The Case For Public Breastfeeding

Posted: January 31, 2013 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Being as how I’m almost nine months pregnant with my first child, whom I intend to breastfeed, this is not an impersonal topic for me. Though it’s something I’ve felt strongly about for many years, the issue has now gone from being purely academic to immediately personal – which makes it something I’d like to address in depth.

So, to begin with: breast milk is undeniably awesome for babies. It really is the best thing for them, and as such, an enormous amount of pressure is placed on mothers to breastfeed their children for as long as possible (provided it’s not too long, according to the prevailing cultural mores, as Westerners tend to get freaked out by the idea of toddlers and older kids still feeding from mum, despite the fact that this is by no means a universal hangup). At the antenatal classes I attended, for instance, the midwife told us that our bodies were designed to breastfeed, and that very few women failed to produce any milk at all – the clear implication being that, if we found ourselves struggling, it was likely because we were doing it wrong, and not because, as a recent article so eloquently pointed out, our bodies are meant to do lots of things they sometimes simply can’t, like produce insulin or digest lactose. 

What this means is that, despite the many benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby, there are myriad circumstances under which it’s either difficult or impossible. For instance: newborns have to be fed every two hours, and can spend up to an hour feeding at any one time – a demanding schedule which, apart from playing merry hob with your sleeping patterns, will likely prove insupportable if you return to work soon after giving birth, if your child wants to ingest more per feeding session than your body can readily produce,  if your nipples are a difficult size or shape for suckling, or if the act of breastfeeding is physically painful.

Similarly, it’s often harder for women who’ve had a C-section to breastfeed afterwards; ditto for anyone suffering from post natal depression, anyone whose child was born prematurely, and anyone lucky-slash-overwhelmed enough to have ended up with a multiple pregnancy. Mothers who take antidepressants or other strong medication that can be passed through breastmilk will either have to abstain or feed only on a very rigid schedule, while anyone endeavoring to cope with transmissable diseases or ongoing substance abuse problems will be likewise restricted. And then, of course, there’s the parents for whom breastfeeding simply isn’t an option: transmen or women without the necessary breast tissue, women who’ve had mastectomies, adoptive parents, gay male couples, parents whose babies can’t latch on, and that apparently rare subset of women whose milk simply never comes in. Add to all this the number of mothers who, for reasons of practicality or personal preference, choose to pump from the outset or go straight to formula, and you have a sizeable number of babies who’ll never be breastfed at all.

And you know what? That’s OK. Because as awesome as breastmilk is, and as lovely as it would be if everyone who wanted to breastfeed was able to do so easily and painlessly, life is far more complex than that, and regardless of the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, feeding them formula either partially or exclusively isn’t the end of the world. Pregnancy, birth and parenting are all monumentally difficult, and given the inaliable fact that no two children, let alone their families, are identical, the idea of tut-tutting people who don’t breastfeed as though from a position of unassailable moral highground is utterly unhelpful.

I say all this as a preface because, far too often, pro-breastfeeding arguments have an ugly tendency to devolve into zealous, moralistic displays of finger-waving, not only at those who object to public breastfeeding, but to any mother who dares not to breastfeed at all. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to say: that is bullshitBreastmilk is awesome for babies, but whatever the scaremongers say, the vast majority of parents are just trying to get by and do their best, usually while sleep-deprived and covered in a thin rime of vomit, week-old cornflakes, talcum powder and crayon. Neither your willingness nor your ability to breastfeed is a magical measure of how good a parent you are, period, and anyone who tries to guilt-trip you to the contrary is probably not a person you should be listening to.

So, with all that out of the way:

I am 100% in favour of public breastfeeding – not just because of the health factor for both mother and baby, and not just because breastfeeding of any stripe is difficult enough to merit constant support and encouragement, but because there is absolutely nothing offensive about it. Which is, for me, the key point, because overwhelmingly, objections to public breastfeeding have everything to do with the potential discomfort of onlookers and nothing to do with what it actually is.

I have, for instance, seen public breastfeeding compared to spitting  or urinating in the street – as though it’s a disgusting bodily function that ought to be kept out of sight, out of mind. Which is, frankly, ludicrous: firstly, because milk, unlike blood, spit, shit or piss, is not a bodily waste product; and secondly, because it’s being delivered into a hungry child, and not spilled wantonly onto the street. Perhaps more importantly, though, the comparison implies that parents either must or should have a level of predictive control over their children that’s simply impossible: an adult who takes a sly piss in an alley is transgressing, not only by dint of polluting the street, but by failing to do the sensible thing and find an actual toilet, whereas it’s utterly unreasonable to expect a mother to predict, with perfect accuracy, when her child will next require feeding, to say nothing of the fact that – as is highlighted by the nature of the debate – she doesn’t have the option of simply finding the nearest public facility built expressly for her needs. (And lest you suggest that toilets, too, are suitable for the purpose: see above re, how long individual feeds can take, which necessitates, at the very least, a place where you can sit for a minimum of fifteen or twenty minutes uninterrupted and in comfort – which is to say, not a public toilet.)

