Yiska visited a mall in Modiin with her young baby. Here is her story:
I was at the mall this morning with my 3-week-old daughter. While modestly nursing her, a security guard approached me and told me I shouldn’t nurse in public, and that there is a changing room which I should use, “so everyone will feel more comfortable.” I nodded and said OK, and just left it at that.
An hour later, in a different spot, the same thing happened. This time it was one of the cleaning men. I told him I was perfectly comfortable where I was.
It seems to me they were told by the management to ask women not to nurse in public.
It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s fine for women to walk around half naked, but feeding your child modestly is unacceptable.
———I haven’t heard from the management yet, so I’m not sure that this is the mall’s policy, it just sounded like it.
In January I heard a lecture on breastfeeding rights in Israel, by a lawyer who had researched the subject. She said that unlike in most US states, no Israeli law protects breastfeeding mothers. Assuming the mall is privately owned, the management is within its rights to ask a mother to leave the premises.
The lawyer stressed that in order to be effective, laws should not relate to issues of obscenity or sex discrimination. In Ohio, a breastfeeding mother sued Wal-Mart for sex discrimination and lost. The judge ruled that there was no sex discrimination because if a man were breastfeeding, he would also be asked to leave:
Title VII forbids gender discrimination in employment, but gender discrimination by definition consists of favoring men while disadvantaging women or vice versa. The drawing of distinctions among persons of one gender on the basis of criteria that are immaterial to the other, while in given cases perhaps deplorable, is not the sort of behavior covered by Title VII.
As for obscenity, there is no connection between the two. And we don’t want the courts deciding how much breast can be visible. When laws on public breastfeeding come up for debate in state legislatures, formula companies have been known to lobby for including a clause about nursing “discreetly” or limiting the age of the nursing baby. This opens up a can of worms and sends a negative message about breastfeeding.
The lawyer explained that supporting nursing in public for health reasons also creates a risk. The medical profession promotes breastfeeding, yet you still find doctors who argue that the differences between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are insignificant. If the pendulum were to swing back in favor of formula, we would want the rights of breastfeeding mothers and babies to remain protected.
The lawyer insisted that any discussion of public breastfeeding must hinge on the right of the nursing mother to participate fully in society. You can read more of my views on this matter in my post “Nursing in the Ezrat Nashim.”
I don’t understand why an Israeli mall would harass breastfeeding mothers. Such mothers tend to be more affluent, and have more disposable income from money saved on formula and bottles. They have more time to spend in the mall because they don’t have to shlep formula or worry that it will spoil. And Israelis don’t bat an eye when they see a nursing mother. In my experience, they’re more likely to compliment her.
I think the mall thought that if they had a room for mothers and babies, nursing mothers would naturally want to sit there. This is despite the fact that they call it a changing room and not a nursing room–do you really want to watch everyone changing diapers while your baby is eating? Breastfeeding rooms are great for mothers who want rest or privacy, but they send a subtle message that breastfeeding mothers should stay out of sight. I see women breastfeeding in public every time I visit my local mall, despite the existence of a nursing/changing room.
Notice that Yiska’s three-week-old baby needed to nurse twice within an hour. That’s a lot of time for someone to spend in the changing room. What if a woman comes with her husband or friend? Are they supposed to wait for her outside? It’s time to stop equating nursing with going to the bathroom.
The mall might be concerned about their haredi clientele, which is ironic because haredi women nurse too. And as Yiska implied, the mall doesn’t have a dress code, so there are more “offensive” sights than a nursing mother sitting on a bench. If a haredi clientele is the issue, I wonder whether the mall limits provocative advertising.
I hope the management in Modiin will wise up and allow Israeli mothers to shop freely with their nursing babies.