This Trollstation video made headlines this month when a group of unknowing London travellers were part of a social experiment in which a woman simulated breastfeeding on the tube and another actor started abusing her for ‘exposing herself’ in public. After several minutes of argument, her fellow travellers rally round and come to her aid, but if you saw someone having trouble, would you intervene?
My experience tells me maybe you wouldn’t.
I posted the below blog at Christmas time, after a negative breastfeeding experience on a busy commuter train. Rather than an angry man berating me for exposing myself, I experienced lewd comments. But both really equate to the same thing; the sexualisation of feeding a child. If we hadn’t been conditioned by the media and society to see breasts as sexual, mothers would have no problem feeding their babies wherever and whenever necessary. Why is a breast more sexual than an elbow? Its primary purpose is to produce and supply milk to the mother’s offspring, so why should she not be able to do this comfortably wherever she is?
I was physically able to feed my screaming baby on a packed commuter train despite the lack of space or seats; why should the hurdle I face be the poor attitudes of my fellow commuters? When faced with the abuse I didn’t have the courage to speak up, merely shifting round to try and shut the negativity out. And I would have really appreciated it if someone could have spoken up for me. So next time you see a mother breastfeeding in public, wish her well. Give her a high five. Hell, offer her a cuppa. And for goodness’ sake; if you hear her getting any grief, be her knight in shining armour. It’s hard work being a mum. Let’s make it that little bit easier.
I have had my first negative public breastfeeding experience. It was on the 5.06 from Paddington. And, like most negative things that happen, it taught me a lesson. It taught me what sort of man I would like my son to be.
After a lovely Christmas lunch with my old workmates, and a painfully slow cab ride across London, I ran through Paddington in a way reminiscent of my life pre-Jack to make the 5.06 train to Reading (one of very few off-peak commuter trains, although that’s neither here nor there). Having run down the platform alongside another mum, we reached coach C, where there is about 30cm extra space, meant for pushchairs. (Thanks again for everything, First Great Western*.)
*Please sense the sarcasm
At this point, Jack woke from his hour-log nap and started to scream. Not that sort of ‘I’m mildly annoyed’ noise, the full on ‘you’re the worst mother in history and it sucks that I’m stuck with you’ sort of cry. Having squeezed on and through about 15 standing and very grumpy commuters, I found a little space for my iCandy Rasberry and me, and proceeded to take from his pram the noisiest, angriest baby in history. All the while my fellow passengers were trying to kill us with their eyes. I don’t mind this. I’m ashamed to say I’ve done this to mums in the past. (Sorry mums. I didn’t know what it was like before. And I liked peace and quiet. I still do.) Having tried bouncing him around, sticking pacifiers at him, shushing him and, I’ll admit, trying to kill him with my eyes, I decided there was nothing for it but to feed him. I proceeded to manoeuvre into position in our fold-down chair in the 10cm of space we had, and latch him on without exposing myself to the carriage. Which was when a couple of previously silent business men started whooping and making lewd comments to the rest of the passengers such as ‘go on lad’ and ‘save some for me’.
While this sort of thing would usually not bother me, the fact that I was stuck in such a cramped tiny space with nowhere to move, surrounded by hostility and feeding my inconsolable son made me feel extremely vulnerable and out in the open. There wasn’t really anything I could do, so I just shifted slightly around and stared out the window, trying and failing to think of something to say back to these idiots.
But when it comes to it, nothing I would have said would have changed the situation – they were looking for (and found) a cheap laugh, at my expense. And their lack of respect for me, and women in general, is not something I would have the power to change whether or not I had thought of a clever comeback. I do, however, have the power to shape a little man of my own now. And I intend to teach him the right and wrong way to treat women, because making a woman feel exposed like that is not something I ever want my son to be responsible for.
So son, when you’re older and making your way in the world, just remember that one day, when you were tiny, your mum was just a woman on a train, doing everything in her power to make you happy. That lady deserved respect. And she didn’t get it.