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Friday, June 15, 2007I'm tired this week.
Not because Emmitt still wakes several times a night, or because I'm getting only a few hours of sleep. Not because Emmitt is teething, or my laptop is broken and my online time is limited.
(Ok, maybe a little bit because of that...)
But because I'm so frustrated with women and lactivism right now that it's physically exhausting. After this week, I also now know why men run the world.
It started Tuesday. I spent most of the day at a meeting that by all accounts should have been a wonderful example of women coming together to move a great cause forward. Instead, it reinforced my belief that too many women spend too much time focusing on getting things their way to actually get anything of substance accomplished. There's too much focus on who gets credit, who gets say so and "how things have always been done" to have any chance at doing something amazing.
Then after spending a full day offline with computer problems, I returned to an email box absolutely stuffed with reader letters about the situation that took place in Denver at the Elitch Gardens Theme Park earlier this week.
If you aren't aware of the incident, here's a YouTube video of news coverage.
You can also read the mother's original post describing what happened.
Now, let me be the first to say that I think what happened to this mother is horrible. Colorado state law protects a mother's right to breastfeed and neither the park employees nor the police officers had any right to ask this mother to move or to harass her. The mother (and everyone else) is entirely justified in being up in arms. I'm pretty ticked off about it myself.
When things like this happen, we have two choices in how we react.
1.) We can channel our anger into energy and follow proper channels to accomplish something that will have a lasting impact on our society.
2.) We can allow our anger to turn us into shrill, ranting women that gather a few minutes worth of publicity, but ultimately get written off as "those crazy, hormonal moms that want to cause another ruckus."
Tell me...which do you think is going to accomplish more in the long run?
Which is going to protect not only our rights to breastfeed any time any where, but to also change the culture so our daughters and our granddaughters don't even give the issue a second thought?
I want to note that I (along with several other experienced lactivists I keep in touch with) emailed this mom within a day of her original post to offer our assistance. I was (and still am) more than willing to step up and help any mother figure out the best way to approach a situation like this to ensure the best chance at a positive out come.
In this instance, I'm saddened to see that moms have let their anger overtake their rationality and I'm afraid the results are not going to be anywhere close to what they could have been.
Why do I say this?
Because along with watching the flurry of "shrill" emails (and thankfully a few well written, yet powerful ones) I'm amazed to see that a group of moms has contacted the media and planned a nurse-in for tomorrow. I'm amazed by this for several reasons...
1.) They've done this without any input from the mother that was harassed. Thus, they've co-opted someone else's issue without their support or their knowledge. Nurse-ins, when appropriate should happen WITH the original mother's backing and approval.
2.) They've given a single day's notice and planned an event on a holiday weekend, thus ensuring a less than stellar turn-out
and most importantly
3.) They've rushed into a reactionary response without taking the time to work with Elitch Gardens and to give the park a chance to rectify the situation.
In response to the news about the nurse-in, Elitch Gardens has released a statement on the incident:
Colorado State Law provides women the right to breastfeed anywhere. We also allow it in our park. Our concern was not that she was breastfeeding her child, but that she was exposed while doing so making several guests uncomfortable enough to bring it to the park management's attention. We suggested alternative options to Mrs. Skrydlak-simlai for her to continue breastfeeding her son in public while also allowing us to preserve a reasonable comfort level for the rest of our guests. We never asked Mrs. Skrydlak-simlai to leave the park or threatened to arrest her. At Eltich Gardens, we make every effort to provide a safe, fun and enjoyable place to all people, free of discrimination or judgment of any kind and we apologize if we offended Mrs. Skrydlak-simlai.
Now, I want to make a point here that I also made on the Mothering thread.
When you have an issue with someone at work, in your family, or in life...do you find that walking up to them and punching them in the face is a good way to get them to listen to your point of view and to come to a resolution?
No, it usually results in the other person getting extraordinarily defensive and totally unwilling to listen to any point you have to make.
Yes, if you are big enough and strong enough, punching someone in the face will *probably* get you your way. But will it get your way because you are stronger, or because you have actually changed their mind?
As I see it, moms that are new to the issue of lactivism and to the fight for breastfeeding rights have only a few reference points of how to fight the battle we wage daily.
They remember hearing about the nurse-in at The View.
They remember hearing about the nurse-in at Victoria's Secret.
They remember hearing about the nurse-in at Delta.
They remember hearing about the nurse-in at the PA Mall.
Notice a common theme there?
