An art project by two Texas students in support of a bill to protect the rights of breastfeeding moms has sparked debate on social media.
By now you have likely seen them. Imagines of young girls sitting on toilets in cramped dirty public bathroom stalls breastfeeding babies have been peppering my news feed for the last few days.
And, well, they should.
The pictures were a part of an art project by two University of North Texas students. Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro created the images in support of a bill that would give women in Texas the same inalienable right that is guaranteed in Canada; Bill HB 1706 seeks to protect breastfeeding mothers from discrimination and harassment.
The images have gone viral and drawn both praise and criticism. Not really surprising when you consider why they were made in the first place.
Comments on the Huffington Post blog about the pictures (at last check there were 875 of them) speak to the very core of the stigma breastfeeding moms often face.
“There is a proper time and a place” one commenter said.
“Yes, the proper time is about every two hours, the proper place is somewhere other than a public washroom, like say a mall food court,” someone responded.
And there it is; the side of “it should be done privately” versus “it isn’t a private matter”. That is, at its core, what the art project was about and what the bill is meant to remedy.
“It isn’t unsanitary [to breastfeed] in a restroom. There’s no need to touch anything,” Dan F. suggested.
“So we can assume you’ll be eating lunch in the restroom from now on?” Roger R. replied.
I mean, really? Eating in a public restroom isn’t unsanitary? I don’t know what public washrooms Dan’s been in but women’s public washrooms have all sorts of fun things on seats and in bowls, sometimes even on walls. And from what I’ve heard, woman’s washrooms are immaculate palaces compared to what goes on in men’s washrooms.
I for one never intend to eat my sandwich while smelling someone else’s upset stomach.
And while I apologize for the visual I just created, this is reality; it is exactly what is going on when women are forced to feed their babies in public restrooms. I find it hard to contemplate eating while sitting amongst other people all doing their business at the same time divided only by a partial wall.
It’s not even a little bit sanitary and it most certainly isn’t appetizing.
Women who are banished to bathrooms to feed their babies are being discriminated against for not using bottles of formula like a large segment of society would apparently be more comfortable with. And apparently, their comfort level supersedes that of both the mother and the young baby she’s feeding.
Most women I know, including myself, breastfeeding in public with privacy covers. Though I do know a few who didn’t at all, most attempted to be as discrete as possible. And I know for a fact that for many of us, myself included, covering up was more about worrying about what other people might think or say than due to any sense of privacy the mother felt would otherwise be invaded if one wasn’t used.
When feeding a baby, breasts aren’t sexual things. They aren’t obscene or offensive. They are feeding tools. They are mechanisms through which we nurture our children.
The reality is that once I did switch to bottles of formula I felt eyes were on me too. People came right out and asked me why I wasn’t breastfeeding, as if it was any of their business. But as annoyed and offended as I was by those questions, not once did anyone suggest my bottle feeding “shame” be hidden. No one said, “can you please do that somewhere else?”
Because ultimately, exposing one’s breasts to feed a baby makes people uncomfortable. Though I imagine these same people would have no such issue seeing a woman with all but her areola exposed on the cover of a magazine or television screen.
Somewhere between wearing a tight-fitting, low-cut shirt and a mom nursing her child, there is a line of offense that gets seriously crossed for many people.
It’s like society says to these mothers, “I’m happy to see your pushed up breasts in a shirt that shows them off but I’ll be damned if I want to see those same breasts in active duty.”
The images of moms feeding babies on toilet seats have triggered a much-needed debate on what it means to banish breastfeeding moms to appease other people’s misguided discomfort. At the very least it puts out to the public an illustration of what their desired alternative is to seeing moms breastfeed in food courts.
This is what those people, the ones who say there is a time and a place, are asking mothers to do. And that people can look at those images and suggest it is in fact a reasonable alternative is why efforts to enact bills like HB 1706 are necessary.
You might not want to sit beside a person with specific skin color or play sports with someone from a specific race or work with someone of a certain gender. But your discomfort should not overrule someone else’s human rights.
NO ONE should have to eat in a bathroom.
Carly Link, a 33-year old mother of two toddlers. She is a parent and goes through a lot of the usual parenting difficulties herself. Carly shares all her experiences and knowledge about the best baby products through this blog.