More Breast-Feeding Ethics

As some of the commentary on this post has again shown, there are some topics that many people are incapable of thinking about objectively and dispassionately. Breast-feeding is evidently one of those topics, and by complete coincidence—you think I plan these things?—another breast-feeding controversy has raised its nippled head.

The Dutch airline KLM is under fire for its policy regarding breast-feeding mothers in flight.  The policy is that breastfeeding is allowed onboard as long as no other passengers are offended by the practice. Otherwise, mothers are asked to use a blanket, or retreat to the rest rooms.

“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,” the airline clarified in a tweet this week.

In ethics, this is called a “reasonable and fair policy.” I would have avoided the term “offended.” Mothers who just flip out a breast and allow a kid to chow down in public—sometimes kids as old as five, in one restaurant episode of my own experience—aren’t being offensive; they are just deliberately or negligently making others around them uncomfortable by engaging in an intimate act and exposing body parts that society generally regards as warranting some cover in polite society. No, it’s not offensive. Immodest? Yes. Rude? Yes. Inconsiderate? Yup. Defiant? Sure. It’s also feminist grandstanding. Using a blanket to partially keep the activity between mother and child is hardly an unreasonable  requirement, that is, unless one believes that nobody else matters, and civility is an outmoded construct.

The argument for punishing KLM—of course, there is the threat of a boycott–is pretty much the same from all critics. Well, not all critics: here’s a bad analogy from Chris van Tulleken, a doctor in London:

“For the comfort of passengers from racist or homophobic backgrounds would they ask people to cover skin and identifiers?”

Two thoughts…

  • Is there any topic where progressives won’t resort to playing the race card to avoid a fair discussion?
  • No, Dr,. but I suspect most passengers would want to see male-on-male fellatio covered up on a flight, whether they were homophobic or not. You see, the issue is whether something makes people uncomfortable for legitimate reasons, as in “I did not book a flight to watch your biological functions in action.”

Most of the angry defenses of breast-feeding in mid-air, however, echo Catherine Noone, deputy leader of the Irish Senate, who wrote, “Breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world and shouldn’t make anyone of any culture uncomfortable. Shocking response from KLM.”

More thoughts:

  • Wait—I thought the emerging progressive consensus was that if anything “offended” anybody, that was enough to ban the conduct or words involved, and the standard was entirely subjective. Now the argument is that being made uncomfortable only matters if the breast-feeders of the world say so? I’m confused.
  • Who is anybody to tell me or anyone else what we are allowed to find discomforting? Why is openly breastfeeding different from saying “fuck” or “cunt” in public, or talking too loud, going topless, or any number of other activities that are considered uncivil, immodest, or rude? It isn’t. The hypocritical bias toward this particular conduct is the familiar feminist chic and the “Think of the children!” rationalization.
  • OK, breast-feeding is natural: stipulated. I wouldn’t say that breastfeeding is “the most natural thing in the world”—it’s exactly as natural as defecation, urinating, flatulence, sexual intercourse, and masturbation, none of which I care to see on my flights.

If “it’s natural” is all the open-breast-feeding advocates have—and it is—then they don’t have a case.


14 thoughts on “More Breast-Feeding Ethics

    • Is it the “aggressive ‘awe'” or the “what are you gonna do or say about”? It is clearly aggressive and confrontational. It is, “Hey, if you object, that’s your problem. Don’t oppress me with your pedestrian and antiquated values!”


  1. Couple years ago I was at the dentist office with my son. We had just walked in and there was a lady with her kid. We sat down and my son introduced himself to the other kid playing with some toys they had there. Kid was about 5, the lady calls the kid over and whips out her tit and plunges the kids head against it. My boy caught completely of guard said “look at how big that is” and it was. I just reminded him it was rude to comment on people’s bodies. He looked at her and said he was sorry. She said it was ok but he shouldn’t look anymore at her. We were called in just then but to this day I am convinced she was trying to antagonize me and I have no idea how things would have ended if we weren’t called in.

    • The way I figure, if you are going to engage in that behavior, expect stares or comments. It may be rude to stare or comment, but should not be completely unexpected.

        • What if he whipped out that omnipresent phone and took video? Could the mom object, since she made a public spectacle in the first place?

          I mean, either she did not care who saw, and thus pictures are fine and dandy, or she objects to pictures and thus admits to doing something illicit for reasons other than the dining needs of her child.

          Would such pictures be considered porn if posted on the Internet? Would there be legal recourse against the poster? The subject of the post? The child?

