Flaunt It Or Cover Up? The Great Public Breastfeeding Debate Continues (Guest Post)

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privatedining

Breastfeeding Campaign Posters Stir Online Debate

“Private dining. Would you eat here?” asks the text of one of poster, which features a photo of a young mother breastfeeding her infant while perched on the lid of a public toilet. Two other images in the series, of different mom-baby pairs, ask, “Bon appétit. Would you eat here?” and “Table for two. Would you eat here?” The campaign, called “When Nurture Calls,” is the work of University of North Texas graphic-art majors Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro, both juniors. They decided to take on the polarizing issue of public breastfeeding for an assignment that required students to design a campaign for a social issue or product, as if it were being created for actual paying clients.

This is one of those recurring social debates and issues that seem to pop up quite frequently in one form or another. As a male it’s a bit of a delicate topic to openly muse about. But rarely have I seen the true issue at the heart of this debate addressed and perhaps it’s time that someone does.

Let’s be completely honest for a minute if we can. The simple truth is that if you have a your tank top pulled down to your waist and you are nursing a 1 1/2 year old while in the check out line at Wal-Mart chances are you are going to get some disapproving stares. If you do that enough places and enough times, someone may gather enough nerve to say something to you about it as embarrassing and upsetting as that may be for you. Tact and consideration for others while one is in public is part and parcel of being a full member of a respectful community and society.

The truth is that this is less about breastfeeding in public, though that is the topic label this movement is hiding behind, but about whether a woman should cover up, be discreet, seek privacy, or take into account the general shopping or dining public while doing so or just half disrobe whenever or wherever as the mood strikes or a hungry infant demands. As with many “controversies of the day,” it’s probably less about what one is doing than about how one is going about it doing it and the attitude of inconsiderate entitlement behind it. I have absolutely no proof to support this particular hunch, but one has to wonder if this current crop of activists is the same people who bared their midriffs and were parading their tramp stamps and belly button rings around for all to see in public just a few years ago. Perhaps they have just carried that same attitude, sense of borderline exhibitionism, and disrespect for others into the Lactivist motherhood realm.

Now I’ve seen some very inappropriate incidents on occasion where a woman was making a big scene and almost purposefully baring all and showing off in a very public place, and yet my wife breastfed our three daughters appropriately and we never had any issues with anyone, anywhere. It’s the ones who don’t know or don’t care enough to not make a scene that seem to provoke these types of controversies. One should not be overly surprised that they are occasionally called out for doing it.

If your attitude is that you can just whip your boob out whenever and wherever you want because you happen to have an infant in the general vicinity instead of perhaps using a bit more discretion or taking a couple of minutes out of your day to find a more secluded and less trafficked public space (or completely private area for that matter), then you probably deserve to be called out for your attitude and behavior by others once in a while. In fact, I encourage other women to help guide and steer these young women in the proper protocols of how to behave and act in public around others. It’s just not something a member of the male gender can do, so we have to leave it up to you. And we thank you when you do.

As we all should know, if you conduct yourself with decorum and respect for others nine times out of ten you will be respected and honored in return. The world is not a perfect place and, indeed, people can be jerks no matter how one may responsibly acts on occasion. But overall people will more positively react to you if you are not throwing attitude or defiance in their direction. The old adage of ‘treat people how you want to be treated’ is still a wise one and it wouldn’t hurt to apply it to this topic as well.

Common decency and respect for other is really not that hard of a thing to accomplish. One can still nurse and be modest. I see it being put into practice all the time so I know it can be done. Be discreet, cover up, and simply don’t put on a show or make a big deal about what you are doing and half the people in the vicinity won’t even notice and the other half won’t care. I’ve seen the extremes when it comes to breastfeeding in public and on at least two occasions both my wife and I were fairly appalled by the out of hand breastfeeding circus being played out in public.

In one instance, I was actually kind of angered that nobody had the nerve to say something to a particular mother who simply had no concept (or didn’t care) about the most basic measures of public decency. It was that out of hand. Just because you ‘have the right’ to do something doesn’t mean that right should not be exercised in a wise and discerning manner. Babies routinely go 2-3 hours between feedings. Why there is this sudden need to play out this all out sitting at the front bench at the entrance to Wal-Mart so you can glare at all those who dare a glance in your direction with less than affirming looks is beyond me. And there is certainly no need to be popping your nipple in and out of your toddler’s mouth every twenty seconds in the play place at McDonalds as your kid alternates between playing and two second refreshment refills from mom. I mean really, no one wants to see that. Feeding an infant should be a bonding and intimate moment between a mother and her baby, not a spectator sport.

