffling, isn’t it? What gets me is this belief that if you don’t like something people do, they need to stop doing it, never mind that it has so many benefits. ‘Nope, I don’t like that. Stop it now.’ Just this bizarre belief that the world revolves around them.

  7. mumzilla says:

    I do love a sweary blog, and this is a topic that makes feel sweary! Hear hear.

  8. I can’t believe there is any discrimination still in the modern age from business on breastfeeding. I am the same I have a foot in both camps for reasons too and I just don’t get why people dont get how nature it is and to stop judging others and especially businesses discriminating against it. Ridiculous. Thank you ever so much for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

  9. Thanks for linking with #BreastfeedingandI and so sorry that it took me forever to get here. It’s been quite a wirlwind with World Breastfeeding Week.

    Good points about what breastfeeding in the news does. The one that stands out the most for me is the opportunity of establishments to confirm their attitude towards breastfeeding mums and offer their reassurance and support. Good to know your’e welcome, isn’t it.

    Interestingly, a number of women are against some or all ways of breastfeeding in public. I say, feed your baby never mind others, in the way that you’re comfortable. The weight of other people’s expectations and issues is definitely not what a mum who breastfeeds need, especially if you’re confident about feeding in company and in public.

    • Don’t worry about it. I think what we need is more establishments standing up and making it clear that they ARE breastfeeding-friendly. It’s one thing to comply with the law, and it’s another to make it clear where you stand, and doing so without an unfortunate woman having to be harassed and intimidated.

      Thanks for visiting.

  10. Pingback: Why Alex Dyke’s comments have nothing to do with breastfeeding | All Past Midnight

  11. The Nursaholic says:

    Hi, just wanted to let you know I think this is an interesting perspective and I appreciate you sharing it! Also I think your blog is a fun read so I nominated you for the Liebster Award. Click here to find out more about it and accept if you’d like πŸ™‚ http://mamasmilknochaser.com/2015/08/14/nominated-for-the-liebster-award-after-9-months-of-blogging-time-to-birth-this-blog-baby

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