Mommie Dearest: Shaming Women For Public Breastfeeding? There Should Be A Fine For That!
Another country making leaps and bounds over the US when it comes to supporting mothers? Insert my not-at-all-shocked face here. The Brazilian city of São Paulo recently approved a bill that will fine people $150 for shaming women who breastfeed in public. That’s right. Women in São Paulo who are nursing their babies no longer have to be subjected to rude employees trying to tell them they “can’t do that here.” Or, if they do experience harassment, they now at least have some sort of recourse.
São Paulo kicked this bill into law after numerous high profile incidents where nursing women said they were shamed by officials and called sluts. Ah, the good old Madonna/Whore chestnut. Only, on what planet are these officials living on that breastfeeding is in any way related to a sexual act? It’s also a bit ironic given Brazil’s reputation as a place where it’s cool to go topless as long as you’re also wearing a huge feather headdress (and in case there’s any confusion – in neither of these scenarios are the women “sluts”), a fact addressed by model Navarro Bueno, after she was scolded by a musuem security guard for breastfeeding her 7-month-old daughter. Said, Bueno:
“Unfortunately society is still very puritanical. During Carnival women can show their breasts, but it is not permitted to do so to give milk to your child. It is absurd that woman have to breastfeed in a hidden room.”
Many other mothers agree with Bueno, and hundreds of women took to holding public protests against the shaming of women who breastfeed in public. The government took notice and instituted this new law. To me, this seems like an appropriate response. Brazil is working hard to raise the numbers of women who breastfeed and ensuring they are free from harassment while they do so is one way to do so.
But what about here in the US? When it comes to harassment or shaming over breastfeeding in public, we certainly have our share:
- A flight attendant rudely tossed a blanket at a nursing mom aboard a United Airlines flight and said that was she was doing was offensive.
- A mom in Oklahoma was asked to leave a YMCA locker room for breastfeeding her baby. Ironic, since most women are told to go to the bathroom in order to nurse their infant.
- A corporate Goodwill Twitter account said that breastfeeding should be done in “a private place,” after an employee had publicly shamed a customer on Twitter, including the hashtag #SawHerNipple
- A Texas coffee shop asked a nursing mother to cover up, drawing ire from fellow customers.
And almost weekly it seems like businesses are learning that it’s illegal to make policies that require customers to cover up while nursing or make them go to the bathroom. I’m not sure if instituting a fine in the US would be the answer, but at least it would be something. The attitude surrounding breastfeeding in public needs to change. There is nothing “gross,” “disgusting,” “freaky,” “sexual,” or “weird,” about it. Most people who are uncomfortable about seeing a woman breastfeeding in public are projecting their own issues and frankly, need to avert their eyes if they really find it objectionable. And don’t even try to toss me the whole “but I don’t need to see anyone’s boob!” line, because the reality is that the majority of women who nurse their babies do so discreetly and don’t want you looking at their breasts anyway.
As a country, we tout “breast is best,” but then refuse to support women in accomplishing that goal. Countries like Brazil have even lower breastfeeding rates. So, if it takes fining some businesses so women feel more comfortable nursing their babies in public? I say go for it. Fine the hell out of those businesses! And maybe use some of the funds earned to buy blindfolds for those who get their knickers in a twist about a mother feeding her child.