Then there’s the decorum objection: that women should of course be able to breastfeed in public, provided they do it discreetly, or classily, or sensitively, or whatever other word best suits the sensibilities of the observer without recourse to the practical wants and needs of the subject. This argument, while comparatively benign, tends to imbue breastfeeding with an aesthetic imperative above and beyond its actual function – as though the necessity of transmitting milk to a hungry infant somehow magically vanishes if you can’t live up to the sartorial expectations of your hypothetical, voyeuristic, judgmental audience. Carried to its logical conclusion, then, what begins as an offhand plea to ‘just do it nicely’ ends up carrying the implicit rider of ‘or else, don’t’ – an attitude which privileges the moral and/or aesthetic sensibilities of a single disgruntled observer over not only the bodily needs of a child, but also over the ambivalence or approval of every other bystander who rightly deems the spectacle (such as it is) to be none of their business. More practically, and in response to the specific assertion that mums should just be able to cover both breast and child with a handy length of fabric: children squirm, getting a baby comfortably attached to a nipple requires line of sight, and it’s sort of difficult to tell when they need to detach and burp – let alone support their necks and bodies – if you’re simultaneously grappling with a wisp of obscuring linen. So, no: it’s certainly an option, but it’s far from being a panacea, and expecting all mums to adopt it for the sake of a stranger’s sensibilities is wholly unreasonable.

Well, so what about the assertion that breasts don’t belong in public? Surely that has some merit, at least? Only, no, it doesn’t, because as a society, we love boobies. Images of them are everywhere – often portraying more bare skin than actual breastfeeding would necessitate – and whatever moralising some people might get up to about the depredations of bikinis, crop tops, boob tubes and any other form of cleavage-accentuating dress, the idea that they shouldn’t be allowed in public is risible. Because realistically, the objection here isn’t to breasts, per se, but rather to nipples; or, more specifically, to the prospect that a woman might flash one in the seconds before her child latches on and suckles. Which is where I return to the waste products argument; because more than once, I’ve seen it suggested that being able to breastfeed publicly is a nefarious form of female privilege – that somehow, the inability of men to urinate outside (or rather, the illegality of their doing so, as it certainly happens) means that permissible public breastfeeding would be fundamentally unfair, as allowing women to evacuate milk while preventing men from evacuating urine is… an imbalance, somehow? Look: it’s a stupid argument – as I’ve already said, expelling waste into the street is hardly equivalent to expressing milk into a mouth – but for those who want to play the Double Standards card: how fair is it, really, that men can go around topless for the fun of it, while women can’t show so much as a glimpse of nipple while feeding a baby? Is that not a greater and far more gendered imbalance?

Which leads us into the biggest argument against public breastfeeding, and the most frustrating: female sexualisation. Because obviously, lady-boobs are different to man-pecs in that the former can provoke arousal in men, whereas the latter are supposed to be sex-neutral, and therefore exempt from the same rules of cover-uperage. Some men even find breastfeeding itself arousing, lending a pornographic sheen to the public act, and seriously, I cannot even finish this sentence, because you know what? That is your fucking problem, hypothetical observer! I mean, do you know how many men find school uniforms arousing, or nurses’ uniforms, or nuns’ habits, or any other specific form of dress/behaviour/activity you’d care to name? Are you honestly suggesting that, because Person A finds Person B to be sexually appealing in Context C, then Context C ought to be publicly prohibited on the offchance that Person A is present when it happens? Are you seriously contending that a hypothetical voyeur has more of right to abstain from self-control – and, subsequently, to complain about unanticipated arousal – than the subject of their voyeurism does to simply exist in the world without an enforced awareness of the sexual peccadilloes of strangers?

Because, here’s the thing: if you sexualise, feel attracted to or are otherwise aroused by someone? That does not mean they are obligated to care, to reciprocate, or even take steps to make themselves less appealing to you. To paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet’s famous reproach of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, they have every right to act in a manner which will, in their own opinion, constitute their happiness, without reference to you or any other person so wholly unconnected with them. So by all means, be aroused: just don’t expect it to matter to anyone other than yourself, and least of all to strangers. 

