It feels like every time there’s a drama over a breastfeeding mum being inappropriately asked to cover up or move on, it’s reported with a poll that asks something like “Should women cover up when breastfeeding in public?”.
Two local papers ran a story last week about a mum who felt shamed into covering up while breastfeeding at the National Gallery of Australia. They both ran the silly poll too. Breastfeeding publically is a right, protected by federal (Sex Discrimination Act 1984) and state (Anti Discrimination Board of NSW) law.
It might seem over the top to take exception to a newspaper opinion poll. I mean, it’s an opinion poll, right? The beauty of opinions is that everyone is entitled to have one. But it’s important to consider context. Our media outlets, such as our newspapers, have a ethical responsibility when it comes to reporting the news and steering public discussion. When these polls are placed in the middle of an article that discusses a breastfeeding woman being illegally discriminated against, the question is inappropriate.
Asking for public opinion on an act that’s protected by law, in the middle of an article that talks about the law being broken is a question over the relevance of the law itself. Why does the poll question the legal act of breastfeeding, instead of the illegal act of harassing her to stop? It feels like the question suggests that the behaviour of the perpetrator could be condoned, as if that woman’s legal right is trumped by the number of people who disagree with it.
I’ve never seen a poll in the middle of an article about building code violations asking if people should be allowed to build property despite having inadequate skills or experience to do so. Nor have I ever seen a poll in the middle of an article about fraud asking people if they think it’s OK to forge another person’s signature. And these issues don’t necessarily involve harassment. Would it be OK to poll in the middle of an article about rape asking if it’s OK to disrespect women who wear short skirts?
I have come up with ten alternative polls that media outlets could use whenever a breastfeeding-in-public drama makes the news:
- Did you know women have a legal right to breastfeed in public without a cover? I feel this is a more important question. If more people understood that the right to breastfeed is protected by federal and state laws, they might be more respectful of it.
- If you were in public with an upset and/or hungry child, and you had the power to immediately calm and satisfy them, would you? Force people to mentally walk a mile in mum’s shoes. What do they ACTUALLY expect her to do?
- Would you rank your own personal discomfort above the needs of an upset and/or hungry child? Are you egocentric? Our smallest humans are among the most vulnerable of our species. It makes sense to put their needs first.
- Do you think dignity is more important than satisfying upset and/or hungry children? I don’t consider breastfeeding to be an undignified act at all, but even if I did, so what? I left my dignity behind in the birthing suite when fifteen hospital staff stood around my naked and howling body. Those hospital staff had a choice whether to be or not to be there, just like people have the choice to watch mum or not.
- When you see things that you feel slightly uncomfortable, should you look away and mind your own business? Because why? Why can’t people mind their own business?
- Are you a bully? Relying on shame to force someone to stop what they’re doing and instead to do what you want is bullying behaviour if I ever saw it.
- Would you prefer to listen to the baby cry? It’s a lot easier to avert our eyes than it is to cover our ears.
- Are you an utter ignoramus? Pardon me, but if the shoe fits, then wear it. Because only a total ignoramus could be unaware of the inmportance of breastfeeding, and the fact that there’s nothing shameful or wrong with it.
- Can you get your kicks some other way? Because if hassling a mum for breastfeeding in public is what they need to do to feel important, then they need to get a life.
- Do you like green eggs and ham? I admit this question has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but at least it isn’t harmful to the right to breastfeed.
In all seriousness, I believe our media need to be accountable and ensure their messages, whether written or implied, are socially responsible. They have a great deal of power over the way people think, and that power should be used appropriately.
Did you know that the right to breastfeed in public without a cover is protected by law?