Women Who Breastfeed In Public Are Not The Problem

What is this fear we have about women and babies, asks columnist Lucy Vine

larissa waters breastfeeding

by Lucy Vine |
Published on

‘If I whip my dick out in Australian parliament to take a piss can I get a bravo and Twitter trend?’ wrote a man who shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent, because he apparently doesn’t understand that public urination in the workplace is not the same thing as feeding a baby.

This week, over in Australia, an MP called Larissa Waters has made headlines – and history – by breastfeeding her daughter in Parliament, while also making a motion to help ill coal mine workers.

It only took a few seconds for Senator Waters to address the house in Canberra, speaking fluently while 14-week-old Alia Joy quietly got on with her feeding schedule. From the video of the incident, you can see mother and daughter were greeted with smiles from her colleagues, and Waters’ boss, Richard Di Natale was seen happily holding the baby while Waters worked. She hilariously noted later on, ‘First time I've had to move a Senate motion while breastfeeding! And my partner in crime moved her own motion just before mine, bless her.’

(I choose to see this action as a dirty protest and a damning indictment of politics today – well said, tiny person.)

Anyway, the whole thing actually felt nice and normal and lovely.

Until, of course, The Men of Twitter beheld the aberration. As well as that adorable Tweet above about pissing all over the floor (not the same on any level, bro), Larissa Waters breastfeeding her baby was equated again and again with things like masturbating, flashing, shitting, and public indecency. The Senator got abuse direct to her phone too, and later posted a screen shot on social media of a text message that told her she would be ‘remembered in politics as the dumb bitch with the big tits’ and calling the feeding of Alia, an ‘exhibition’.

She was accused of ‘seeking attention’ and being ‘void of any class’. Not to mention tweet after tweet calling her unprofessional and demanding to know why the baby wasn’t at nursery or with a babysitter. There’s no point trying to explain to those people that babies need feeding regularly, so Waters had a choice of missing making her motion entirely or bringing Alia with her.

It’s weird, isn’t it, how outraged people get about breastfeeding. And when I say ‘people’, I do unfortunately mostly mean men.

(Hold for the chorus of NOT ALL MENZZZZZZZ).

But sadly, most of the tweets were from men. Men who don’t get it because they will never have to get it. They will never have to make a choice between work and feeding their child. They physically don’t have to make that choice and they also don’t carry that expectation placed on them by society and history. No one bats an eyelid about working fathers, but OH BOY, don’t get the internet started about working mothers.

We’re in this weird place right now, where we expect women to be able to do everything. To be able to work 50-hour weeks and then still be the superhero at home; cooking, cleaning and doing 90% of the parenting. Oh, and we also better keep the public mothering out of everyone’s eye line because gross.

Larissa Waters wasn’t doing anything wrong by breastfeeding her child. Not in a moral sense, and certainly not in a professional sense. Last year Australian Parliament changed its rules to allow mothers to breastfeed in the chamber, so THERE YOU GO, TWITTER MEN, she officially has permission. And this is what we need more of from employers. Bosses should be encouraged as much as possible to help working mothers, because having children is a big reason why women feel left behind in the workplace. It’s a big part of why that frustrating 19% gender pay gap continues to be allowed to happen.

As Senator Waters said last month, ‘We need more women and parents in Parliament. And we need more family-friendly and flexible workplaces, and affordable childcare, for everyone.’ The more we talk about this and normalise public breastfeeding, the more we can hopefully move away from our weird misogynistic revulsion of it. Larissa Waters is helping that happen and deserves nothing but praise. And, let’s face it, most babies are a lot better behaved than politicians anyway…

Hot Mess by Lucy Vine is published in paperback by Orion, 13th July £7.99 or available now on ebook, 99p

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