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?