          I assume civil suits would be on the table (sorry) since you can sue anyone for anything. What standing would a woman have to sue, “I exposed myself in public, but did not want anyone to see me?” I would think that the ‘girls gone wild’ publishers would have been bankrupted long ago if that was a winnable civil case.

          Do feminists really think that they can expose themselves in public and expect everyone to look the other way?

          • Can’t speak for 100% of them, but generally they want to be seen, while pretending not to want to be seen.

            The ideal feminist afternoon: dozens of attractive men gawk at your power and mystique adoringly, and/or try to talk to you, while you live-tweet about all the unwanted attention you’re getting from pathetic men. For obvious reasons feminists don’t usually achieve the first half of that, but nothing stops them from doing the second part anyway.

            Pointing out an obvious cry for attention ruins the illusion and is therefore out of bounds. This is reason number 143,487 not to date a woman who dresses provocatively. With precious few exceptions, tattoos and colored hair are also convenient red flags.

          • Had an alternate response.

            Woman exposes herself, child starts dining, and man starts recording.

            Woman: ‘What do you think you are doing?’
            Man: ‘Since you have blessed me with such a wonderful moment, I want to save it to remember in future years’
            Child: ‘suck, suck’

  2. I agree “it’s natural” is not a good recommendation for anything. But while any sex in public and defecation and urinating in the wrong place is offensive, breastfeeding on the other hand while many people may find it discomforting, I can not see how they would find it offensive.

    P.S. When I want to put something in quotes how do I put it so that it has a grey background? I’ve looked around your site but cannot find any instructions on how to do it.

    • I agree. But it doesn’t have to be offensive to be something polite people keep discreet in respect for others.

      That gray background is a feature of this particular site design.

  3. [I]f anything “offended” anybody, that was enough to ban the conduct or words involved, and the standard was entirely subjective.

    It was a mad world, kids. The rules changed every other week, and the change never made any more sense than the original. But we had to comply, at least in public . . . and be careful what we said in private. See, we never knew … we couldn’t tell … who might be infected with the Sinistravirus. We didn’t even have a name for it until it had corrupted an entire generation of people — yes, mostly women (plus those four miniature Welsh ponies that earned more than a thousand airline miles as companion animals). They had, literally, gone insane from the incessant repetition of certain words intoned on the PC station. The Sinnies entered the limbic system, slowly reconfiguring the neural pathways along the left side of the brain: if you’re lucky, you’ll get to do some dissections yourself in Biopsych next year. Fortunately, for the survival of the human race, one of the unexpected side effects was sterilization; otherwise, who knows if sanity would have returned to the planet.

    Now I know you’re left shoulder is a bit sore, kids, but it’s a small price to pay for the vaccination. Just remember our motto, E ‘plorable Unum, and don’t forget to think for yourself!

  4. I agree with the general thrust of the regulation, but disagree with two points. Point one, which you have already addressed, is that the triggering event is someone taking offense. This is WAY too broad. If you are flying a plane full of feminists to a breastfeeding conference, everyone could be topless. If you are flying a plane full of Puritan chauvinists with one mother on board being far more discrete than your photo, but daring to show her elbows, someone could be completely up in arms. Ok, yes, I am exaggerating, but the hyperbole brings up why, to me, this is a major concern. Some of you have experienced the women who want to be topless in public with no consequences and are rightfully concerned. I, and my friends, have experienced our fair share of people who give the evil eye or even a cost us when we are completely covered and being as discreet as possible while feeding our child. Because of the assholes in this world(on both sides), we cannot come to an easy medium. (A fair descriptor may be when law or policy takes the place of the Golden Rule, perhaps?)

    Second, I am concerned by the potential of relegating the woman and infant to the lavatory. This is due to two problems. One, it is recommended to never nurse your child in a public restroom, especially a cramped one, for hygiene concerns. Touching things before touching your child’s mouth or your breast is nearly impossible to avoid, even more so in a tiny airplane lavatory. The common analogy is that you wouldn’t eat your meal in there, would you? Two, the best time to nurse is on take-off and landing, as that helps the baby regulate pressure in their ears and avoids some of the “baby screamed the WHOLE flight” issue since babies don’t know how to pop their ears. Take-off and landing are times when moving to the lavatory is unsafe and the airline wouldn’t allow it anyway. Between practical and hygienic concerns, I think this part of the policy should be scrapped. Requiring a woman to cover up with a blanket, cover, coat, etc should, I think, be adequate. Reasonable people should remember that some babies won’t nurse covered up, but reasonable mothers should still be able to decrease skin showing. Though I guess the lack of reasonable people on both sides is the whole reason we have this issue.

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