"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn"-- Pride and Prejudice



This post is about two recent incidents involving Target stores.  If the issue of public breast-feeding doesn’t interest you, feel free to jump to the end for the second Target debacle.

Last Wednesday, December 28, 2011, a “nurse-in” was planned for Target stores nationwide.  I’m not sure if the protest actually took place and I’m not journalistically responsible enough to look it up, but I can tell you that the protest was scheduled in response to Michelle Hickman’s being censured for breastfeeding her infant son in Target. 

According to this article, Hickman was in the midst of Christmas shopping when her five-month-old awoke hungry.  She reportedly sat down in a remote corner of the store (in the jeans section, in case you are also looking for a good nursing spot), covered up with a blanket and then began to nurse her baby.  Shortly thereafter, Target employees tried to encourage her to move her nursing session to the dressing room.  She evidently refused and a tit-for-tat debate insued between her and Target employees wherein one Target team member insisted that she could be cited for indecent exposure.  (This, incidentally, is NOT true). Since then, the whole incident has blown up Facebook newsfeeds and Target corporate offices and now women are planning to protest the prejudice against breastfeeding by donning their best nursing bras (speaking of which, Target has the best selection, in my opinion), going to the store and latching their babies on for a snack loud and proud for everyone to see. 

Here’s where I stand on this issue (because you asked and clearly care and all):  I breastfed both boys.  There were times when I was in a public location at a time when John needed to eat.  My response was usually to go to the car and nurse him there.  Alternatively, I’ve also used dressing rooms and have pumped milk and brought it in bottles for public feedings. (I understand, though, that some women don’t produce as well with a pump).  Never have I felt a need to feed a baby next to the blue jean display at Target. 

Most people who advocate for the right to be able to breastfeed wherever you want make the following points:

1. Breast-feeding is natural and is best for infant health. It should be publicly acceptible. 

I agree.  Breast-feeding is the best way to feed babies.  It is natural and healthy, but that doesn’t mean that because it is healthy and appropriate that it is so for every setting.  I can think of a lot of activities that are healthy and natural that we don’t do in public.  Having sex, giving birth, and using the bathroom are all healthy and natural activities, but society has determined that they are not appropriate in public.  I don’t think that asking a woman to go to a private location is stigmatizing breast-feeding.  As it was, Target offered her a seat in a dressing room (which has to be more comfortable than sitting on a floor).  They didn’t ask her to leave the store or use a restroom.  I don’t think they were out of line for asking her to move elsewhere and I don’t think they were implying that nursing is bad for babies.  They just asked that it be done privately.

2.  People should not view breast-feeding as a sexual act and should learn to see a breast-feeding mother without any negative feelings.  

I think this is a bit unreasonable.  It’s not fair to ask everyone to feel great about seeing a boob with a baby at the end of it while innocently shopping at Target. I mean, I totally understand why mothers suddenly start to see things this way. Having a child pretty much decimates all sense of modesty.  Your junk has been seen and touched by more people than you ever thought possible.  Right before you breast-feed for the first time, a nurse usually comes right up to you, grabs your boob and crams it into the baby’s mouth.  You may have only known this nurse for 35 seconds, but already, she’s touched places on your body that you usually don’t allow others to touch until after at least three dates.  It’s easy to forget that most people aren’t accustomed to seeing babies sucking boobs everyday.  It’s easy to forget that a nursing child isn’t as precious and as appetizing to the public at large as it is to the nursing mother. Hell, I can remember being in a Panera Bread and seeing a woman who was totally covered up, latch her baby onto her boob.  I couldn’t see any part of her breast, but I still knew that her baby was chowing down on some milk under there, and it made my potato soup significantly less appetizing.  And this was after having breastfed a child myself.  Would I ask her to leave?  No.  Did I harbor any resentment toward her?  No, on some level, I accepted it as my own hang-up.  Would I have enjoyed my meal at Panera more if the woman hadn’t been nursing within a foot of me?  Probably. 

