Tuesday 23 July 2019

How dare a woman breastfeed her baby on a plane! She might offend the bigots

When Dutch airline KLM says it may ask nursing mothers to cover themselves if passengers object, misogyny is winning

Well, I for one welcome the news: as of this week, anybody asked to cover up while breastfeeding on a KLM flight can now walk, bare-breasted, across the plane, milk firing into the air, their baby howling at their shoulder, and immediately hand that screaming, hungry, suffering child to the person who made the complaint, who must then look after that baby for the entirety of the journey while the previously breastfeeding passenger lies back, watches a film, reads their book, has a glass of wine or enjoys a much-needed nap.

Because, my friends, that is precisely what I would do if someone asked me to cover myself while breastfeeding. This week, the Dutch airline KLM garnered a lactic tonne of deserved criticism after it put out a tweet stating that “to ensure that all our passengers of all backgrounds feel comfortable on board, we may request a mother to cover herself while breastfeeding, should other passengers be offended by this”. This was itself a response to one customer’s complaint, posted on Facebook, that she had been asked by a flight attendant to cover herself with a blanket – you know, like an actual fire – while breastfeeding her baby because someone else on the plane had complained.

 ‘I’m no theologist, but even I know that in every major world religion breastfeeding is positively encouraged.’ Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

 We're talking about western patriarchy under which a breast is often interpreted as a something solely erotic

Before we get into the pure misogyny of telling total strangers that the sight of a few centimetres of skin, between collarbone and ribs, is somehow unbearably disturbing, impossibly erotic or physically repulsive, let’s just have a quick chew on the cracked nipple of that phrase “passengers of all backgrounds”. I’m no theologist, but even I know that in every major world religion breastfeeding is positively encouraged. In Genesis, the Bible says: “By the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.”

According to Islam, breastfeeding forgives you of all your minor sins. Here’s a hadith narrated by Ja’far al-Sadiq: “Every time a woman becomes pregnant, during the whole period of pregnancy she has the status of one who fasts, one who worships during the night, and one who fights for Allah with her life and possessions ... and when the period of breastfeeding the child is finished, one of the great angels of Allah taps her side and says: ‘Start your deeds afresh, for Allah has forgiven all your minor sins.’”

In Judaism, the Shulchan Aruch (sometimes called the Book of Jewish Law) recommends breastfeeding for 24 months.

In Hinduism, breastfeeding mothers like the goddess Parvati are found throughout the pantheon, and the ancient Sanskrit text Sushruta Samhita states: “May four oceans, full of milk, constantly abide in both your breasts, you blessed one, for the increase of the strength of the child!” So, let’s be clear: these customers of “all backgrounds” don’t appear to have any religious foundation for their squeamishness, fear, repulsion or anger. They are not speaking on behalf of any faith.

Which means that what we’re talking about here is the old-fashioned culture of western, capitalist patriarchy under which a breast is often interpreted as something solely erotic, which must therefore only be visible jiggling nipple-free in music videos, or in its fetished entirety in pornography. Or perhaps we’re talking about the cultural background of angry men who find the very fleshy existence of anybody other than themselves an assault on their very soul. The sort of people who turn puce at the sight of a woman eating in public, speaking in anything louder than a whisper and otherwise taking up all that room they wanted for their own special man things.

Or perhaps KLM is simply protecting the sensitivities of the sort of upstanding fellow passenger who drinks five whisky and cokes, scratches their crotch while watching their little telly, turns their headphones up high, doesn’t flush the plane toilet, pours a packet of cheese and onion crisps straight into their mouth, shouts across the aisle to call their friend Spuggie a “shirt-lifter”, leers at the flight attendant, pushes their knees into the seat in front of them and then, spotting a woman breastfeeding, decides that the smell of breastmilk is making their hangover worse.

The fact is that cabin pressure within a plane sends babies into a frenzy of discomfort. While adults make be able to suck mints, chew gum or drink water, the roaring pain within an infant’s ear canal can only really be soothed by feeding – either from a bottle or a breast. With airport security as it is, those parents who can may well choose the simple, healthy and free option of breastfeeding while on a plane. The idea that some self-appointed moral arbiter can then go around the plane ordering a flight attendant to throw blankets over anybody they deem “unsuitable”, like patches of sick on a student corridor, would be laughable if it wasn’t so tiresomely bigoted.

As passengers you have two options: respect the right of all parents to feed their child however they want; or sit in a plane full of screaming babies and toddlers, strapped into seatbelts, disoriented, overstimulated and potentially scared, as the change of air pressure rips through their skulls like a drill. I know which I’d choose.

(Source: The Guardian)

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