Beyond all these objections, however, the debate about public breastfeeding invariably ties into the current angry panic about the presence of parents and small children in public spaces – cafes, planes, theaters, pubs – and the extent to which some areas should be designated child-free zones. And while that’s whole other argument in many respects, I can’t quite shake the suspicion that at least part of the pushback against public breastfeeding can be attributed to the widespread belief that any form of parental exceptionalism is wrong: that, as having a child is neither an outward expression of moral superiority nor a public service, expecting any special treatment or concessions on behalf of said child is nothing more than baseless, greedy entitlement. Parenthood (this argument goes) should more rightly be equated with self-sacrifice, and if that means abstaining from adult pleasures while chaperoning your young’uns, then so be it.

And, look: without wanting to come down irrevocably on one side or the other – this being the sort of issue I’m much more inclined to deal with on a case by case basis – the thing that always bugs me about this attitude is the implied belief that certain public spaces rightly and innately belong to the childless, such that entering them with children is, by itself, a species of invasion. And while there are certainly some specific instances wherein that holds true, in general, public spaces are so named because they belong to the public – which means that it’s just as reasonable for a childless person to expect the parents at table three to shut their toddler up as it is for the parents to expect tolerance from the childless person. It’s all give and take, is what I’m saying, and while I’ll be the first to admit to having eyerolled at a clambering, chattering preschooler in a busy cafe, I also dislike the assumption that parents are alone in feeling unreasonably entitled to the use of public spaces, when clearly, the desire to police their usage is itself a symptom of entitlement. So when it comes to kneejerk reactions to public breastfeeding – or, for that matter, kneejerk reactions to the concerns of childless persons – we could all do much worse than to think about who really owns the space we’re in (if anyone), and why it is we so often assume our own priorities are universally the most important.

Because at the end of the day, while having children is certainly a choice, our insistence on categorising the decision as a mere affectation of lifestyle – as though, if parenthood were to suddenly drop out of vogue like 70s decor or the poodle perm, we’d all just move on to shoulder pads and rollerblading instead – is a blinkered refusal to acknowledge its necessity. It might be an ugly, dirty job as far as some are concerned; but like rubbish collection and sewage maintenance, we still need someone to do it. Allowing for the inevitable, ongoing presence of children in public – and, as a consequence, admitting that their best interests must are also the best interests of society – doesn’t mean you have to worship at the altar of parenthood. Rather, it’s simply an acknowledgement that public spaces are shared spaces, and that sometimes, our personal comfort levels are going to be transgressed or trumped by the rights and needs of others. Public breastfeeding might seem like a comparatively small issue, but it’s one that matters – and one which I wholeheartedly endorse.

Note: this post was originally written in response to a question on tumblr.

  1. archprime says:

    Well written – and I agree.

    Discomfort or any other emotion evoked on the part of an observer is not a good reason for preventing public breastfeeding (or by extension, any other bodily exposure)

    However the reality exists that bodily exposure of certian bits, hoever utilitatarian the motive, does evoke an emotional response in many ( for example the discomfort generated by a desire to look, conflicted with a sense that this is an invasion of privacy – I suspect this is what is most resented)

    It would seem reasonable that this response equally be accomodated, so long as the response is in kind – limited to something that can be seen. For example, if a member of the public seees breastfeeding in a public space, the mother should in turn acknowledge the right of members of the public to watch her doing it – however uncomfortable that might maker her feel.

    No person breastfeeding in a public space should expect greater privacy than is reserved for anyone else engaging in interesting activity in public space.

    Breast feeding in public does not give the public license to do anything more than look of course – and given a few generations for public breastfeding to become culturally normalised, the sight of bare breasts in working mode should be largely de-sexualised.

  2. archprime says:

    Just for the sake of idle trolling (and forgive my atrocious typing – can’t get spell check to work) – would the sight of men donating sperm in public places be acceptable?, Nothing is being left on the sidewalk (it all goes into a cup) and this act is similarly about reproduction & involves aspects of the greater good for society argument, Or does the fact that maturbation can be with reasonable conveinience acccomplished in private have a strong bearing on the acceptability of undertaking that bodily function in public?

    Does public acceptability ultimately boil down to convieniance?

    • fozmeadows says:

      There is no circumstance under which someone would need to masturbate in public, because it can always be postponed. But you can’t put off breast feeding.

      • archprime says:

        Well, you can put it off for a time … with increasing levels of stress to mother and baby. Even a day without food is not fatal unless baby is very weak & dehydrated (not that I remotely advocate testing this – or in fact denying baby just because mother is in a public place)
        My partner and I have a one year old, who she still breastfeeds. She generally chooses not to breastfeed in public, though on occasion will do when this happens to be the best option available.
        If we were willing to suffer greater inconvenience, we could in principle arrange our lives so public breast feeding was avoided altogether. There generally IS a choice. Strategies include feeding expressed milk from bottle instead, having the partner (if any) undertake tasks in public places when there is a risk of baby being hungry, seeking some level of privacy if unavoidably in public etc.

