But did Nigel Farage hit the nail on the head when he said breastfeeding was “ostentatious”
? While I wouldn’t normally take the UKIP leader’s views as a barometer of public opinion, on this particular issue he doesn’t seem so far off the mark. Although there’s been some improvement over time, breasts remain a sexual taboo and it seems like many do indeed perceive breastfeeding as “ostentatious” and tasteless in some way.
Facebook, for example, certainly does. Year upon year, the site has caused controversy for removing photos of mothers breastfeeding
because they violated the company’s pornographic rules. In retaliation, we have recently seen a wave of “Brelfies” engulf social media, with the likes of Gwen Stefani
and Alyssa Milano
sharing photos of themselves breastfeeding.
Ros Bragg, the CEO of Maternity Action
, a charity dedicated to promoting maternity rights and improving the health and well-being of pregnant women, also believes our fixation with breasts is plagued by double standards. In her own words: "It is extraordinary that the media is filled with images of barely-clothed women and yet women encounter criticism for breastfeeding their babies in public places.”
Likewise, she argues too much pressure is put on individual women to deal with the consequences of shaming. "Breastfeeding women should be supported to exercise their right to breastfeed in public. It should not be left to individual women to educate service providers who don't understand the law,” Bragg explains.
Even though the Equality Act
has formally protected breastfeeding in public since it came into force in 2010, Bragg argues that, “Community awareness of the law is very low, leaving breastfeeding women to deal with a succession of distressing incidents as they go about their daily lives.” Like the incident at Claridges, or the more recent case where Victoria Jones
was asked to cover up and “have a bit of dignity” while breastfeeding at a café in Swansea a couple of months ago. Even though the 23-year-old asked permission to breastfeed, the owner later demanded that she stop.
To counter this problem, Maternity Action provides indispensible information for new mothers. “Women often print out our information sheet
on breastfeeding in public places and carry it with them when they are out and about with their baby,” she explains. “If they face problems at a café or a shop, they hand over the information sheet and tell the waiter or shop assistant that their business has broken the law. It is very effective in getting the message across.”