Sometimes you wonder what goes on inside the heads (and hearts) of some people.
The brouhaha over a woman feeding her infant in public has got some people hot under the collar. The “concern” seems to be that she did not cover up, but instead had exposed her breast to all and sundry on the train.
Well, to be sure, this is not the first time that a breastfeeding mother has raised a howl among those who find the nurturing act unacceptable, or even despicable.
In 2013, for example, an employee at the Coca Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa was so disgusted at the sight of the mother nursing her child that he “even covered [the woman’s] baby with a dirty jacket, and informed the mother that breastfeeding in public is not allowed in Singapore.”
“I was chided and told off for nursing my baby girl in the restaurant, even when I was facing discreetly away from the diners,” the mother said at the time. “The manager of the store came over and told me that in Singapore, we are not allowed to breastfeed in public places.”
Well, that is not true, of course.
There is no law against breastfeeding your child in public in Singapore.
Let that be clear.
According to The Breastfeeding Mother’s Support Group, it had asked the Singapore Police Force in 1999 to clarify if doing so was against the law.
The SPF reportedly replied and said:
“It is not an offence to breastfeed in public if the woman is decently clad and she does not expose her breast more than is necessary to breastfeed her child.”
Well, the statement (as reported by the media) does not go the whole hog in assuring or affirming that public breastfeeding is not against the law as there is a caveat to it: “…if the woman is decently clad and she does not expose her breast more than is necessary…”
That is rather dumb, to be honest, because the statement is subjective, and it seems to indicate that a nursing mother could in fact be infringing the law if the said caveat was not followed.
However, so far, there is no known case of any mother having been arrested or charged for doing such a thing.
Nevertheless, there is no particular law which specifically says that a woman cannot breastfeed her child in public here.
So, the next obvious question is: should mothers cover up when breastfeeding in the presence of other members of the public?
Here, it gets a bit tricky because we may have to delve into the issues of “public morals” or “societal values”, and these are at best ambiguous, at least when it comes to public breastfeeding.
Admittedly, some people’s “moral sensitivities” can be – yes – damaged or injured just by witnessing a mother feeding her child in such a fashion; or even at the mere sight of a breast!
But why should this be the deciding factor of whether a mother should be allowed to breastfeed in public? Why should other people’s views of how a child should be nurtured determine how a mother should in fact do so, just because some people claim to be “disgusted” by the sight of such an act?
Now, in case you think only us so-called “conservative Singaporeans” with our “Asian values” are offended by breastfeeding mothers, it is also an issue in other parts of the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, the supposedly more liberal societies.
So, it comes down to what the female breast is representative of – a sexualised and objectified part of the female form.
The breast itself has no sexuality. (Well, ok, maybe it does but that’s another argument.) It evolved in the physical human body for a purpose, or purposes, among which is the provision of sustenance from a mother to her child.
And there is nothing more natural than that!
And it is not only natural, it is beautiful.
In fact, it is such a natural thing that a dozen or so mothers took to Orchard Road in 2012 in a breastfeeding flash mob in public!
So, why should such a thing be banned from public areas?
Is there anything at all sexual about it that would infringe our public decency laws? Good grief! Certainly not!
Infants can be a handful at times, demanding to be fed there and then. And they may also (perhaps oftentimes) refuse to be covered-up during feeding.
So, at the end of the day, those adults blue in the face with anger over the issue should take a chill pill. Your world is not going to collapse just because you saw a mother expose her breast to do the most natural thing a human mother could do.
Maybe the mother at the centre of the latest controversy in Singapore, Cheryl Lee, will help you understand. Here is her Facebook post in reaction to the brouhaha:
Let mothers decide how they want to feed their infants.
For the rest of us, we can do one of two very simple things:
Either we make sure the mother is safe and comfortable and is undisturbed while she does so; or simply to let her and her child be;
Or, we can walk or turn our faces away from her if we feel offended.
Just like employees of a Target store in the US and several women told a man to do after he created a ruckus about a woman breastfeeding in the store.
We all have a choice.
It is not for us to take away the choices of mothers on how they want to nurse their child.