Breastfeeding Campaign Posters Stir Online Debate

Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff

A student ad campaign supporting pro-public-breastfeeding legislation in Texas is causing a stir online this week with its provocative images of women nursing their babies in public toilet stalls.

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“Private dining. Would you eat here?” asks the text of one of poster, which features a photo of a young mother breastfeeding her infant while perched on the lid of a public toilet. Two other images in the series, of different mom-baby pairs, ask, “Bon appétit. Would you eat here?” and “Table for two. Would you eat here?”

The campaign, called "When Nurture Calls," is the work of University of North Texas graphic-art majors Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro, both juniors. They decided to take on the polarizing issue of public breastfeeding for an assignment that required students to design a campaign for a social issue or product, as if it were being created for actual paying clients. 

The first image, posted on Facebook by blogger Mama Bean on May 3 has more than 12,800 likes and 8,000 shares, generating a lengthy stream of comments ranging from supportive to insulting — including a woman calling public nursing "trashy" and a man objecting to women baring their "sex objects." The negativity even led one of the moms in the ads (seen above) to take to Facebook to defend herself.

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Some early comments personally attacked photo model Monica Young (who posed with her baby) for being everything from indecent to too young to be a mom. That prompted her to post, "I get more sexual comments than anything. So yeah, it’d be pretty great not to have any nasty comments made while I’m feeding my child, with or without a cover." She adds, "Whether I was a too young or not, what does it matter what age I am? Teen moms breastfeed, too. I'm 21, so yeah I'm pretty young, and younger mothers are less likely to breastfeed. So hopefully it will encourage younger mothers to breastfeed, breastfeed in public and to not be ashamed to do any of it."

Wenske and Haro, both 20, say they chose the topic while researching issues online and coming across the story of a woman harassed in a Texas Target for breastfeeding in 2011. “We thought that was totally messed-up,” Wenske tells Yahoo Shine.

They were further inspired by learning about a state bill, introduced last year by Texas state Rep. Jessica Farrar, which sought to strengthen the state’s existing public-breastfeeding law by bringing in an enforcement statute. It would have essentially protected moms who nurse in public from being stopped or harassed. The bill died in last year’s legislative session, but  a Farrar spokesperson tells Yahoo Shine that the office intends to reintroduce the idea in January 2015.

Public breastfeeding laws do exist in most states, but — with the exception of a handful, including Connecticut, Vermont, and New Jersey — they have no enforcement provisions. This means various authorities are not accountable for their actions against breastfeeding moms. Those actions typically involve asking a nursing mom to cover up, head to a restroom, stop nursing altogether, or leave the premises, as has been recently reported in places such as a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Tennessee, an American Airlines flight, and a Connecticut courtroom.

People divided on the issue tend to spar from opposite ends of the spectrum — believing that nursing is natural and should be welcome anywhere, or that, because there is an exposed breast involved, nursing is a crude action best relegated to private spaces.

The issue is briefly touched upon in a new documentary, “Breastmilk,” co-produced by Ricki Lake, which explores the challenges of breastfeeding for new moms. “I’m a shy person, so therefore I get shy around people who are exposed,” one man, Mitch, explains in the film about his perspective. “I know it’s all in my mind, because of a lifetime of never seeing it. I have an issue that I have any embarrassment attached to it, that’s all. I find it one hundred percent acceptable.”

The more than 2,200 Facebook comments on the campaign were mostly passionately supportive of the campaign’s message, though plenty took the other side. "As a mother who breastfed, I disagree. I PERSONALLY think breastfeeding in public shouldn't be allowed," wrote one woman. "The rude comments people make are uncalled for, but having your boob out in public is trashy. Women shouldn't be comfortable having their goodies shown to everyone and their brother." Another mom warned that you never know what "weirdos" are watching you nurse, while others said that breasts were "sex organs."

Others stressed modestly more gently. “I am all for women breastfeeding in public — I breastfed — but why can't we cover up?” asked one mother. Others rejected that idea, though, including one mom who wrote, “Why is it considered to be disrespectful of others to not use a cover? What about being respectful to these babies? Throwing a hot blanket or cover over their faces and not letting them see mom while eating is disrespectful to them.”

Another noted, “I have yet to see a woman breastfeeding that I even notice she’s breastfeeding. Most of the time it looks like a mom cuddling her child. So if you have a problem with it, the problem is you’re staring.”

Seeing the huge response to their work on Facebook was a bit of a shock for Wenske and Haro. “We know people in our families who [have breastfed in public], but I never knew it was actually that hot of a topic,” says Haro, who did the photography for the project. “We never expected so many comments.”

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