Claridge’s is one of London’s finest five-star hotels, popular with royals and aristocrats, film stars and rock stars. But if you’d tried taking afternoon tea there over the weekend, you would have had to run the gauntlet of a rather less glamorous crowd: a bunch of around twenty-five not especially yummy-looking Mummies, making a political point with their lactating dugs and their freezing babies, in affirmation of their apparently unalienable right publicly to breast-feed their babies where and when they will.
The protest was sparked by an incident last week involving a woman called Louise Burns. In the course of taking afternoon tea at Claridges, Ms Burns had started breast-feeding her baby at the table. A waiter, solicitous of the other diners in the room, had brought her large napkin in order to cover her modesty. This Ms Burns found so upsetting and offensive that she decided to tweet before and after photographs showing her apparent humiliation.
Then the Offence Mob got on board. And then UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage got roped into the argument with comments which were represented by his numerous media critics as yet further evidence of his Blimpish sexism, misogyny and remoteness from the modern world.
As the smoke begins to clear, though, I suspect that yet again it’s going to be Farage who comes out of this story with his credibility enhanced while it will be his enemies who emerge looking petty, vindictive and out-of-touch.
Here is a reminder of what Farage said, when ambushed by a question about the issue on LBC radio.
“I’m not particularly bothered about it, but I know a lot of people do feel very uncomfortable, and look, this is just a matter of common sense, isn’t it? I think that given that some people feel very embarrassed by it, it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that’s not openly ostentatious.
“Frankly, that’s up to Claridge’s, and I very much take the view that if you’re running an establishment you should have rules.”
When asked by the presenter whether new mothers should go to the toilets to breastfeed, Farage replied: “Or perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be – that’s up to Claridge’s. It’s not an issue that I get terribly hung up about, but I know particularly people of the older generation feel awkward and embarrassed by it.”
In the heat of the moment, under the pressure of live radio I’d say that that was a pretty reasonable, fair and measured response. But this didn’t stop his critics doing their usual damnedest to smear him.
The Guardian made much of his use of the word “ostentatious.” (Inevitably it prompted an #ostentatiousbreastfeeding Twitter hashtag). While the Prime Minister’s office sought to take advantage of the situation by issuing a priggish statement saying it was “totally unacceptable” to make women feel uncomfortable about public breastfeeding.
But it’s Farage – not the Guardian or David Cameron’s press people – I suspect who is most closely in line with what the majority of British people actually feel on this subject.
For the more squeamish and decorous older generation, it still remains something of a culture shock when a young mum whips out one of her titties in a public place to feed her baby. In the old days this simply wasn’t done. Well, not outside places like Africa.
But even for younger mothers, breastfeeding in public is not so clear-cut an issue as the progressive, professional offence-takers on social media would have us believe. That is because, culturally, we are in a transitional stage. Yes, it’s true that thanks to the propagandising of all those Breast Nazi campaign groups who believe that giving your baby formula milk is tantamount to child abuse, lots of young mothers have persuaded themselves that breast is best.
But at the same time, though they don’t like being confined at home all day, they still don’t feel altogether comfortable about feeding their babies in public places because, being – as women generally are – sensitive, empathetic sorts, they recognise that not everyone out there is on quite on board with this brave new world where apparently the done thing is for lactating mums to whip out their bosoms at will.
Read the rest at Breitbart London
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