Every time you hear about these terrible people bashing some poor mother who was merely trying to give her hungry child his mommy meal, look for the details or lack thereof in the story before you pass judgment. Was the mother being discrete and not causing a scene, or was she flaunting the act and being completely callous towards the sensibilities of others? I suspect that the source of many of these incidents is not the breastfeeding act itself, but the way it was being carried out. Those are two very different things. If you are harassing some young mother because she’d engaged in that particular act just because she’s doing it is one thing. Having to rein in a mother proudly displaying her goods in front of dozens of shoppers and the general public without any attempt at modesty or how it may affect others is quite another. If one is unable to comprehend the difference between the two you should probably not be engaged in this debate in the first place.

If you are one of these mothers who take pleasure in the ‘shock factor’ of flaunting, exposing, and just being generally obnoxious while breastfeeding in public, shame on you. It is because of you that there may be an increasingly hostile view towards all those who breastfeed in public. A few bad apples can ruin it for everyone so don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. While writing this article I solicited and received feedback from a number of my female friends who had breastfed their babies. Some noted that they have noticed a degree of increasing intolerance for public breastfeeding in general, but then went on to blame the aggressive, in your face breastfeeding crowd for provoking a possible backlash in public opinion. It is ironic that those who claim to be these great champions of person freedom in public are in fact undermining the very cause they supposedly espouse and are making it harder, more difficult, and uncomfortable for the average mom to attend to her infant. Don’t be that person who ruins it for everyone else. Remember, breastfeeding is best for babies and we’re all for it. We just don’t need to be invited to the show.

Just because you are a mother doesn’t make you suddenly completely above reproach or exempt from a general consensus of what is publicly acceptable behavior. At the same time, we should all give mothers the appropriate space and respect when they are attending to their infants needs and do what we can to accommodate them and make them feel comfortable. Both as individuals and collectively as a society. There is no greater title for a woman than wife and mother, and fulfilling the role of mother to very young children is not an easy one. Give them a little slack and room, both in public and private, and it will be greatly appreciated by all involved.

To sum this all up in easy to understand terms, basically nobody really cares if you breastfeed in public if you simply can’t wait or it is necessary. Just cover those puppies up and you’ll probably not hear a peep from anyone. Be respectful of others around you and they’ll be respectful to you and we’ll all be able to get past this manufactured controversy with our dignity intact and another generation of well fed and happy baby humans to show for it.

14 Responses to “Flaunt It Or Cover Up? The Great Public Breastfeeding Debate Continues (Guest Post)”

  1. 1

    Budvarakbar

    I find this whole “controversy” to be complete BS — only a ‘society’ that would accept infanticide (abortion) would be so eff’d up that breast-feeding in public would be controversial.

  2. 2

    Tom

    The truth is that this is less about breastfeeding in public, though that is the topic label this movement is hiding behind, but about whether a woman should cover up, be discreet, seek privacy, or take into account the general shopping or dining public while doing so or just half disrobe whenever or wherever as the mood strikes or a hungry infant demands.

    When a baby is hungry and needs to eat, the baby should eat. A baby is pure innocence and should never be made to suffer needlessly.If you have a problem with watching a baby nurse, possibly the most natural thing a human can do on Earth, I suggest it’s your problem, not the mother’s, and certainly not the babies. Expecting a mother to run and hide is to ask her to act ashamed of something that is not shameful. Of course there are those who rigidly feel nudity in all circumstances is shameful. And there are those who can’t stop themselves from sexualizing the female breast in all circumstances. Too bad for them, they got problems. But I got a problem when these degenerates allow their personal hangups surrounding a natural and loving act fuel hostility toward women feeding their babies. And apparently, judging from this diarrhetic manifesto, some of these people are actually proud of their bullying stance and think it’s clever.

    Now I’ve seen some very inappropriate incidents on occasion where a woman was making a big scene and almost purposefully baring all and showing off in a very public place, and yet my wife breastfed our three daughters appropriately and we never had any issues with anyone, anywhere.

    What a load of horse manure. I bet you’ve seen that. I wonder if your wife’s attitude is at all influenced by you bizarre hostility toward women feeding their children in public?

    If you are one of these mothers who take pleasure in the ‘shock factor’ of flaunting, exposing, and just being generally obnoxious while breastfeeding in public, shame on you.

