Nigel Farage and the Ostentatious Breastfeeding Debacle

I’ve recently started writing a weekly column for my local newspaper in the North East, the Evening Chronicle, which I wasn’t initially planning to share on my blog too but I thought a lot of you would appreciate this post and might not otherwise see it!

The whole #OstentatiousBreastfeeding story was both hilarious and soul-destroying, as it brought out the best and the worst in Twitter. So many funny people were quick to jump on Farage’s poorly chosen words and he was quickly ripped to shreds by the majority of users who, as usual, were not in agreement with his opinions. On the flip side, after a few Tweets making light of his comments, I was harangued by a random UKIP member who was so quick to defend his glorious leader that he didn’t actually make much sense. Apparently we were all being fed the story by a biased media and I couldn’t handle the truth. Actually, I had seen the clip of Farage’s radio interview and could quite clearly make out the words he used and the truth for myself, as could everyone else.

Clearly there is still a lot of work to do in changing people’s attitudes to public breastfeeding, but a large part of me feels that those who object to it always will. Boobs are apparently perfectly acceptable as long as they are Rihanna’s in a transparent dress, or staring you in the face from most magazine racks, but not when there is a hungry baby attached to them. That’s the truth that I can’t handle.

Anyway, here’s my Chronicle column on the subject.

breastfeeding claridges
The shockingly ostentatious breastfeeding display by mum Louise Burns which caused such offence in Claridge’s

Twitter nearly blew up last Friday as a certain party leader made some unfortunate comments about breastfeeding on an LBC radio phone-in. UKIP foot-in-mouth specialist Nigel Farage was responding to a recent story of a mum being asked to cover up whilst feeding her baby daughter in Claridge’s, a luxury hotel in London, by saying that businesses had every right to ask breastfeeding mothers to ‘perhaps sit in a corner’. Cue thousands of Tweets referencing 1980s Patrick Swayze movie Dirty Dancing – nobody puts Baby in a corner, Nige.

In possibly the most unfortunate choice of adjective ever made, he also said that it isn’t too difficult for women to breastfeed in a way that’s not ‘openly ostentatious’. I couldn’t help imagining women in ball gowns and powdered wigs flouncing into restaurants and demanding the best table at which to brazenly feed their child on a gold throne without an ounce of shame.

I joke, of course, but the key point here is that women nursing their baby should never feel ashamed or embarrassed, or concerned that other people might be. In trying to defend his comments, Farage said it was just a matter of ‘good manners’ and that a lot of people feel ‘uncomfortable’ about women breastfeeding in public. Yes, they do, but that is their problem, not the woman doing the feeding.

Society in general is still unbelievably squeamish about seeing something so inoffensive as a baby having lunch. Many places provide ‘private areas’ for breastfeeding, but is this for the supposed benefit of the mum or to spare the blushes of those who don’t want to catch a glimpse of a nursing bra? All this in a world where Page 3 is still a thing, but that’s a debate for another day.

The politics involved here are irrelevant; regardless of party, Mr Farage is a figure in the public eye who should perhaps think through his comments a bit more carefully. Saying that he himself doesn’t have a problem with it doesn’t mean he can justify the kind of unfair treatment that is still being reported fairly regularly as mums are urged to do it elsewhere. It is, after all, unlawful for businesses to discriminate against a woman because she is breastfeeding – and this includes making her sit in a corner.

Nevertheless, all you nursing mums out there should maybe leave the tiara and pet ostrich at home next time you’re eating out.

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