Nursing moms turn out for event at Janesville Post Office to normalize breast-feeding in public
JANESVILLE—Breasts have become so sexualized in society that for some people, seeing a woman breast-feeding a child in public can be offensive, said moms who participated in a "nurse-in" Wednesday.
Several mothers walked on the Milton Avenue sidewalk in front of the post office to “normalize” breast-feeding during a nurse-in. Organizers wanted to raise awareness for a state law that protects breast-feeding moms from harassment after a local mom said she was harassed by a U.S. Postal Service employee.
“Breasts are just so sexualized,” said Breanna Tubbs, who drove from Watertown with her two children, not knowing anyone at the event. “Someone sees you breast-feeding, and they think that it's disgusting or something when this is the sole purpose of breasts. To make them sexual is their secondary purpose.”
One of the organizers, Tyshanna Bradley, said she had to stop responding to some of the negative Facebook comments about the situation.
“I feel like we are very sexualized in the U.S., and that's probably a big thing,” she said.
She noted one guy threatened to put the women on a pornography site.
The event sparked a passionate, and at times, heated discussion across Facebook pages, but organizers said they were happy to see strong support, including from fathers, for nursing in public.
Dozens of women pushed strollers and wore their babies in carriers with other young children in tow with signs and specially-printed shirts. The signs read “#NormalizeBreastfeeding,” “Anytime Anywhere” (with the breast-feeding icon), and “No harassment for breastfeeding moms.”
They nursed their babies as needed.
Many drivers honked in approval while TV cameras rolled. One 2-year-old girl in a stroller pretended to nurse her doll. The owner of Rock County Cycle, next to the post office, offered part of his parking lot to the women and used a forklift to bring a picnic table to the corner of the lot for the women.
HOW IT STARTED
Mothers rallied around Raven Dibble last week after she said a postal employee harassed her for breast-feeding her newborn in a sling while mailing packages. Dibble said the employee told her she could either cover up or go to her car, or the woman could refuse her service. Dibble cited Wisconsin law, and the exchange continued, with Dibble saying the employee was “very loud and very argumentative.”
A corporate postal service spokesman apologized through The Gazette for the situation last week and issued a statement Wednesday saying the postal service “is sensitive to the issue of breastfeeding and nursing mothers.”
“We also spoke with the employees at the Janesville Post Office concerning the situation and provided guidance to them on how to properly handle occurrences of this nature in the future,” spokesman Sean Hargadon wrote. “We have taken this opportunity to educate all local and district employees regarding the laws surrounding mothers' rights to nurse children in public.”
He said nursing mothers are welcome in their facilities.
Wisconsin statutes not only allow a mother to breast-feed her child “in any public or private location where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be,” but they also prohibit anyone from directing a mother to move to a different location or cover her child or breast while nursing.
Many people don't know about the statutes, which is why moms said they showed up.
“If you are not a breast-feeding mother or know someone who is, it's not something you would know,” Tubbs said.
Christina Slaback agreed and said many people think moms are just trying to be exhibitionists.
“One of the biggest barriers to breast-feeding is nursing in public,” she said.
Dibble said the response has been way bigger than she expected.
“I think our society is just hypersexualized,” she said, “and we've made breasts into an entertainment object so when you say that really they're for feeding, people have a really hard time bridging that gap, going from something that's sexual to something that children are involved in.”
Not everybody agrees.
For Vickie Manke of Janesville, it's about dignity. She marched among the women carrying a sign that read “Look away? Why should we? You, cover up! Dignity over rights.”
“It's dignity first. I don't care to look at somebody else's breast,” she said. “I breastfed one of mine, and I would have never thought that I should just go into a post office and expose my breast to everybody in line. You can schedule a baby's feeding. I did with three of them.”
She said what the women did to the post office and its employee was “totally wrong.” She said she's been in restaurants where her husband didn't notice a woman breast-feeding because she was covered and doing it discreetly.
“It's called dignity, even for the baby,” she said.
While moms say others can look away, she countered that they should cover up, and a young child might have no idea about breast-feeding.
“Maybe I'm not ready to explain to my 4-year-old what they're doing,” she said. “That's my right, too.”
One woman, whose daughter testified to help get the law passed, said she showed up because “all moms need support.”
“I'm glad that women are getting braver because I was intimidated,” Deb Lalor said.
She told the moms she thought there's a misunderstanding that the law is about breast-feeding.
“It's a law about not harassing anyone,” she said.
“And really it's about babies eating,” an organizer added.
The event started with a woman driving by to voice her disapproval. One man drove slowly through the parking lot while holding a video camera out the window and later got out of his car to record the event. He declined to give his name to a Gazette photographer and said he has recorded local events for his personal use.
“I don't know how you can be offended by somebody feeding their child,” said Jen Braun, who nurses her 6-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter. “It really surprises me a lot. This just showed the need for awareness.”