The ‘Bag overfloweth!

I’ll start with some letters deriving from an appearance I made on National Public Radio this past Sunday over my stance on breast-feeding in public. (See my The Double Latte Wars: More on Public Breast-Feeding, Aug. 11, to catch up on the issue and the links.) My position is that private businesses, places of entertainment, and employers have a right to ask women who wish to nurse their babies on those various premises cover up with a discreet blanket or nursing blouse so as not to offend the sensibilities of other patrons, guests, customers, clients, or co-workers. Radical breast-feeding advocates have been pushing through state laws that give women the right to sue if women aren’t allowed to nurse with breasts uncovered in those places.

First, a letter from Kasey Madden of Chicago, who helped put in place just such a law in Illinois. I debated Kasey Sunday on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” She writes:

“I just thought I would let you know that I spoke with Senator Don Harmon, the sponsor of the Right to Breastfeed Act in Illinois, shortly after you and I spoke to one another via NPR.  I told him your concerns over the ‘even in my living room’ implications of the law, and he explained that it is expressly written that one cannot take legal action against someone who has asked them to cover up or move in their own home.  In short, the law does not apply to the privacy of your home.”

This is good. From what I’d read before my debate with Kasey, the Illinois law contained no explicit language exempting a hostess in her own home from being sued if a female guest should take offense at being asked to cover up while nursing at the dinner table. I’m glad to know that such language is there in Illinois, and I hope it’s there in other state laws. Thank you, Kasey, for the clarification.

Reader (and NPR listener) S.N. writes:

“You pointed out that you are not offended by breastfeeding in public when the mother covers up during nursing.  This request basically puts the social norm (societal WANTS) ahead of the infant’s NEEDS. It’s easy to forget that breastfeeding does not involve just one person (the mother). There’s also a little person in there receiving the best nourishment possible, and this little person can be quite opinionated.  I know very few babies who actually put up with being covered by a blanket while they’re nursing.  It’s a baby’s nature to be curious; their survival depends on it. 

“Another thing to consider is that the ‘social norm’ of hiding breastfeeding, whether in the bathroom, a back room, or under a blanket, perpetuates the negative connotation of breastfeeding in general to future generations. In addition to that, the ‘social need’ to hide breastfeeding women is another way that men can limit women’s liberties….

“It’s also interesting to note that in some European countries there is less vilification of the breast as sexual, and breastfeeding rates are much higher than in the United States. Social pressure is a major obstacle in breastfeeding. Just offering one bottle of breast milk substitute in the place of nursing has implications to the mother’s milk supply that could devastate the breastfeeding relationship….Women who feel like they can’t breastfeed in public have been known to give a bottle of formula to their baby just so they can get out of the house, and then a few weeks later they are sad and confused because they can’t produce enough milk for their baby.  Just one glare from a person in public can causes this much damage’ putting the baby at higher risk for serious illness or death.

“Because the benefits of breastfeeding over bottle-feeding are so numerous and so significant, it is a social responsibility for everyone to support any breastfeeding in public and otherwise.”

Just a few points in response, S.N.:

As Kasey pointed out during our debate, some 80 percent of U.S. mothers now breast-feed their babies, up from 20 percent 30 years ago (I’m quoting the latter figure from memory, so I could be a bit off, but you get the idea). That social change, all to the good, in my opinion, came entirely without the existence of laws requiring private persons or entities to change their standards of propriety. Legal changes simply aren’t necessary in order to change attitudes. Besides, requiring people to put up with sights they would rather not see is a crude, totalitarian, and even backfire-inducing way to promote a social goal. Sex is beautiful, too, but that doesn’t mean that the law should allow us to force other people to watch our gropes.

Second, working mothers who can’t take their babies to work have been using breast pumps for decades so that their at-home caregivers can feed the infants from bottles. This hasn’t killed the babies–or killed their desire to nurse with mom. And I don’t think that an occasional loss of eye-contact between baby and mom because mom is wearing a nursing blouse will kill the baby either. Besides, there are ways to arrange a blanket so that mother and baby can continue to look at each other.

Reader A.P. takes issue with my plaint about Slate writer Margaret O’Rourke’s lionization of Russian gymnast Svetlana Korkhina for sulking that the judges rigged the outcome to favor an American after Svetlana lost the gold in the all-around competition to Carly Patterson. (See Sore Loser Svetlana, Aug. 20). A.P. writes:    

“Though I’m quite patriotic and very, very traditional in many of my beliefs (not to mention a stickler for etiquette and good manners and such), I completely agree with O’Rourke’s assessment of Sveltana’s performance. I found her charming and very interesting (infinitely more interesting, I daresay, than either the robotic Kupets or the uber-bland Patterson). As a matter of fact, most of the American gymnasts were pretty uninspiring. (The utter lack of grace and character among many of them is too depressing for words, as O’Rourke correctly points out.) Yes, Sveltana messed up, and she can’t blame the judges for that, but her verve and mercurialness was a breath of fresh air.”

I agree that Svetlana possesses genuine elegance and glamor, a characteristic that most of the rugged-looking U.S. female gymnasts lack. And Svetlana can be charming when–and I mean when–she wants to be. Still, Svetlana simply turned in an inferior performance, and I don’t think you can excuse her unsportsmanlike behavior afterwards on the ground that she’s more interesting than Carly, a mere teenager some nine years younger than Svetlana.

Finally, reader H.M. comments on the Swiftgate posts that The Other Charlotte and I have been putting up over the last few days. As everyone who doesn’t live on the planet Sedna realizes by now, Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, taking issue with the claims by some of his fellow Swifties that he’s Unfit to Command because of his brief history as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam, claims that his GOP rival G.W. Bush ought to denounce the Swifvet campaign ads (partly Republican donor-funded) that make that claim. Many newspaper editorial-writers have joined Kerry in his call for a denunciation, but none, so far, has seen fit to call for Kerry to denounce, say, the “Bush Is Hitler” campaign of, which is funded by big-time Democrat George Soros.

H.M. comments:

“1. is a 527 corporation [an independent entity exempt from campaign-finance restrictions] that receives huge sums from Democratic supporters which it has used to belittle George Bush, his credibility, integrity and honesty on the premise he is unfit for a second term. Kerry positions himself that this is not connected to him.

“2. Swiftboat Veterans for Truth is a 527 corporation funded by Republicans but otherwise genuinely has no ties to the Bush campaign. Indeed Bush has denounced the 527 corporations and the electoral reforms that made them possible and invites Kerry to agree to stop these 527 corporations.

“Kerry, for his part, announces that the Swiftboat people are telling great calumnies at the direction of President Bush, thus making sure the voters who think this will remember this is his position. Kerry labels the Swiftboat vets liars supported by Bush. This enables him to get through the next three months without releasing his own Vietnam records. It’s wrapping himself in the flag, the military’s correctness in giving him the medals and saying he’s a hero and doesn’t have to respond to these scandalous slanders of the Swiftboat Vets who are nobodies.”

Agreed–there’s a certain inconsistency there. But I’m not holding my breath for Kerry to say one word in the negative about MoveOn.