This was supposed to be a post about a nurse-in provoked by an incident that occurred at a Texas Target, where a mother was apparently sitting unobtrusively in a corner (albeit on the floor) nursing her infant under a cover. The woman was asked to move to a dressing room, and when she refused, she was treated rather rudely by the Target staff. According to a letter from the mother herself which was posted on Best for Babes’ website:
“Briefly I will say that 2 female employees came and verbally asked me to move. The 2nd one told me that Target employees had been told/trained to interrupt nursing and to redirect mothers to the fitting rooms. Even after I informed the 2nd employee of my legal right to nurse in public she still suggested me moving closer to the jean display, turning to face another direction, and also turn my basket a certain way which would have put me practically underneath the jean display and totally barricaded me in. Employee #2 even hinted in a threatening way “you can get a ticket and be reported for indecent exposure” when nothing was being exposed and there was more boob showing from low cut shirts several shoppers were wearing that night. This does not include the other 3-4 employees besides the 2 verbal ones who were all watching and making a spectacle of my nursing by standing around pretending to do something and giving me mean looks and shaking their heads no back and forth. In a side note not a single non-employee customer ever saw the incident so I’m not sure why the employees were trying to act like I was offending “the public” and that it was their job to step in.”
When she contacted Target headquarters, they informed her that their rules were not necessarily one and the same with state laws. The mother approached Best for Babes, and through grassroots efforts, an international nurse-in was planned for Wednesday, Dec. 28th at 10am.
I heard this story and immediately thought, awesome. There have been cases where I thought a nurse-in was a misguided approach; a recently publicized situation in Washington D.C. springs to mind, when it was apparent that the issue was not breastfeeding in public, per say, but rather loitering in the hallways of a government building. I think that the power of this particular sort of protest is lost when used too often for the wrong things; I also believe that nursing moms deserve the same rights and privileges as everyone else – not less, but also not more. If the goal is to normalize nursing, let’s normalize it, not glorify it.
Yet, I have said many a time that if there were a way for a bottle-feeding mama to voice her support for a woman’s right to nurse in public, I’d champion whatever it was. This kind of seemed like “it”. I don’t know this mother from Adam; I don’t know if there was another side of the story; I don’t know if she’s telling the absolute truth about how it all went down. But I’ve seen enough scorn directed at women who are nursing in public to feel that this is a plausible scenario. So I think it’s at least worth encouraging bottle-feeding moms who do want to support the cause to go for it, and to let them know that they (hopefully) would be welcome to join their nursing sisters down at the local Target to make a statement.
I posted as much on Facebook, and boy, was it not the reaction I was expecting.
The first argument that popped up was that some readers felt a nurse-in was unwarranted. Many felt the issue was that this mother was parked on a floor feeding her baby; had she been accosted in, say, the cafe area, or on a bench, it would’ve been a different story. I wholeheartedly agree with this. Large retail chains need to follow some basic safety rules, and having someone sitting in aisle could be a fire hazard. It may be a stupid rule, but that’s not really the point. For example, a Target employee recently embarrassed me terribly by telling me rather loudly that “my child needed to sit down in the cart right now“. My son is shy as they come and not rowdy in the least; he had stood up for a split second to point at a shirt he wanted. I was pissed, and felt simultaneously ashamed and outraged. Who was this kid to tell me how to parent? was coupled with “What kind of parent am I that this kid has to tell me to abide by basic safety rules?”
But from what this woman has said, and Target’s response (or at least what the media has reported as Target’s response), I don’t think this had much to do with her sitting on the floor. My litmus test is imagining what would’ve gone down if she was feeding her baby a bottle on the floor… and somehow, I really can’t imagine the situation evolving in the same pattern. Maybe I’m wrong; maybe this is only because a bottle-feeding mom would know that it wasn’t anything to do with antiquated ideas about public indecency, so she would just think it was Target being asinine about regulations. In my gut, though, I feel that this was about breastfeeding, and if so…. that is not okay. And I think a statement should be made to show the world that mothers won’t take this sitting down (no pun intended).
