It’s one of the sad ironies of our culture that almost-naked women can be splashed across advertisements on the sides of buses, on billboards, in the pages of magazines, on store walls, but when a woman tries to breastfeed publicly, she is immediately expected to hide away. This glaring hypocrisy was illustrated this weekend, when a woman was asked to leave her local Target, and the store’s employees eventually called the police. Why all of this fuss, you ask? The woman was breastfeeding.
Mary Martinez and her husband, Jose, were shopping in a Target in Harper Woods, Michigan, on Sunday. Mary is the mother of three; her youngest daughter is four weeks old, and breastfeeding is thus a normal and important part of her life. The couple was shocked to be stopped in the electronics aisle of Target and asked to leave.
Jose is a Detroit police officer, and apparently knew that public breastfeeding is not illegal. The couple argued with Target’s security team. Finally, the Harper Woods police were called. They stayed talking with the couple and with the Target security officers until the couple became embarrassed and left the store.
Target does not prohibit breastfeeding in their stores, and the corporate manager of the Harper Woods store says that it is “certainly not discouraged inside her store.” But Mary’s account of the story is very different. She recounted how security officials forced her out of the store: “Two security guards, the manager or team leader, two officers, they just made a spectacle and a scene,” said Mary. “I feel like I can’t go to that specific Target anymore.”
Breastfeeding is incredibly beneficial for mothers and children, especially when the child is as young as Martinez’s daughter. In fact, nursing may protect at-risk women from breast cancer. But the difficulties inherent in breastfeeding at work or in public places, because of our cultural taboo on public breastfeeding, make the practice nearly impossible for some women. “Lactivists” all over the country (and in Canada) have held “nurse-ins” at stores where nursing mothers have been asked to leave because they were disrupting the other customers, or violating store policy.
It’s certainly a good step that Target allows breastfeeding in its stores. But the corporation needs to make sure that they emphasize that this is their policy to their employees – and make sure that no customers are summarily ejected for such an inane reason.
What do you think? Are you comfortable with public breastfeeding?
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.