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For Shame: Babies, Breasts

March 25, 1993|DIANNE KLEIN

This is how I envision it. Start with a bold guerrilla action, a call to arms. (Or another female body part).

The idea would be to wake society up (some segments more so than others) and spur action to free women from yet another form of bondage.

I figure a photo op could be declared to ensure maximum exposure. And I personally guarantee that many of my colleagues would show up.

Of course, you've got to bill the thing right. Don't assume that been-there-done-that news types will show up for a group of women baring their breasts. Yawn. I mean, we've all seen Madonna before.

No, there's got to be a twist. It has to be something newsworthy, something radical, something to make people stop and take notice, question authority, then speed-dial their congresspeople right away.

Attach babies to those breasts, and then call the police. Now there's a photo op!

Because breast-feeding in public may still be considered against the law in most of these United States.

I found this out not too long ago when I heard about Michelle Genz, who was approached by a security guard at a Florida mall and asked if she had been, you know, breast -feeding, on a bench outside the Gap. (She had her shirt strategically draped over her baby's face).

Ms. Genz admitted to said offense, and the guard told her that she was violating the mall's corporate policy. He wrote her up. Then she got even, by writing indignantly about the incident in her column in the Miami Herald's magazine.

This caught the eye of a Miami legislator who sponsored a bill clarifying a state law that might interpret breast-feeding as indecent exposure or worse.

The Florida Legislature passed the measure on a unanimous vote earlier this month. It guarantees a woman's right to breast-feed whenever or wherever her baby might get the urge.

New York passed a similar statute in 1984, apparently the first state to do so, after a nursing mother wanted to do it at a swimming pool and was told that she could not. Her lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.

(I don't know about you, but when I was breast-feeding my two daughters, being lewd and lascivious was, alas, only something to aspire to one day.)

Of course, when I was doing it two years ago, and another four years before that, nobody suggested that I should not. Maybe this was because hardly anybody knew.

Like many mothers, I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in public bathroom stalls, with baby attached.

I was sorry if someone had a more pressing need, but it wasn't like this particular form of exile was my idea of a great time. Mysteriously disappearing from parties was another barrel of laughs.

Things were looser in Mexico, where my older daughter was born. Restaurant patrons and waiters didn't blink an eye when the baby would disappear from our table to take her place beneath my shawl.

Even traveling without my daughter, as I was forced to do for a five-day reporting assignment, required some finesse. Fortunately, the photographer I was working with was a new father himself. He understood when we had to stop so that I might "relieve myself" when I thought that I might explode like a dynamited cow.

I could sense an attitudinal change right away in the United States. Try sitting in an airline seat, draped with a blanket, as the rest of the passengers file in.

I mean, you'd think that people never saw an otherwise rational woman concealing a starving baby under covering so heavy that mother and child soon become drenched in sweat. And I would always try to act nonchalant.

Elizabeth Baldwin, an attorney on the La Leche League's legal advisory council, says that nursing mothers have been approached across the country and ordered to stop what they were doing at once! Or at least not to do it here . (So far, she knows of no arrests).

I can almost hear the indignation and the "eeewww" in those voices now. But have we come so far in our MTVed, celluloid, siliconed fascination with women's breasts that we have forgotten what the damn things are for ?

Oh, sure erotic titillation is nice, but we're talking basics here. We're talking about the perfect food. (Age restrictions apply).

So I'm all for guerrilla action. Nursing mothers must win back the hearts and minds (and then some) of a public that believes breast-feeding is something about which women should be ashamed.

Just think of all those nursing mothers balancing perilously in toilet stalls right now! And if that doesn't move you, think of everybody else.

Aren't the lines to the women's restroom long enough?

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