        Your articulated what I would read as the classic libertarian position on the right of individuals to pursue their own agendas without regard or obligation created by the sensibilities of others: “To paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet’s famous reproach of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, they have every right to act in a manner which will, in their own opinion, constitute their happiness, without reference to you or any other person so wholly unconnected with them. So by all means, be aroused: just don’t expect it to matter to anyone other than yourself, and least of all to strangers.”

        You can see the line of reasoning I am exploring: If a woman exposing breasts in public for benefit of her baby constitutes a legitimate act in her pursuit of happiness (i.e. facilitates greater happiness than organising life around avoidance of this) whatever anyone else thinks, then why is it not equally permitted for some guy, otherwise minding his own business, to masturbate in public in pursuit of his own happiness, without regard for the feelings of disgust/ moral indignation and/or arousal evoked in others? If it so happens that such a sight upsets me why should that matter to anyone but myself?

        • fozmeadows says:

          The line of reasoning you’re pursuing is facetious and offensive; by your own admission, you’re deliberately trolling, so why you think I should treat your arguments seriously is beyond me. You’re purposefully endorsing a comparison between breastmilk and other bodily fluids which, as I’ve already pointed out, is a false equivalency: the context and necessity of the action is what matters, and you’re still trying to argue that semen is somehow like breastmilk just because it comes out of a person – as though the two actions have anything to do with each other whatsoever. I honestly don’t know why you continue to read and comment on my blog: all you seem to do is feign agreement with whatever I’ve said, and then respond with an argument so frustratingly underlaid with entitlement, male privilege and oblivious sexism that I want to tear my hair out. If even you can tell you’re trolling, then maybe that’s the point at which you should stop.

          • archprime says:

            Ok two fronts.
            Firstly, if I am really that odious to you and you want me to go away, I will – but I am genuinely astonished at your reaction.

            If the qualities I exhibit by the very act of seeking to test your line of reasoning in a detached way, using an outlier test case (irrespective of my own opinion) reek to you of oblivious male entitlement and privilege etc, you are abandoning rather a lot of intellectual ground.

            I am certainly a sexist/racist/tribalist in the same way every other human being has evolved to be in that of course I do form unconscious stereotypes about people who are different from me, and I am certainly entitled – and privileged in the sense that I actually get to exercise that entitlement to think independently about what I see and am told and read, exploring and testing the rigour of ideas articulated, including ideas about sexism – perhaps learning something from the process, and even perhaps strengthening the arguments others put forward. Trolling in this sense is GOOD thing.

            Why is it not possible to agree with a proposition (no feigning), yet seek to explore and traverse the logic of an argument as articulated? Is detachment somehow a sign of repugnant male privilege?

            How can a position be defended, if the very act of testing it is seen as offensive?

            Secondly, in what objective sense is the semen from my example different than milk? That producing one is seen as positive, and the other as negative in a given context is a purely cultural phenomenon – and it is precisely our cultural mores that you are questioning here, surely? Were we not objectively stepping back from conventions of public morality for a moment and rejecting those that were inconsistent with an individual’s freedom to choose?

            Why is this ok for you to do, but not for me? Are such explorations only ok if they happen to support a feminist agenda?

            • fozmeadows says:

              “Is detachment somehow a sign of repugnant male privilege?”

              Yes, actually, it is: because the ability to detach and be impersonal about what is unavoidably personal for others – to engage with the subject as something wholly separate from your personhood, and then to declare that I’m “abandoning a lot of intellectual ground” simply because I’m both unwilling and unable to treat an argument which directly concerns my rights as an abstract hypothetical – is the textbook definition of privilege. OK? The only reason you’re detached from this argument is because ultimately, it doesn’t affect you: not your rights, not your body, and not the social perception of your gender, and instead of taking that as a sign to be respectful of the feelings and opinions of people for whom the opposite is true – and thereby acknowledging that ultimately, this isn’t a hypothetical issue, but rather something that impacts on the lives of actual human beings – you’ve decided to behave as though detachment is a superior mode of argument: as though you’re better equipped to discuss the issue than someone whom it actually effects, because your lack of experience and investment makes you less biased. That’s what’s making me angry, and that’s why your trolling is unacceptable: you’re trying to educate yourself by provoking me, and then thinking yourself superior when, quite understandably, I treat as personal what is, for me but not you, a personal issue.

        • I’m not sure what mental landscapes you occupy where the the distress of a hungry baby is somehow on a par with your mild frustration that you can’t engage in inappropriate sexual behavior. I think it’s probably a good idea to take a break from those landscapes for now.

          • archprime says:

            “Thought experiment” – look it up, then perhaps get back to me…

            • fozmeadows says:

              …he said, completely missing the point.