Look. If we strip down all the mommy war bullshit, the sad fact remains that all mothers are disenfranchised, in one way or another. If we don’t stand up for each other, who will?
But, um, on the other hand…FFF Sara voiced something on the Facebook thread that gutted me (and I hope she doesn’t mind me re-posting it here):
“I know that fff doesn’t want to contribute to the bf v. ff animosity that is so prevalent. And I respect that. But sometimes it feels so one sided to be a ff mama who supports bf rights. We have to explain and defend ourselves, our decisions, our reasons for ff all the time in a motherhood culture where “breast is best!” and “formula is poison” are constant refrains. And we need to make sure they know we support their right to bf lest we sound politically incorrect and disloyal to the sisterhood. Yet I so rarely see the bf community sticking up for the ff mama’s. Maybe when they stage a bottle in at a so called baby friendly hospital…maybe when they stop comparing ff to child abuse…maybe when they stop saying “formula should only be available by prescription only”….maybe when I can say I ff my kids without getting dirty looks from other mamas, without having to go into an explanation about my depression meds being contraindicated with bf, and wax pathetic about how I really wished I could nurse too just like the real mamas just so I can pass some kind of deserving of motherhood test that women with kids inflict on each other..maybe then I will begin to care more deeply about the plight of nursing mothers on the floor of Target…I wish that support was more mutual. And bf moms have so many advocates, groups,organizations,consu
ltants. We ff mamas have you.“
Touché. And ouch.
Reading that, I felt like an asshat. I realized I never should have posted about a nurse-in without explaining myself first.
Guys, I know it seems like I am getting all riled up about breastfeeding moms when I should be focusing on the injustices that formula feeders are facing. Both types of feeding come with their own particularly noxious pile of crap. Breastfeeding moms get nasty looks when trying to feed their babies in public; bottle-feeding moms get nasty comments from physicians, the media, and the parenting literature. It shouldn’t be a battle over who has it worse.
I know that many of us feel we don’t get the same solidarity or compassion from the bulk of the lactivist community. And you know what? We don’t. But I want to stand up for the women who do give us support; the ones who do stand up for us on a daily basis on breastfeeding blogs; the ones who frequent this blog and our Facebook page and Bottle Babies and offer positive commentary on a daily basis. I want to stand up for our breastfeeding friends who are being harassed for nursing in public, just like they stand up for us when people start hurling “breast is best” admonishments at grieving mothers. I don’t have blinders on; I realize that most of the women involved in this particular nurse-in probably don’t give a rat’s ass about me or any other formula feeding mom; I know that many probably think we perpetuate the same bottle-feeding culture which alienates them in the first place; many are the same folks who have berated us time and time again, who have pretended to support us and then belittled us behind our backs.
I don’t care about them. I care about you guys. But I also care about creating a future where mothers do have each others’ backs. I know it’s probably futile and Pollyannic and all, but I can’t help myself. I hope you can at least trust that if I didn’t think that standing up for a breastfeeding mom’s right to nurse in public would make things better for all mothers, us included, I wouldn’t bother to bring up the protest in the first place.
I take the credo of this blog very seriously. “Standing up for formula feeders” means that FFF is first and foremost a blog that supports and protects formula feeding or combo feeding mothers. But the second half is important as well – “Without being a boob about it” means that I will fight for breastfeeding rights too, because I don’t want anyone feeling ashamed or marginalized, because of the way they feed their babies.
That said, all I ever wanted to do here is spread the word about the nurse-in, in case that some non-breastfeeding moms would like to participate or show support. That’s it. It was never meant to be a huge issue, and certainly never meant to hurt any of you, or make you think my focus is blurry. Information on the protest can be found here; I would love to hear about how it goes if any of you do attempt to join the demonstration; otherwise, case closed, ok?
And just wait until I have an opportunity to stage the “bottle-in” that another reader jokingly referred to on Facebook. I’m chomping at the bit for that one.