Victoria’s Secret: the feminine haven of overpriced bras and soft and sexy tees.
Victoria’s Secret: the place where boobs go to be pampered, lavished and proudly displayed among a sea of multicolored lace, sequined embellishments and models whose bodies look like they were genetically engineered by Russian scientists to one day take over the world with their razor-sharp cheekbones and smoldering eyes.
Victoria’s Secret: the place where a woman gets kicked out of the store for breast-feeding her child.
You’d think the last place a woman would be criticized for revealing her breasts for the purpose of feeding her child would be in a store that literally advertises boobs, however, it happened to 27-year-old mother of two Ashley Clawson. Clawson was forced to tuck away her actions and breastfeed in an alleyway behind a Victoria’s Secret location, where she was assured that no one would be able to see her.
This effectively sends a message to all the girls out there that it’s OK to love your breasts when you sexualize them, but as soon as you use them for their evolutionary purpose, you should be ashamed of them.
How can a modern working woman tend to her child in this ostensibly civilized world? In 1994, a New York state law was passed, stating “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.” Shoutout to the #freethenipple campaign.
A 2007 New York state labor law claimed that employers must allow breast-feeding mothers unpaid break time to pump and make a reasonable attempt to provide a private location for her to do so. This law also prohibited discrimination against breast-feeding mothers.
Unfortunately, although they exist to protect women, the majority of public breast-feeding laws in the United States have no enforcement provision. That means that while a state may have a law that says a mother has a right to breast-feed in public, if someone harasses her while she does it, there is no legal action she can take against the harasser, making it as applicable as Bette Midler’s Tony Award cutoff music: not applicable at all.
We have feminists marching the streets of New York City and across the country with their pink pussy hats and their proud tattoos. In full disclosure, I was one of them. But what scared me was that once the Women’s March was over, this wave of perceived self-love and self-importance seemed to fizzle out. What frightened me was that people were only willing to show solidarity when they could take cute and inspirational Instagram pictures. The movement’s momentum seemed to be missing in the weeks before and after the march when the issues concerning gender wage gaps, representation in elected and corporate offices and access to health care were still extremely relevant. Where were all the “pussycats” when abortion rights were being tested?
Here’s the thing: Unless you have literally sustained a child’s life through a chemical cocktail your body produced, please stop propagating the idea that breast-feeding is shameful, that it is akin to public indecency, or that it has no place in public areas. Because if you get to sit and eat that burger in front of me with an animalistic passion, a baby definitely gets to have their lunch too.
Ann Merriwether, instructor of psychology and human development at BU, teaches HDEV200: Introduction to Human Development, a course that introduced me to a rather amazing term: lactivist, or lactation activist. I’m a passionate advocate of mothers everywhere not having to feel ashamed when their bodies provide for the literal well-being of the future generations. I’m a supporter of laws protecting these rights and honoring the women who go through complete body and mind transformations to give and nourish life. I feel that through open conversation, public protest and active support, we can all be proud lactivists.
And I’d really like to see Victoria’s Secret make a silk pajama set emblazoned with that term.
Hannah Gulko is a sophomore majoring in human development.