I love so many things about Utah. Sometimes, though, I feel like we are about two decades behind the rest of the world and I want to yell at everyone to give up their handcarts and get with the program!
I felt this way when I read about the opposition to a breastfeeding bill in front of the Utah Legislature. HB196 takes Utah’s current laws on breastfeeding a step further, explicitly allowing mothers to nurse their children in all public places and businesses. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, Utah is one of only two states (along with Idaho) that doesn’t have this clear-cut allowance for nursing moms.
The bill passed the House last week and, as of Tuesday afternoon, it was sitting in the Senate as the legislative session heads to its final days. But before it made it out of the House, the language was quietly amended to take out a critically important piece at the end that says women enjoy this right to nurse in public “irrespective of whether the woman’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”
Basically, the new message is, “OK, you can feed your baby here if you have to, but that mammary gland better stay covered, young lady!”
This message we send to women and girls about their bodies is getting old. It’s the same one schools send when they require certain modesty standards for girls with the explanation that tank tops and short skirts are too distracting to male students.
Boys and girls internalize this harmful idea at a young age. Taking out this line in the bill pushes the same, insidious rationalization: Men are uncontrollable perverts, and it’s up to women to cover up to protect them.
I know some people worry their impressionable children may see a breast thanks to a nursing mother. Yes, this is a risk. But what if instead of making women feel ashamed of their divinely designed bodies, parents take a minute to talk to their children about it? Maybe teach them a little more about how breastfeeding is natural and wonderful and a sacred part of maternity. Maybe then when 12-year-old Junior sees a nip slip from a mother feeding her baby, he won’t be so shocked, embarrassed and irrevocably damaged.
The fact is, this bill with its original language likely wouldn’t change the world too much. I’m going to go out on a limb and say very few, if any, of my playdates with nursing moms would turn into all-out topless romps around the park.12 comments on this story
But legislators pass laws every year simply to send a message about our priorities as a state. I say put the language back in and let’s send the message that we appreciate moms who breastfeed. Let’s show that we respect women’s bodies enough not to be horrified by them, and that we’re done clutching our pearls at the smallest impropriety and ready to adopt some commonsense legislation to value moms.
Here’s the bottom line: Don’t make our babies eat in bathrooms, and don’t make our moms ashamed of doing the actual work of mothering.