As part of a social experiment to gauge perception of breastfeeding in public, British YouTubers Trollstation enlisted a woman to board a busy train with them in London and attempt the entirely natural act — while they stood by with cameras to record what happened. So how exactly did people react to a woman breastfeeding on the Tube? The resulting responses were a discombobulating combo of disappointing, heartening and, in some ways, sadly unsurprising. The video starkly underlines the need for the normalization of breastfeeding in public — but at least it also shows that many people are willing to stand up for it, too.
Here's how the video goes down: No sooner does the breastfeeding mother take her seat (and carefully ensure her cover is in place, mind you) than a man begins to heckle her. As the train presses on, the man goes from visibly upset to verbally combative — accusing the woman of "exposing" herself and making everyone uncomfortable. Some passengers, including a young woman seated directly between the breastfeeding mother and the heckler, simply get up and silently exit the train or relocate to another carriage. Others sit idly by, awkwardly avoiding eye contact and trying to remain neutral.
Happily, some passengers did spring to the breastfeeding woman's defense. The more irate the heckler became, the more impassioned this small contingency of supporters became as well — particularly one man who physically inserted himself in the now vacant seat between the breastfeeding woman and the heckler, saying to the latter, "You're behaving a bit aggressively." For the record, someone give that guy all the applause for being such a stellar human being.
Ultimately, Trollstation cuts in and reveals this was all part of a social experiment and — surprise! — the heckler is an actor they recruited for the cause. Give it a watch, then join me after the jump so we can discuss, eh?
As a woman who breastfed her two babies, I am acutely aware of the struggle that is breastfeeding in public. On the negative end of the spectrum, reactions range from side-eye to cat-calling and everything in between. If you feel the need to go searching for proof, please do feel free to fall down the rabbithole that is the comment thread over this experiment on YouTube.
But my point — and the point of this social experiment — is that breastfeeding in public is all too often accompanied by certain stigmas. It has become a divisive topic of conversation, unnecessarily so. There is a dire need for the normalization of breastfeeding in public, which is why Trollstation's video and other media underscoring the issue play an important role in the public forum. So, in the spirit of furthering that discourse, let's take a look at some of the popular misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding in public.
1. MYTH: Women Have No Right To Breastfeed In Public
Although the heckler in this video turned out to be an actor, many of the barbs he directed toward the breastfeeding mom are typical of detractors. A crowning example is when someone asks a breastfeeding woman what right she has to breastfeed in public. In the United States, 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have laws in place which specifically protect a woman's right to breastfeed in any public or private location. In the UK, the Equality Act makes it illegal to try and stop mothers from breastfeeding their babies in public places.
2. MYTH: Women Could Avoid Breastfeeding In Public If They Really Wanted To
This is what you might call your classic no-win situation. If a woman foregoes feeding her child to spare the people around her the possibility of seeing said child breastfeeding (as ludicrous as that sounds), she runs the very likely risk of having a hungry, screaming baby on her hands. Which, real talk, doesn't exactly please the type of people who like to complain about things like breastfeeding in public. It is impossible to predict exactly when and where your baby will be hungry every single time. Besides, infants feed nearly every hour. Or more! Hello, cluster feeding. The only way to entirely avoid breastfeeding in public is by not going out in public at all, and we can all agree that's an unfair request, right?
3. MYTH: It's Inappropriate And/Or Obscene
If you've never had someone stop you mid-mouthful at Taco Bell to tell you your behavior is inappropriate, well, good. Because eating is not, in fact, an act that is expressly private. It's natural and, especially in the case of babies who lack the ability to feed themselves, wholly necessary for survival. Contrary to popular misconception, there is nothing sexual about breastfeeding in public — it is merely the act of a mother trying to take care of her hungry child. I can assure you there is no illicit thrill that comes from breastfeeding your baby in public. Say it with me, now: Breasts are not inherently sexual. They only become sexual when we actively sexualize them.
4. MYTH: Women Could Easily Substitute With A Bottle
Only, that's not always true. Breastfeeding is so beneficial to mothers and babies that many women choose to breastfeed exclusively. The length of time they do so is largely dependent on individual factors and personal preference. Some babies will not take a bottle or, if they do, it inhibits their ability to effectively breastfeed. Packing expressed milk in a bottle to take with you can be a complicated and tricky process. In addition to pumping (which is quite literally a pain), you must travel equipped with an arsenal of supplies, including a cooler, ice packs, bottles, bibs, and warmers. All breastfeeding equipment must also be sterilized before and after use.
5. MYTH: Breastfeeding Women Should Go Somewhere Private, Like A bathroom
Take a moment to remember the last time you used a public restroom and please do tell women again how they should feed their babies there. Not only is it unsanitary to nurse in the same space where people urinate and defecate, but no Mama should be forced to sit in a bathroom stall to feed their child when there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public.
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