The whole thing comes down to being considerate of others.  Recent polls  suggest that more than half of the population is uncomfortable with public nursing.  Whether you believe that’s justified or indicative of jacked up attitudes of the American public isn’t really the issue. I believe that if you can make someone else feel more comfortable and it doesn’t cost you anything or cause you any harm, then you should probably err on the side of others rather than yourself.  For Michelle Hickman to have gone into a dressing room to nurse her baby wouldn’t have hurt her or the baby.  Truth be told, it would probably have been more comfortable than sitting on the floor where, in my opinion, there are more issues that public visibility. Sitting on a chair in the dressing room is arguably more sanitary than sitting on a floor.  It’s also safer as sitting on the floor makes it easy for others to trip over her or mow her down with a shopping cart.   Bottom line:  does she have a “right” to bust out the boob wherever she wants?  Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for her to do so.  I mean, I have a right to walk down the street saying, “Good morning, bitch!” to everyone I see, but I don’t because that would be inconsiderate.  I’m just sayin’, if the majority of people feel uncomfortable with seeing babies sucking boobs, then have some consideration for them if it doesn’t hurt you to do so.  If modesty in public nursing were extrememly troublesome to achieve, then I might be more inclined to say, “Screw the majority, this is best for my kid.”  But in most cases, there seems to be an easy solution that makes everyone happy.  If you can nurse privately, I think you should.

3.  We don’t balk at suggestive magazine covers in supermarket aisles or sexual representations of breasts, so why can’t we handle seeing women’s breasts feeding a child. 

I see the point of this argument.  The cover of Rolling Stone is more likely showing a lot more boob than any nursing mother.  This is true.  In response, though, I’d like to suggest that seeing a piece of paper featuring a glossy, air-brushed boob coyly hiding behind some thin strap of fabric is different from seeing a real-life boob spraying milk or being sucked on by a baby.  Ask any teenage boy reading Playboy if there’s a difference between seeing a boob in a magazine and seeing a boob in person.  There is.  Breastfeeding, while not a sexual act, is accomplished using body parts that don’t get a lot of exposure in everyday life.  Seeing those body parts at work can be off-putting to some people.  Whether or not people SHOULD feel that way about public breastfeeding is a moot point.  The fact is, they DO feel that way and it’s so easy just to avoid making it an issue.  The few times where I ended up being in public without bottles of expressed milk, going to a dressing room was no big deal, even if I had to walk the store.  Going to the car and nursing also did not pose more than a minor inconveniece to me.  In fact, I prefered sitting in my car where I could prop my arm on the armrest with the air-conditioner blasting while listening to podcasts. I certainly would rather do that than sit on some dirty floor trying to wrestle a blanket, baby, and boob into a good latch, cover up and then let my arm throb with fatigue with nothing to rest it on.  It all just makes sense to me.

Anyway, so am I in favor of the nurse-ins?  No.  Not really.  If a person’s real intention in breast-feeding is to give her child nourishment, then being asked to do so in a dressing room in no way compromises that intention.  Making an issue out of a perceived “right” to nurse wherever seems to me to totally miss the point of breast-feeding.  Do you agree or disagree? 

In other news, if you really want to protest Target, take a look at this video featuring a Christmas tragedy faced by my good friend and his son. 

Target’s return policies are draconian and unreasonable.  My friend Jeremy Parrish is an avid Target shopper, so much so that he bought his son’s present from Santa way back in June during a sale that Target was offering.  When Carson opened his present on Christmas morning, however, they learned that someone had stolen the Wii and replaced it with books of equal weight so that the theft wouldn’t be noticed until the box was opened, in this case, six months later. When they went back to Target to exchange the Wii, they couldn’t because it was outside of the 30 day window.  What insued was a Lifetime Movie worthy saga (Jeremy thinks it should be called “Wii Fought Alone”) of exchanges with Nintendo and the Target Corporate office, the latter of which insisted that the theft couldn’t have been done by one of the Target employees.  In other words, they were accusing my buddy of trying to score a free Wii.  He finally had to go to the trouble shooter to get the matter resolved.
Personally, as mad as I was about this and as sad as I felt for Carson, I’m not sure I’ll be able to boycott Target.  I just really like being able to “expect more and pay less.” However, I have taken this as a cautionary tale to always check merchandise, particularly electronics, before leaving the store.  I can’t imagine how sad that must have been for them on Christmas day, and I’m not sure if this whole ordeal has tarnished Carson’s belief in Santa. As a parent, I can’t imagine what it must feel like to learn that someone’s stolen your kid’s present, and then watch your child go from elation to despair in two seconds.  That’s got to make Christmas suck.  I tell you this story for two reasons:  1) If you really want to protest in a Target, I think this is a good issue to protest and 2) anytime you get something in Target, be sure to check it out and make sure all the parts are there before leaving the store.  I know one is bound to feel like an asshole tearing out a Dirt Devil in Target, much like I always feel a bit jerky when I check my order before driving away from the window at fast food restaurants.  Still, they are hardcore about their return policies and unless confronted with the media, are unlikely to show you any mercy should you not get what you paid for.  Make sure that you’re getting what you paid for before you leave the store.  Not only will it protect your wallet, but it’ll also help you avoid avoid any surprise Santa-compromising travesties on Christmas morning.    

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