This guest post comes from Austin inviting us all to take a look at how we can go deeper to help bring systemic change when it comes to breastfeeding in public harassment. Beyond social media campaigns, nurse-ins, and expressing outrage through traditional media, we can each utilize our individual influence in powerful yet simple ways resulting in collective improvements that impact the whole community. Without a multifaceted approach of intentional influence, our efforts to normalize breastfeeding face not only our own fatigue, but over-saturation of the accessible avenues. We risk burning out before reaching our goals. This isn’t about using a cover or not, the issue isn’t modesty or moms being prepared, the issue here is basic human rights and there are most definitely politics involved. ~Jessica Martin-Weber
by Krisdee Donmoyer
As a breastfeeding advocate active in social media, I am hyper-aware of how frequently nursing in public incidents occur. Some are big news – Target, a Georgia church, Hollister, Las Vegas – but there are many more that aren’t picked up by major news outlets. Recently, a Keep Austin Nursing in Public follower posted to my Facebook page about an incident that occurred in my own city at, of all places, a Victoria’s Secret store in which a mother, Ashley Clawson, was denied use of an unneeded fitting room to breastfeed by an employee who told her to take her baby to an alley where “no one usually goes.”
I reached out to Ashley to offer support and resources, and advised an initial approach of diplomacy and education. Social media moves faster than bureaucracy, though, and after being told it would be days before she’d hear back from Victoria’s Secret corporate, Ashley agreed to a news interview. A reporter’s call got a faster reaction from the company than Ashley’s did. In their response to the reporter they said all the right things: they apologized, they have a policy welcoming breastfeeding mothers, and they’re ensuring all employees are aware of it.
So – awesome! They did what we want, right? I mean, I’m pretty sure what all moms want in this situation is that it doesn’t happen to other moms. So, boom! We’re done, right?
Well, not exactly. Ashley won’t be the last mother to face discrimination for breastfeeding in a place of public accommodation. This is a systemic issue that impacts breastfeeding rates. It needs a systemic solution. In Texas where Ashley and I live, there is a law that asserts our right to breastfeed in any public place in which we are authorized to be, but the law does not specifically prevent others from interfering with that right. So, we are not protected. What the Victoria’s Secret employee did was wrong. She violated a civil right and endangered a nursing relationship. But she did not break the law, because the law does not say she can’t violate our right.
This is true in more states than not. We tried to improve our NIP law in Texas in the last regular legislative session. We got a bill pretty far, but we didn’t get it all the way. Work has already begun to support the bill when it is filed again in 2015. It will educate businesses that the law exists, prohibit anyone from interfering with a mother’s right to breastfeed in public, and give her recourse if her right is violated.
Whether you live in Texas or another state, you can contact your legislators and tell them what happened here. Look up your state’s nursing in public law. If there is no enforcement provision, tell them why it matters to you that they support one. Tell them that you want to be able to go buy groceries and feed your baby if (s)he is hungry while you’re out, without being harassed?
If our lawmakers hear from enough of us they will realize that their constituents expect them to be a force in creating community support for breastfeeding. And that’s what it takes: their own constituents – the people who will or will not vote for them when they run again – that’s who makes all the difference.
You can make a difference.
Those online comments we write will only be read for a few more hours. A nurse-in, while sometimes empowering, is over in a matter of minutes (and leaves a negative impression with some).
Look up your state law and your legislators. Write an email, or call – or better yet, go visit their office.
Make your voice heard in a way that can make a lasting change.
Krisdee Donmoyer is a feminist stay-at-home mom of three sons and an outspoken breastfeeding advocate. She’s the outreach coordinator for Central Texas Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, and the recent recipient of the 2013 Breastfeeding Hero Award from HMHB, due to her work lobbying for mother- and baby-friendly breastfeeding policies in two central Texas school districts and in the Texas Legislature. You can read more about her work on her blog, Keep Austin Nursing in Public, and like her on Facebook, where she spends more time than cats spend sleeping.