    So how old are your children now? In their forties perhaps? I’m going to guess you don’t have the faintest recollection what it’s like to have a hungry baby crying when you’re, say, shopping, ten minutes from the car, half an hour from home. You’ve been up half the night and you’re sleep deprived, the baby is teething. You’re at wits end. Yes, I’m sure the first thing that pops into a woman’s mind in that circumstance is, “I just couldn’t wait to whip my boob out and flaunt it in from of that old asshole over there who keeps angrily staring at my boob while everyone else just goes about their business. It’s just giving me so much pleasure to shock the only person who can’t stop starring at me as I feed my child”.

    Just because you are a mother doesn’t make you suddenly completely above reproach or exempt from a general consensus of what is publicly acceptable behavior.

    Feeding hungry babies is not publicly acceptable behavior? That’s your conception of a “general consensus”? Good Lord. Not here in the civilization I live in. Boobs bad, open carry good. The Right is so damn interesting.

  3. 3

    Nanny G

    I remember when a local college went from two semesters a year to three (to make more money.)
    But the students, staff and faculty refused to call these terms TRImesters.
    They kept the old word, SEmesters.
    Trimester is more accurate, of course, because there were now three terms per year.
    But the leftist students, faculty and staff claimed that the term TRImester was owned by ”breeders.”
    Therefore they refused to use it.

    We are living in odd times where almost everybody is testing their limits and finding no punishment for doing so.
    So, they go further and further.

    Also, we have a goodly number of 3rd world moms here who wouldn’t have any idea what else to do.

  4. 4

    Ditto

    Frankly, I agree with Budvarakbar. This is a completely natural situation between mother and child that needs not be obsessed about. If you must get upset, get upset of those men craning their necks to get a glimpse of the mother’s breast, or the peckish non-child bearing women who are having a cow over it. Now if the mother is obviously more concerned with putting on a voyeuristic floor show than actually feeding her child, I have no problem with an establishment requesting her to be more discrete or to leave, but if she is doing it politely with good manners then leave the two be.

  5. 5

    jim

    Ditto, you said what I wanted to only better. I have seen both types of mothers and the discrete mother gets all of my support anywhere.

  6. 6

    RFYoung

    @Tom: Tom is right, but don’t forget that making babies is even more natural and probably more important. We could do that at Walmart too.

  7. 7

    Tom

    @RFYoung:

    Ha! Great point. But of course the vast majority of people don’t want to breed at Walmart, and I think that’s something we can all agree upon. Thus my annoyance with the strawman presented above, the fictional nursing mother who is also a lascivious exhibitionist. She doesn’t exist. That’s simply a ugly caricature that the author is using to cast a wide net to bash nursing mothers who don’t conform to rigid behaviors he deems acceptable for women in his extreme patriarchal prudishness. The tactic is synonymous with the modern American Right, of course, with its menagerie of invented bogeymen (Welfare Queen anyone? ).

    Let us also consider what generations and generations of living in human societies have ingrained in us in relation to providing others in our society with tactful privacy at vulnerable moments. I don’t know about you, but my eyes pretty much reflexively filter out and avoid a nursing mother. Someone gawking at a nursing mother would be pretty unsightly, wouldn’t you agree? The complaint in this post is like someone complaining about the sun because it burns his eyes when he stares at it. Well, avert your eyes like everyone else!

  8. 8

    Ditto

    @Tom:

    Aversion to public breast feeding is not a right – left, liberal – conservative issue, even though you want to believe it to be. I have heard quite a few leftists who have spoken out against it (including Bill Maher, feminist columnist Hanna Rosin in Slate and The Atlantic, Harper’s Elisabeth Badinter a French Feminist decries breast feeding in The tyranny of breast-feeding, and Forbes Victoria Pynchon Feminist rant: The Right to Choose and the Tyranny of a Mother’s Breast) and the NY Times has reported on this as well:

    A Breast-Feeding Plan Mixes Partisan Reactions

    “Holy mackerel, I might have to agree with Michele Bachmann on this one!” noted one person on a blog.

    A new mother who called herself a progressive Brooklynite — and would not be identified for fear of scorn from her Democratic friends and other mothers — said that while she hated “just about everything to do with Bachmann’s politics, she is not completely wrong here.” (snip)

    This so called “Tyranny of Breast Feeding” to some feminist leftist’s opinions focus on breast feeding as another ‘traditional’ thing that holds women back. Meanwhile conservative’s have come out in agreement of Michelle Obama’s support for breast feeding, which means that: No Tom it isn’t a partisan issue by any measure.

  9. 9

    This one2

    @Tom: You didn’t read the article, did you.

    There’s a breastfeeding campaign. The article claims this is another manufactured controversy.

    Either knowingly or not, you invoke the “American Right” and manufactured boogiemen…even though the article is claiming that breastfeeding controversy is manufactured boogieman.

