Comment: This is not a question of public decency, it's proof of our humanity


Some babies are breastfed, and some mothers do this in public. It's time for us to get over it.

Have you ever heard of babies? I would define them as ‘humans before they are grown up’.

They are little versions of us, and you were once one of them. Perhaps your parents have photographic evidence of this. You can ask them if you need proof. I’ll wait. Good, now we should all be in agreement as to what babies are.

Did you know that humans, both babies and adults (adults are grown up babies) usually have nipples? You would have seen nipples before. You most likely have them. Nipples are small protuberances, surrounded by areola, on the ends of two organs made up of breast tissue. Women have more breast tissue than men, and women’s nipples secrete milk so that the aforementioned babies can drink it and survive.  

You would have seen nipples on numerous men as they walk around in public with their shirts off, or go swimming, or take off their shirt (for some reason) to have a fistfight. You may have seen them on women also, in different scenarios. Maybe you saw your mother’s when you were a kid, or your partner’s as an adult.

Of course, breasts and nipples are also sexualised, and in certain scenarios, both men’s and women’s nipples are used for sexual pleasure. So, as we have learnt here together, nipples are for all sorts of things. I find it pretty easy to compartmentalise these things and use context clues to decide whether the nipple in question is in a sexual setting. For example, if I was helping to change my grandmother and I briefly saw her breasts, I would just be able to act like an adult and recognise them as just another part of the human body. It is just the same as seeing her bare legs.

The same also goes for Yumi Stynes taking her nappy-clad baby to a premiere of a kid’s movie. This is just a tiny little human body: it's essentially just a (let’s be honest) gross sack of organs and cute squidgy bits that are fun to blow raspberries on. Furthermore, this is Australia. It is hot, the baby looked adorable, and if you think seeing a child’s bare torso is weird, that reflects more on you than the Stynes family.

This sort of judgement and shaming of women’s parenting choices occurs all the time. And yet, I still find myself baffled by people’s reactions to seeing a woman feed her child in public. The breastfeeding ‘debate’, of which there really should be none, started up again when a woman tweeted her disgust after a waiter in a London hotel restaurant approached her as she was breastfeeding her child, informing her that hotel policy required her to lay a large napkin over her child, lest anyone be put off their food by the disgusting sight of a woman sitting upright and the back of a baby’s head. 

Here's a handy before and after shot.

It was then inflamed when the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, said that women could “… perhaps sit in the corner…” to breastfeed. Firstly, an aide to Mr Farage needs to show him Dirty Dancing immediately, but secondly: what? Why should a woman be forced to sit in a corner, like the dunce of the class, when they are the ones literally creating life and making sure that life is fed? She is not going to release her breasts and spray milk all over your salmon like some kind of mammary machine-gun. I don’t understand, but I’d like to help. Here are some simple tips to avoiding discomfort in the presence of a breastfeeding woman:

  • Only look at her shoulders or above;
  • Look somewhere else;
  • Go to the bathroom or for a walk around the restaurant;
  • Keep walking because you don't deserve to eat at a nice restaurant; and
  • Act like an adult

It's a human woman feeding a human baby.

If that woman does not want to cover her child like it is a birdcage at night, she shouldn’t have to. For the majority of the time, only the back of the baby’s head will be visible, and you can avert your eyes if you think you will pass out at the sight of a nipple.

I see no reason why a woman should be forced to leave her meal, leave a table, leave a social gathering, or feed her child in a toilet just because other adults might catch a glimpse of a human body part.

I personally would much prefer a mother feed her child and keep it quiet while I enjoy a pleasant dinner. I would much prefer a restaurant full of feeding babies than other adults with terrible table manners. If you want to be able to send mothers to the corner, or the toilet, I demand the right to be able to do the same next time I have to listen to someone slurp soup, or watch a man drip laksa through his beard.

It’s only fair.

Rebecca Shaw is a Brisbane-based writer and host of the fortnightly comedy podcast Bring a Plate.

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