Last year Julia Acevedo-Taylor claimed she was rudely asked to leave a Manhattan chocolate shop because she was breastfeeding her five month old. Last month, she filed a lawsuit against the shop. I’ll be following that case – the first suit filed under the 1994 New York State public breastfeeding law – but watching a recent news report on the case I am struck most by the lack of discussion of the law.
Instead, there is a painful debate between a purported etiquette expert and a La Leche League Leader. Neither is talking about the law: what a woman is legally allowed to do. The debate is what she should do, followed up by a poll about whether women should be allowed to breastfeed in public. So did I miss something? Is the New York State legislature considering a bill to rescind current civil rights law that states a right to breastfeed in public? If not, why are these people having this discussion? If Julia Acevedo-Taylor has a legal right to breastfeed in public accommodations in New York State (which she does), why is there a “news” story about whether she should?
What other civil rights are people asked to forego to make restaurant patrons more comfortable? If Acevedo-Taylor were a man, would there be public debate about whether exercising her civil right is rude?
So have a look at this “news” story and tell me what you think. The beginning is a report on the original incident. It will probably make you really really angry. The owner denies Acevedo-Taylor was kicked out but said women could not breastfeed in his establishment without being “discreet” and covering up.
But then comes the “what should she do” discussion. The Countess of Etiquette thinks it is impolite to make people uncomfortable by feeding your baby with your breasts in public. And, by the way, her 13 year old son is very upset seeing breasts. Hmm. The La Leche League Leader is trying to avoid the question by saying breastfeeding isn’t actually disruptive. Nice try but not the reason she was there. Were I interviewed on this question (and I have been many times, even by Fox News), I would insist on discussing the real issue. When you have a legal right, you can exercise it regardless of whether it makes people uncomfortable. What you should do is whatever legal act you feel comfortable doing. Those made uncomfortable by seeing breastfeeding are free to retreat to private space.
Please let me know what you think about how this news story is presented? Should we even be talking about nursing “discreetly”?