A kind of woman

Yesterday morning, I watched about 30 seconds of television that rankled so much I’ve hardly stopped thinking about it.  It struck a chord particularly as it came not long after I’d read this great post about breastfeeding in public on the excellent blog Spilt Milk. I’d been thinking that surely it couldn’t be true that people were still so bothered by seeing women breastfeeding while out and about with their babies. That must be happening in Some Other Country.

Girl, oh girl, did I get a rude awakening. I flicked on the telly while taking out a dvd the kids had been watching and saw Mia Freedman on a chat show (it was the weekend version of Today). She was talking about breastfeeding in public (for more, see here), so I stopped for a moment. The male host, a fellow with a vaguely familiar face called Cameron Williams, interjected at one point, with something along the lines of “Yes, but it’s better to be discreet, a woman should cover herself with a shawl or something.” This is when I felt a sort of nervous twitch start up. I thought I saw Freedman’s smile tighten just a little as she tried to explain how hard it can be when you have a wriggling baby and you are dealing with the various difficulties of breastfeeding, to worry about covering yourself up. The male host was not to be deterred by such justifications. “Yes, but there’s a kind of woman who approaches it like she’s going into combat…” At this point I started hyperventilating. My husband, who’d been quietly reading the newspaper, said “Oh, my God. Any sentence that starts off like that cannot end well. Turn it off.” I promptly followed his advice, fearing that further exposure to such b******t could induce a grand mal seizure (and I’m not even epileptic).

For the past day I’ve had that phrase echo in my head: “a kind of woman”. I still don’t know how to express in words the outrage, the deep sense of personal offence that I feel. I remember the times, not long ago, when I breastfed my babies while out at a restaurant, a cafe, a shopping centre, a park. I remember battling with my own prudery and lack of confidence, telling myself to get over it and that no-one minded or even noticed if I gave my baby a feed there and then when he wanted and needed it. I probably did sometimes look like I was going into combat, struggling to calm a screaming baby who sometimes had trouble latching on, determined as I was to conquer my shyness and do the right thing by my baby. Thank God I didn’t really know that all along, some people were looking at me and thinking I was that “kind of woman”, or my milk would have dried up in about a nanosecond.

I like to imagine that after I turned off the tv, Freedman stood up and did a Matrix-style martial arts manouvre on Mr Williams, leaving him huddled and chastened. Or that the female co-host, who did not say much in the 30 seconds I was watching, turned and said “You know Cameron, I find your face quite offensive, you really should be a bit more discreet and cover it up with a shawl or something.” I can dream, can’t I?

5 Comments

Filed under Family matters, In the news, Pontifications

5 responses to “A kind of woman

  1. Kudos to your husband for quick-thinking with the off-switch! If that’s the show I’m thinking of, that Cameron guy just became a father… I guess his wife just isn’t very, um, combative. Or perhaps we can also dream that she went into combat-mode when he got home!

  2. Great post…

    I particularly enjoyed the “I find your face quite offensive” line, which got a laugh-out-loud from me (never can bring myself to say LOL).

    I remember attending a mothers’ group meeting for the first time back in England when my firstborn was only six weeks old. All the other women were bottle feeding, including my friend whose milk had dried up due to a family tragedy shortly after her child’s birth.

    I felt a little funny about breastfeeding my son in front of these women whose attitude was “Oh, you’re still doing that.” My son didn’t help matters by wrenching himself off every few gulps leaving my bared breast to spray breastmilk everywhere.

    Later, my friend told me that while she was still trying to breastfeed, she had ended up doing it in the toilet at one of those mothers’ group meetings as she was made to feel that embarrassed.

    It made me wish I had sprayed breastmilk on all those women, rather than just on the tablecloth. Although I was still pretty proud I’d left such a stain.

  3. possiblelinley

    That people still hold such small minded views of breastfeeding in public is unbelievable. It actually reminded me of a news article I saw about a week ago where a woman had been breastfeeding her baby on a tiger airways flight when an attendant suggested she cover up her son by putting a blanket or pillow over him because it might offend some people, such as the man next to her.

    The mother then asked the man next to her if he found it offensive and when he replied, no, the flight attendant persisted saying that perhaps it would offend people walking down the isle, then without further conversation, promptly placed aforementioned pillow over the baby!

    The woman made an official complaint which is why it was in the news, although the official body did note that women who formally complained were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the amount of discrimination actually out there.

    It’s amazing considering how much flesh is on display in the media and the public domain which is seen as acceptable and yet breastfeeding, the most natural of activities, is still seen as taboo.

    Clearly there are attitudes which still must be challenged and I reckon it’s going to take women and men to make this change happen.

  4. That’s funny. I’ve often had men approach my breasts as if they were going into combat. I wish they’d be more discreet. And it’s always men who do this, treat them as sexual objects. Women don’t seem to be bothered by them one way or the other. I wish we would evolve already. And by we, I of course mean they.

  5. Lynda

    Oh, there is a world of meaning in that word, ‘combat’ – what he really meant was that some women breast feed their babies openly and without shame – as if fighting the world. And that’s exactly what we are doing. But he sees it as combative. as do many others.
    Thirty years ago I led a campaign for shops which sold baby goods, to have a room for feeding and changing babies and chairs in he body of the store where feeding mothers (whether breast or bottle) could sit comfortably, possible adjacent to a toy box which might entertain an older sibling.

    I canvassed Malls too and anywhere I knew busy Mums with babies who needed nourishment, might need to give that.
    Every time I saw a man about this, I was refused and I came to the conclusion that men simply cannot divorce the breast from sex, however hard they try.

    So a breastfeeding woman who wishes to do so in public is one who “flaunts herself”. Quite often I was given the impression the man felt I was asking for something little short of soliciting. They assume our minds work the same way as theirs.

    Women took my request a little better but for them it was, ‘If it was up to me, I’d love to but the reputation of the store/mall is at stake.’ I detected a disapproving male somewhere in the background.
    “But don’t you think the reputation of your store would be enhanced, not to mention your customer base, if you were seen to have sensitivity and care for mothers?’
    A sympathetic shrug and a sad shake of the head was all I got.
    We still don’t have enough places for women to feed and change their babies but it’s a little better.

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