Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lactophobia and "Discretion"

Stymied milk-slurping kittehs from I Can Has Cheezburger?

So the Denny's in Asheville, North Carolina, is just the latest in a long line of businesses where some twit took it upon himself to tell a nursing mama she couldn't feed her baby where everyone else was dining. Daisy at Daisy's Dead Air reports on the brouhaha - in which the restaurant manager threatened to call the cops! - and the resulting protest. North Carolina law guarantees the rights of mothers to breastfeed anywhere and anytime, but I guess lactophobia trumps the law.

Among all this absurdity, what jumped out at me is that the manager was going to call the police unless the mother covered herself.

In my experience, the demand for "discretion" while nursing may sound like a compromise, but in fact it's completely unreasonable.

My two little creatures partook of mama-milk until they were each about ten months old. As newborns, they wiggled a bit while nursing but mostly concentrated at the business at hand. It can't be easy to drink and breathe at the same time, but they practiced and practiced (oh, did they practice! about every hour and a half! for weeks on end!) until they'd mastered the task and grew large and fat. (Each of them gained about 5 1/2 pounds in their first six to seven weeks. Seriously.) Even as novices, they weren't exactly inert, but I could usually arrange a blanket around them and not feel too exposed.

And then one day, they discovered that mealtime was for socializing, not just for sustenance. They'd drink a little, and then blop! They'd pop off the nipple, look around, smile, drool, and flirt with everyone in the room. I'd be left with my breast waving at the world, chilly and exposed, until their Royal Babyness deigned to latch on again. If we were in a public place, I could be grateful if a jet of pressurized milk didn't spray any innocent bystanders.

Now, I'll admit I never went in for those "nursing" clothes that promise discretion. You know, those goofy, dowdy shirts with flaps and buttons that oh-so-discreetly announce "I'm lactating." That didn't matter, though, because once a baby pops off the boob, no flap in the world is gonna hide you.

There are blankets, you say? And the mama can artfully drape her nursing baby in flannel and fleece? My guys saw the mealtime blanket as a fun challenge. Grabbing and wadding up and throwing it probably did wonders to develop their motor and visual skills. But coverage? The net effect of a blanket was probably negative, because if you relied on it, you'd end up flashing even more skin once the kid wrestled it to the ground.

Besides: In order to fully cover your breast, you've got to swaddle your baby's entire head, too. Last I checked, infants need air as much as they need milk.

The standard feminist response to lactophobia is to say that men have issues with naked breasts that aren't displayed for their express pleasure. There's surely some truth to that. Prudery and prurience are often two sides of a single coin.

But the other thing about naked lactating breasts is that they bluntly remind us of our animal nature. Mammaries make it impossible to deny that we're mammals. There's no way to cover that up when you've got a baby at the breast, no matter how uncomfortable it may make some folks.

Update 12 noon, 2-27-09: Vanessa at Feministing alerts us to an example of how these two forms of lactophobia can intersect: Milwaukee hate-radio talk-radio host Mark Belling recently called breastfeeding mothers "sows" on his program, saying, "It''s what a pig does and it does it in public, right?" Just goes to show that misogyny and disgust at our animality make a happy, harmonious match.


Carla said...

I love that the manager asked her to cover up OR feed her son in the bathroom. Aren't changing tables gross enough? There's nothing so pleasant (or sanitary) than dining in a bathroom, huh?

Sungold said...

Yeah, the bathroom option is *so* vile that I didn't even write about it. I've known women whose employers expected them to pump in bathrooms - see, they serve as both kitchen and dining room!