              • archprime says:

                No, I did not miss the point (though the various replies arrived here out of sequence). Of course this is personal to you. But just because something is personally experienced does not elevate an argument. Yes detachment IS a superior position from which to argue anything of significance – personal experience definitely informs your position, but detachment allows you to interpret that experience in a broader context, and to test and defend that interpretation. We as a species have benefited enormously in recent centuries from the intellectual process of acknowledging that personal experience alone is a rather fallible guide. Detachment is what got us to the moon, and cured smallpox. ‘Respect for feelings’ as a substitute for detachment and logical wordplay over any issue of substance is patronising – it implies very much that the recipient is not intellectually strong enough to detach or deal with abstraction, or other challenges to his/her world view.
                You are not exactly unprivileged yourself – you obviously have a good education, you write well and have the luxury of time & means to do so. Your experience is different, but your reality is not ‘realer’ than mine. No points scored. Unless you seek only to preach to the converted (who may share more of your experiences), why on earth would you dismiss detachment as a mode of rational discourse? Detached logic is the tool we have for bridging gaps in experience – I may not feel what you feel, but if I value consistency at all, I have to follow (at least for a time) where your detached logic leads me, even if it makes me uncomfortable.

                • fozmeadows says:

                  “detachment IS a superior position from which to argue anything of significance – personal experience definitely informs your position, but detachment allows you to interpret that experience in a broader context”

                  So what you’re implicitly saying, then, is that people who’ll never breastfeed are the most qualified to discuss breastfeeding, because it’s an impersonal issue to them. Following the same logic, one presumes, white people are also best placed to discuss racism, men are best placed to discuss women’s reproductive health, and rich people are impartial judges of the struggles faced by the poor. Take a long, hard look at this assertion, please, because as it stands, you’re effectively arguing that members of oppressed or persecuted groups aren’t as qualified to talk about their oppression as outsiders, because their inability to view their own suffering with detachment makes them biased.

                  What’s patronising, here, is that your assumption that detachment is synonymous with an absence of relevant bias. You’re only detached from the practical consequences of the issues you’re discussing, not from any other moral/political agenda – but by acting as though dismissal of the personal is a sign of your neutrality, you’re actively blinding yourself to the prospect of personal prejudice interfering with or influencing your perspective.

                  More importantly, though: you’re missing the key point, which is that ignoring the personal aspect of certain issues is tantamount to wholly misunderstanding them. At the very least, you can’t have intelligent discussions of significant issues without acknowledging the legitimacy of people’s lived experiences; you need personal testimony as well as abstract analysis, and that means treating the personal with respect.

                  • archprime says:

                    How to you get the idea that detached reasoning is incompatible with personal experiance? You seem to be claiming that oppressed minorities somehow have no claim on that space. That reeason is the province of while males. If an arguement is valid, it remains valid whether or not the person making or scrutenising a claim has ‘lived’ it personally. Without acknowledging the supremacy of detached reason, how on eartth can we critically examine two competing claims based on equally ‘real’ personal experiances? How do we even merit the title ‘civilized’?

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      Firstly, reason is not the same as detachment; you’re the one conflating the two. And secondly, I’m not saying detachment is incompatible with lived experience – only that it’s deeply problematic of you to assert that a failure to detach is equivalent to a failure of logic.

                    • archprime says:

                      Detachment is a vital prerequisite for reason – unless you can objectivly rise above your own beliefs, predjuces and visceral reactions, to the point that you are willing to be challanged on those beliefs without feeling thereby assulted as a person, and until you are willing to change your own beliefs based on superior arguement or evidence, you are not achieving rationality. Nobody achieves perfectly rationality or perfect detachment, but an overt failure or unwillingness to detach when presented with an abstract arguement (such as by thought experiment) in support of or opposing your belief is a failure to engage in logical discourse.

                    • fozmeadows says:

                      So under your system, then, unless a rape victim can rise above their own visceral reaction to having been raped, what they have to say about sexual assault will be less rational – and therefore less valid – than the detached testimony of someone who’s never had that experience?

                      Privilege is what allows you to detach, because this isn’t personal for you. Saying that nobody can be rational without detachment is therefore akin to saying that nobody can be rational without privilege. Do you even hear yourself?

  3. archprime says:

    And no, I was not being facetious. You make the point that any offence or discomfort from seeing a mother’s bare breast is the observer’s problem, I agree and follow with an example illustrating that perhaps culturally driven discomfort in a more generally sense should be seen in the same way – where offence is taken from the act of another person in pursuit of their own happiness, the problem lies with the person offended. Nobody has the right not to be offended, and we perhaps all need to accept that freedom of choice cuts both ways – if we expect freedom in pursuit of our own agendas, we must equally be prepared to accept others doing things we are offended by.