    You saw what you wanted to see and didn’t read the article. Dismissed.

    Moving on…

  10. 11

    Tom

    @Ditto:

    No Tom it isn’t a partisan issue by any measure.

    I would imagine more on the Right agree with the sentiments expressed in the OP than you would find on the Left. But feel free to cherry pick. The truth of the matter is that the actual context of the original poster’s expression of deep anxiety is quite beside the point. It’s the anxiety itself that drives the hostility in this case, the same brand of angst that drives laws to limit voting rights, or effusive support for vigilante tough justice dispensed to “thugs”. The Hard Right likes to have specific philosophical reasons for all the things they oppose, but opposition itself is the point. The specifics are relative. This is why the HR of 100 years ago opposed things that the HR of today now takes for granted, and why in 100 years the HR of that time will have moved onto something new. Opposition to change is the “philosophy” and anxiety over loss of control is the motor. Time moves on, new things to hate come along. Does that inconsistency through time trouble you at all from a philosophical standpoint? The fact it’s just one mindless attempt to arrest change after another, through the decades? Right now, brave Conservatives in Saudi Arabia are fighting the right of women to drive and they couch that opposition in the same language and philosophical pap about “publicly acceptable behavior”. So why don’t you have their backs? What’s different about their views from their American counterparts? I suggest nothing but 100 years. Maybe in 100 years they’ll be complaining about breast feeding in public. Let’s not be children: in Saudi Arabia, just like in America, the retention of capital underlines everything the respective economic power structures fight for. It sure is tough to compete for jobs when you can’t drive a car. And it sure is economically inconvenient for a working mother when you put a stigma on breastfeeding. Hold the line. That’s the philosophy of the traditional economic elite and their socially conservative lackeys. But as I pointed out, anxiety is a powerful thing. A black man became President and the Right coincidentally decided it’s time to revisit the VRA. They had another idea, let’s replace him with a rich, white,conservative man, one who isn’t “destroying the Constitution”. Whatever cartoonish tool gets the job done. Ah, blissful status quo. Where would we be without you?

  11. 12

    Ditto

    @Tom:

    What a ridiculously rabid rant you have provided us. It’s a shame that all that expressive ire is founded only in your own political demons and delusions without any supporting facts. I care not a whit for your imagined postulations of how you “think” there must somewhere be legions of White Rabbit Republicans, Mad Hatter TEA Party types or Red Queen Sarah Palins out to ban public breast feeding. The reality of the situation is that it is not partisan issue whatsoever, PERIOD. Regardless of how deeply you have peered into your cloudy crystal ball, or cracked mirror into Tom’s dark Wonderland, there is simply no “there” there. No need to be a drama queen, just admit you were wrong and get over it.

  12. 13

    GeorgeS

    Dear Dave,

    I hope to god this article was written in satire or specifically written to inflame some sort of discussion because honestly if it isn’t I think you’ve got some deep seated issues you need to work out. How in the hell is a woman breastfeeding her child in public some sort of perverse deviant act in your mind? With all the problems in the world how does this subject even come up on the radar? Do you seriously have nothing in your life more pressing than that of some woman you don’t know feeding her kid?

    You want to talk about offensive. How about some of the people I’m forced to witness every time I go in that god forsaken hell hole that is Wal-Mart. Hey old fat white guys they make shirts that are bigger than XL. Hell they sell the damn things right there in the store. I’ll tell you this, I’d much rather see some woman feeding her kid on the park bench in the front than witness the sheer tonnage of man blubber hanging out underneath the T shirts of the people grazing the halls of that place on the overloaded rascal scooters.. But I digress.

    The reason I oh so strongly disagree with you is because we just had our first and the wife is breastfeeding the kid. This is a new one for me and quite the learning experience. I’ve learned that the “Schedule” is a joke. That little monster will wake up 20 minutes after eating and be ready to do it again. I’ve also learned that it hurts when a mother doesn’t breastfeed. This is probably some sort of biological response that nature put in there to keep our species alive for as long as it’s been there. I’ve also learned that when I have to deal with people who find my wife trying to feed our kid offensive and for some reason feel they need to say something I find the fatherly urge to throat punch them becomes almost uncontrollable.

    Honestly I’m sick of dealing with the Crusty Old Codger/Biddy Brigade on the subject of what is decent. The Victorian age has passed. Let it go. What you sound like is the wailing from the Perpetually Offended Leftists who have nothing better in their lives than to cry about some injustice that’s being committed. Congratulations, you’ve become what you hate. Hope you’re proud.

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