Nurse-ins are what gets news and exposure, but they aren't always what accomplishes changes in policy and changes in attitude. In fact, a nurse-in that isn't paired with a specific call to action and a proposed solution accomplishes little more than a sound-byte on the six o'clock news.
The problem with this is that it often leads to a few angry moms calling for a nurse-in when they hear about something going on. In fact, one of the first responses I tend to see to any breastfeeding in public incident is "when's the nurse in?" or "I'll go to a nurse-in!" (Ok, to be fair, those are paired with oodles of what are often nasty emails to the company.)
Here's the deal though...
When an incident like this happens, we have one (maybe two) shots at press coverage before people get bored and move on to the next sound byte. That means that we have to make the most of that press coverage. Get the most leverage, make the best point, and have the best shot at instituting change.
A video clip of half a dozen (or even dozens and dozens of) angry breastfeeding moms shouting "Try eating with a blanket over YOUR head!" doesn't accomplish much. Sure, it enrages the people that already agree with us, but for those against us? It simply reinforces their belief that we're nothing more than a bunch of hormonal women with too much free time looking for something to complain about.
On the other hand, a well-thought out, properly planned nurse-in complete with talking points, media kits and moms experienced in public relations can result in news coverage that shows dozens of moms, feature thoughtful, articulate commentary and arms reporters with facts and data that make it far more likely they'll craft fair and balanced coverage.
When we jump on things without thinking them through, we run the risk of created wasted opportunity.
That's fine, you say. You're telling us what not to do, but you aren't offering up anything constructive other than to say "you shouldn't do that."
Ok, here's my advice. Take it for what you will.
If you ever find yourself facing a situation like this, here is what I suggest.
1.) Know the breastfeeding laws for where you are located. If possible, carry a card that cites the exact law in your state. If you are approached, calmly point out the law and ask them to leave you be. When you are finished nursing your child, ask to speak with a manager and calmly inform them about what happened.
2.) If you are threatened with arrest by the police, tell them that you will be happy to leave as soon as you get their names and badge numbers. (Whether they have the right to ask you to leave or not, if you refuse, you can be arrested for trespassing and/or resisting arrest.) When you return home, call their supervisors and calmly inform them what happened.
3.) Once you've done one and two, work your way up the chain of command seeking resolution. Write down names, dates and details about each conversation that you have.
Keep in mind that employees are often speaking their own minds, not that of their employees. Think of the number of times your children have said something that made you want to crawl out of your skin from embarrassment. Imagine if people held YOU directly responsible for what they've said rather than approaching you and giving you a chance to rectify the problem.
IF you've done the first three and have been unable to come to a resolution, I suggest the following:
1.) Contact someone with a public relations or law background that you trust. You might do this by going through LLL, your state breastfeeding coalition, or sites like mine. Work with them to formulate a plan. Figure out what you want and what the best ways to accomplish it might be.
2.) NOW you take the issue public. This is when you contact the media, the moms and everyone else for things like letter writing campaigns and press coverage. You give companies a chance to see how unpopular their policies are and to change them. Set a deadline for resolution.
3.) If you still haven't accomplished a change, now is the time to CONSIDER a nurse-in.
If none of the above work, then it's time to turn your attention elsewhere and to channel your frustration toward things that will change the culture. No matter how badly we want to get our way, we're not always going to and we must accept that. We do our best, we fight our hardest, and then we swallow the bitterness and we find new ways to work. We help other moms, we form coalitions, we lobby for legislation...we do the things that work.
But above all, we must maintain our focus and our civility.
Shouting gets you noticed, but it rarely earns respect.
When I ran into my problem with the Pork Board earlier this year, I didn't sit down and fire off angry emails and blog posts the moment it happen. I sat on it for three days. I considered my options, I spoke with trusted advisors, I weighed their advice and then I formulated a plan.
When Robin Neorr was discriminated against by City Kids day care because her daughter was breastfed, she spent more than a month trying to resolve the issue before approaching the media. Even then, no nurse-in was planned because the time simply wasn't right. Instead, Robin banded together with other mothers to launch the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition. City Kids still has not changed their policy, but Robin is thinking long-term. She's focusing on creating programs, lobbying for legislation and introducing new options that will not only eventually force City Kids to change their policy, but will also create a more positive environment for nursing mothers in Ohio.
Robin understands that patience is the name of the game and that outrage needs to be channeled into determination.
We're not going to change the world overnight, but we ARE going to change it. Every group that has ever struggled for rights and acceptance have had to wage a long battle to get what they rightly deserve. Why should we expect to be any different?