  4. […] Read the rest here: The Case For Public Breastfeeding « shattersnipe: malcontent … […]

  5. Foxessa says:

    I am not a mother and I will not become one in the days left to me on this earth.

    That out of the way now, here it is: anyone who objects to moms breastfeeding their babies in public places should be slapped.

    And that said, I admit to thinking it felt weird to see a 4 or 5 year-old demanding the breast in public — or at home for that matter — which to my best recollection has taken place o, about maybe a whole three times, here in the so-called developed world. More often though in very poor parts of the earth, and then, well, that was the food. But the toll it was taking from the mothers was obvious. None of which is either here nor there probably any of my business.

  6. archprime says:

    You are clutching at straws now – a rape victim, or a bereaved survivor of any serious trauma or loss would of course find detachment much more difficult especially while the trauma is fresh. This is precisely why we do not simply rely on a victim’s testimony and go directly to forming lynch mobs, and instead attempt to impose some form of detched assesment on the various tesimonies in a court of law before reaching any judgement Reported experiance is not always synonomous with obective reality. Very frequently not in fact – for any of us, priviliged white males and females included..

    As flawed as our implimentation of rationality is as human beings, especially when under stress, the ideal of detachment during any assessment of important things is critical. It is also the only meaningful tool we have for exposing our own errors in judgement and hopefully transending them.

    I will hazard the guess however that you are not a trauma victim in the context of our discussion over whether society should learn to tolerate the discomfort of seeing behaviours in others (who are otherwise not engaging with us) that we as individuals might find offensive – or whether a special case for toloerance of those causing offence exists only for breast feeding.

    • fozmeadows says:

      “Reported experiance is not always synonomous with obective reality.”

      See, this is the problem right here: you’re talking about objectivity as though it’s an attainable state – as though your detachment renders you immune to subjective bias, when it quite manifestly doesn’t. Over and over again, you’re imposing a false binary on this conversation: the idea that rationality, reason and logic can only come from detachment, instead of being compatible with possession of an active, personal investment in an issue, and with the passion that often accompanies the discussion of our lived experiences. I don’t have to transcend my personal connection to the topic in order to be rational about it; but by insisting my arguments are inadequate unless I do so, you’re both patronising my intelligence and demeaning the importance of first-person testimony.

      So, OK. This is a post in support of public breastfeeding. Right? I’ve written it emotively, in the sense that it’s something I care about, but I’ve also laid out my thoughts in a clear, rational fashion. As part of my discourse, I’ve responded to a number of well-known arguments against my position by speaking as though to a hypothetical interlocutor, pointing out the extent to which such claims are ultimately founded on a series of false equivalencies. Specifically, I’ve addressed the specious comparison of breast milk to other bodily fluids: I’ve stated emphatically that such comparisons miss the point of the issue, have explained why this is so, and then moved on to the next point. My disdain for this type of argument is clear. So when you, under the free admission of trolling, decide to not only reintroduce the bodily fluids point in comments, but contrive to make it the crux of the matter – as though proving a weakness here will somehow undermine every other point of relevance – what you’re telling me is two things: firstly, that you’re being deliberately provocative, and secondly, that you most likely don’t understand my original argument. This does not endear you to me. In fact, it makes me angry, because to all intents and purposes, you’re arguing in bad faith.

      So let me be perfectly clear. The right of mothers to breastfeed their children as and when required is not – should not – be contingent upon the construction of some arcane, pointless continuum governing the legal expulsion of bodily fluids in public by members of either gender, because the issue has absolutely nothing to do with bodily fluids and everything to do with the realities of childrearing and the personal rights of women. By focusing on the former element as though it were not only relevant, but moreso than the latter two, you’re ignoring the issues that manifestly *do* matter and thereby derailing the conversation. Calling it an intellectual exercise doesn’t make your behaviour any less frustrating, because even if solved to the satisfaction of both parties, the bodily fluids angle still contributes nothing to the debate that isn’t acutely irrelevant – which means that, by pushing the argument, you’re requesting repeat engagement on a point that’s quite clearly moot. That’s not you being detached from the issue; it’s you misunderstanding what the issue actually is. Hence my irritation.

      • archprime says:

        The male body fluids angle is incidental to my argument – it is merely an example of potentially offensive behaviour that stays broadly on the theme of natural (some might even consider beautiful) bodily functions occuring in public rather than in private – for reasons that are entirely the business of the person involved.. My example was selected as somethng potentially inflamatory – precisely to test the limits of the principle of social tolerance for offence that you articulated. It could equally revolve around appearing nude in public, or mounting placards depicting images of the prophet and Jesus engaged in some kind of proscribed sexual activity with Shiva on your front lawn.

