What attitude should we take towards women who wish to breastfeed their babies in public? Older, more conservative readers may feel a little squeamish about this sort of thing and would prefer mothers to do their breastfeeding in private; it is as much the hideous slurping noise as the sight of a female breast which offends, I think. At the other extreme, the modernist view is that they should be allowed to breastfeed when and where they want, without argument or hindrance, and that’s an end to it.
As ever, I stalk what we might call the middle ground, the area where some sort of compromise can be found between these two diametrically opposed schools of thought. I think women should be allowed to get their breasts out when and where they want — but only if they are quite attractive breasts. In other words, if they are pert, firm and becoming. If, however, they are unpleasantly pendulous, or resemble in their shape, if not their colouring, a spaniel’s ears, then I would argue it would be better for all concerned if they were to keep them hidden away under as many layers of clothing as possible. I think this suggestion strikes the right balance between conservatism and progressivism and I have written to a number of leading feminists suggesting that this would be an appropriate route out of the current impasse. I have not yet had a reply, which is an optimistic sign, I think — they are taking my attempt to forge a consensus very seriously and giving the matter a lot of thought. I will let you know how these important women respond.
I have given this matter a lot of thought, too, because we are clearly approaching some sort of crisis. There have been reports in our newspapers about women who, having lobbed out a teat to service their mewling brats — perhaps in the dairy aisle at Waitrose, or while waiting for their menfolk to finish lunch in White’s — suffer being upbraided by men who think it inappropriate behaviour. The latest outrage befell a young woman in the pleasant seaside town of Blackpool. She ‘accidentally’ pulled over into a taxi rank when her five-month-old brat started crying to be fed, apparently. She was spotted by a traffic warden who despite the mother's apologies nonetheless issued her with a ticket. This is what the lady in question told the Times: ‘I felt so humiliated ...[my two-year old] was upset and I was still trying to feed [the baby] who was screaming because her feed had been interrupted, all with my breast exposed in front of passers-by.’
Of course, the local council have since waived the £35 penalty and done the usual grovelling apology thing, insisting that they ‘support’ breastfeeding, as everybody in any position of authority has to do, much as they have to be absolutely opposed to ‘bullying’ and implacably in favour of gay marriage. These are not issues upon which the contrary views are even remotely allowable. Better still was the response from some ghastly charitable concern called the Breastfeeding Network. This indispensable institution proclaims that it is ‘an independent source of support and information for breastfeeding women and those involved in their care’, incidentally, just so you know. Anyway, its spokesnipple said: ‘We hope that breastfeeding mothers and their babies will be treated with the same respect as everyone else.’
Well, indeed. But the Blackpool lady wasn’t, was she? She was afforded a degree of latitude which other people, those without milk-replete baps, are not given. It is now the right of every lactating woman to pull over into a taxi rank to feed her querulous child, or perhaps pull up in the fast lane of the M6 as soon as Swarfega or Ronseal starts up with a bit of preprandial clamouring, and she should not be forced to wait for a single second or suffer any inconvenience. The notion that the same laws should be applied, and that the infants consequently begin to understand the pleasures of deferred gratification, has been swatted away by the clunking fist of political correctness. It is becoming impossible to marshall a single argument against breastfeeding in any venue, no matter what laws might be broken in the meantime. And yet there was no reason why the mother shouldn’t have attempted to find a legitimate parking space in order to expose her breast to other passers-by. Another two minutes of mewling? Good for the kid, I reckon.
We are in the grip of what one sociologist, Dr Charlotte Faircloth, calls ‘militant lactivism’, a singularly middle-class phenomenon which insists that breastfeeding, and only breastfeeding, is the only way in which children should be nourished and that anything which stands in the way of breastfeeding is an iniquity. That is why there is a huge middle-class charity — or ‘independent resource’, as the Breastfeeding Network calls itself — determined to inflict its views upon the masses, to ensure that every young mum breastfeeds and that those who don’t are slightly behind the curve, and probably shop in Aldi or Lidl. There is an absolutism about the arguments which everyone is compelled to go along with, no matter how patently absurd they might be.