When is an exposed breast a legal breast?
1. When it’s swinging around a stripper pole in a bump and grind bar? Yes.
2. When it’s in widescreen close-up in an appropriately rated film? Of course.
3. When it belongs to a model being photographed for a high fashion print ad? You bet.
4. When it’s discreetly feeding a baby in a store’s dressing room? Hell, no!
As least, that’s the attitude of a few people who not only have their priorities in the wrong place, but also seem clueless about the laws protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed her child in a public place.
This story starts with Naomi Yap and her hungry baby.
Naomi Yap was shopping, with her baby in tow, in a Hollister store in Houston, Texas. When her baby started squirming and crying, clearly needing to be fed, she slipped into a dressing room, pulled the curtain closed, discreetly covered her breast (she claims she was “not exposed”) and proceeded to breastfeed her child. A store employee on duty at the time saw her enter the dressing room, and, according to Naomi, he pulled back the curtain back and yelled, “You, lady, you can’t breastfeed inside our stores, it’s against our policy.” [Source]
Whether it’s against their policy or not, breastfeeding in public is protected by the state of Texas, which has “laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.”
See video of Naomi’s interview:
While the Yaps have filed a formal complaint with the Hollister company, the outrage didn’t end there. The story started making its way around the media and caught the attention of a group of mothers in Wilmington, Delaware. Three of them, Diana Hitchens, Autumme Murray, and Jessica Hitchens, were incensed at the humiliating treatment of a fellow mother and decided to stage a protest in solidarity. They organized what they called a “nurse-in” in another Hollister store in the Concord Mall in Wilmington. They carried posters that read, “Hey Hollister, my baby has a right to eat. It’s the law,” as well as “Normalize breast-feeding in public. Do you eat in public? Why shouldn’t our babies?” What happened next was reported by NBC News:
“We walked through the store and the employees asked if we needed help with anything,” said Diana Hitchens of Elkton, Maryland. “We were actually nursing as we were walking through the store.”
But moments after they staged a sit-in, mall security arrived.
“Two security guards walked up to us,” said Autumne Murray of Elkton, Maryland. “They started questioning us and asking us why we were exposing ourselves and saying that we needed to leave or cover up. We got in an argument with them about it for a little bit and then they left.”
When mall security returned, they brought along a Delaware State Trooper who was on routine patrol, according to state police.
“He was asking if we were exposing ourselves saying that the security guards said we were exposing ourselves and that we could be kicked out of the mall if we didn’t cover up,” Murray added.
Delaware State Police told NBC10 they are considering the incident a “civil matter” between the three women and the mall.
Though the women did leave the mall, when NBC10 attempted to interview Concord employees about the incident, they were asked to leave the premises.
[Note: Delaware is also a state that has “laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.”]
On another note, and quite interestingly, despite the Hollister stores’ discomfort with a mother nursing her baby, they seem quite comfortable bearing chests in service of suggestive advertising for their products:
At the core of this story, and what strikes many as incredulous, is the idea that in the year 2013, when reality programming, online media, Facebook pages and every kind of human interaction seem to involve the exposure of ever-more-voyeuristic behavior, exposed body part or salacious acting out, we are still, as a society, squeamish – even indignant – about the natural, tender act of a women breastfeeding her baby. The cultural hypocrisy is stunning; the antiquated and sexist tone of disapproval, absurd.
But despite this, both the Concord Mall and the Hollister stores seem unwilling to deal with this in a manner that is respectful of the law or respectful to their female shoppers with babies. The Concord Mall’s Facebook page had a thread dealing with the matter – since removed – that continued to promote a level of ignorance that is shocking for a public company:
The Hollister Company, meanwhile, has responded to the Yaps that they will “look into the matter.” [Source]
I’d suggest they – and the Concord Mall – look into the law, look into sensitivity and customer service training for their employees, and look into raising their level of consciousness in regards to women. Until then, I’d suggest women look elsewhere for their shopping.