        The realities of child rearing, and the desirability of being able to feed in public I have some passing aquaintance with, even though I can’t breast feed myself.

        You wrote your article well, and convincingly, and dare I say it, rationally. The value of your arguments to me lay in their reasoning and articulation rather than on your of depth of feeling – though passion for a subject is great & perfectly legitimate fuel to power the search for rational articulation of a position.

        It was not until you reacted to my thought experiment on extending your sub theme of social tolerance that your rationality wavered and my dissapointment began.

        Arguing hypotheticals may seem like a game to you, but when you refuse to play it, and in fact display open intolerance for abstraction from specifics into into principles, and treat another’s very train of athought as offensive, you alienate many of the people who might need convincing.

  7. Sanna says:

    archprime – Who are these many people foz meadows is alienating? Why is it her job to convince them? What’s stopping you from making your own argument for (or against) public breastfeeding, in an attempt to convince them yourself? Preferably somewhere else, where you’re not derailing the conversation? She has no obligation to write the way you want her to write, or to discuss this topic from the perspectives you find important. It’s arrogant of you to expect her to play your games by your rules just because you say so, especially after she’s pointed out that THIS IS NO GAME TO HER.

  8. archprime says:

    An article written to make the case for public breastfeeding is presumably posted in order to make that case? – making it the author’s job to convince the reader. That said, as far as I am concerned the case was made. The reader is convinced. there is no dissent over the issue being expressed anywhere in these comments as far as I can see, and as the person who supplied the only comment my own was the only ‘conversation’ I could derail.

    No expectation to write differently was expressed (Fozmeadows writes very well as it is) , no arrogance was involved – the rules are not mine, and neither is the game. ‘What if’ conjectures inform all realms of thought, always have done – they are how we test and improve our ideas. This is a game you play yourself every time you chose the words you will use when writing a sentence, or chose who will next represent you in an election. Or whether to vaccinate your child.

    “What if” is important. A willingness to set aside our immediate feelings and explore principles and consequences (‘detach’), however imperfectly, is what separates the rational from the irrational.

    I hope the author was not in the midst of a crisis when responding to my comments – and if she was not, the necessary detachment to respond to my detached “what if” in kind was available to her.

    Instead I got a reaction that immediately typecast and dismissed me, and in fact the whole ‘privileged male’ notion that detached exploration of principles and consequences is better way of dealing with important things than simply responding to personal feelings and experiences. Stuck me as odd, given that her article explored principles and consequences in a fairly rational way – and in fact drew from libertarian philosophy that exalts rationality over personal feelings.

  9. lamellae says:

    Foz, I think you’ve put the case very well for why breastfeeding in public should be treated as a normal and natural part of human society. Personally I’m not sure it’s as tied to issues of children having no place in public spaces as it might seem today, as this is issue pre-dates the rise of that attitude, but I think that attitude is adding yet another reason to the debate.

    I think that the whole debate about breastfeeding in public is sad… children are an integral part of human societies and breastfeeding is a part of life. That people are made uncomfortable by it is sad. I’ve always thought of it as a symptom of our disconnection from our bodies, and from the natural processes involved in life and death.

  10. I agree with you, Foz, with one minor comment: blood is not a waste product and voiding it (particularly in public) is never voluntary.

  11. Jamie says:

    “Archprime makes such clever and profound arguments!” said no one ever.

    Please stop feeding this idiot. He’s just a smug [comment edited for abuse] who likes to pretend he’s a great philosopher.

  12. slhuang says:

    Great post! I completely agree with you that breastfeeding in public should be considered a non-issue.

    I do think there is some value to the mother attempting to do it discreetly, however. Not because she has to, not because she “shouldn’t do it at all” if she can’t do it discreetly for any reason, but out of sensitivity to the many people who *are* socialized to become embarrassed at the baring of a breast. Because our society *does* have hang-ups and just because such hangups *are* the onlookers’ problem doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing if the woman in question (should she be able to comfortably) chooses to be sensitive to such hangups. Sort of like pulling up your car on the street so that more people can park — you’re not a bad person if you don’t, and it’s not horribly offensive if you don’t, and you’re not going to be disallowed from parking on the street if you don’t, but it’s just sort of a nice thing to do. So, do I think discretion should be “required?” (By whom, right?) No, but I do think it’s a thoughtful sort of thing to do, and I think it’s nice when people are thoughtful.

    The one part of your post I do disagree with is on the misbehavior of small children. Forgive me if I’m reading your post in a more extreme fashion than you meant it, but I do believe that I have some expectation in many public spaces not to have to put up with a screaming toddler nearby. For example, in an airplane I would not be offended by a loud baby — bothered, but not offended — since the family has nowhere to go (as long as the parents were making some effort to calm their child), but in, say, a restaurant? I would expect the parents to discipline their child or take him/her out of the restaurant out of consideration to the other patrons. In a place like a movie theatre or stage show I would find an undisciplined child to be even more objectionable, as such a disruption would interfere even more with the enjoyable experience I had sought out and paid for. It’s not so much that I expect those spaces to be “for the childless” as I expect there to be some minimum standard of behavior — I would object to an adult screaming and demanding things, too! I think part of this opinion comes from my frustration with what I see as a lack of parental discipline in such situations — when I was a child, if I threw a tantrum, my parents would remove me from the space and then discipline me; I was expected to know how to act politely in public or in other people’s spaces, and I don’t think that’s too high of a standard to ask of parents. I have no problem with well-behaved kids — no matter how exuberant! — being in any public space, even “adult” spaces.

  13. SorchaRei says:

    The problem with the “I have problem with children who can behave well in public” approach is that it begs the question of how children are to learn public behavior without ever being allowed out. In public until they have done so.

    For myself, I view the world as having several different types of public spaces. I don’t expect to see children at the showing of foreign films until they have mastered more basic public spaces, but the flip side of that is knowing that in other public spaces, children have to be given the chance to learn how to sit still, use and inside voice, and exercise patience.

    As a sample, consider restaurants.

    If I ever found myself with a reservation to The Fat Duck, I would expect that any children there would have mastered the advanced “eating out” curriculum, and I would be upset and angry to find myself in company with a screaming toddler who was running underfoot. I think that this is a reasonable expectation, given the sort of destination dining that establishment offers.

    On the other hand, I have no such expectation of fast food joints in suburban strip malls. In fact, I think that part of why such places exist is so that children can work on their very basic “eating in public” skills. Once those are mastered, then the parents can offer the child an intermediate experience, such as a restaurant that caters to children (say with a kids’ menu and a coloring book) while still providing such amenities as printer menus, waitstaff, and so on. Do I expect all children to behave perfectly in such a setting? Not really. I do expect to see parents making their expectations clear and responding to imperfect behavior by correcting it, helping the child take a time out to wind down and regathering her patience, and then giving the child a chance to try agan. If the parent is doing his bit by parenting the child through this process, then I can do my bit by being tolerant of the learning process. If I want to avoid children altogether in restaurants I suppose I could confine dining out to places such as The Fat Duck. But if I patronize a restaurant with a kids’ menu, then I should expect to see kids. And while I hope they are largely well-behaved, I don’t insist that they never ever do any learning in my presence.

    After all, I am into my sixth decade and I am stil learning tons of stuff about being human and behaving well in trying situations.

    • Lee says:

      I actually came in here to comment something right along these lines (and got distracted by the pretentious sexist douche who represents SO MANY men I have met in my life), only to find someone already had! I agree completely. There are some places where one can expect children to be either absent entirely or well-behaved. For example, I work at a family restaraunt, a pizza buffet, with a game room DESIGNED for small children and a ticket counter with toys for young children. I can rightly expect small children to be present, en masse, and that this would be a place where they’re learning how to act in public.

      HOWEVER… there are some things you can and should teach your children befooooooore expecting the general public to deal with them. As soon as a child can walk reliably, the “no running indoors” rule can be taught, without the need to involve a stranger accidentally kneeing your child in the face. If your child is old enough to eat without you feeding them, they are old enough to be taught not to throw food into a stranger’s hair. (I have fed children who are too young to understand the ‘don’t throw food’ rule… they don’t exactly have a lot of throwing power. They mostly just mess up the immediate area.)

      I got a little sidetracked. My point originally was going to be, if I am in a fancy restaurant, I can reasonably expect my stay there to be screaming child free. Also, and this is a big one, IF I AM IN A BAR, I CAN REASONABLY EXPECT MY STAY THERE TO BE SCREAMING CHILD FREE. I cannot emphasize this enough… bars are one of the few places in the world that are implicitly child free. If you take your child into a bar that also kind of sort of doubles as a restaurant–a sports bar, for instance, perhaps where the main source of food is nachos–you are doing parenting wrong. To expect the world to understand your child’s needs is acceptable in regular, daily life. Going into an area that is almost always, without exception, child-free, and expecting those people, who may well have gone to that place BECAUSE it is child-free, to cave to your needs the same way they will in say, a child’s restaurant, is the arrogance that some people speak of in parents.

  14. Miri says:

    I’ve written something very similar before, but this is definitely more comprehensive and better-argued. Great job!

  15. I’ll tell you how I got away with breastfeeding in public; I did it in black leather jeans,boots, a bike jacket and a mohawk and NOBODY was willing to point any sort of disapproval my way. It’s saddening and frustrating that intimidation was my most effective tool. But there it is.

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