Around these parts, breastfeeding has figured prominently in the news of late. Specifically concerning Crystal Everitt, who on a recent Sunday at Denny’s restaurant, breastfed her child with her entire breast exposed, just as the after-church crowd was sitting down with their families to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Having been an enthusiastic breastfeeding mama myself, I’ve tried to keep…ahem…abreast of this situation—by reading not only news reports, but local message boards where people are clearly passionate about the subject.
Here are the facts, as I understand them: She was breastfeeding at Denny’s with an entire breast exposed. A few nearby diners (with families) spoke to the manager, the manager quietly and politely requested that Ms.Everitt cover herself, she refused, and an ugly scene ensued with police finally being called. She left the restaurant and soon called the press who, like Pavlov’s dogs, promptly began to salivate. She was interviewed by the local TV station in one of those trendy hipster cafés feeding her child (again with her breast exposed, no doubt shocking some of those who had turned on the noon news to watch while they ate lunch). Later, she led a protest at Denny’s with other breastfeeding moms (again on a Sunday) where a manager from Denny’s apologized—-and she refused to accept his apology. The story was all over the local print media, as well. Local columnist Edgy Mama wrote in the Mountain Xpress: “People, listen to me for a moment, kay (sic)? Breasts, like udders, are food-conveyance devices…no need to…warm the fricking milk. Boobs are natural bottle warmers. How cool is that?” Well, Edgy Mama, I’ll grant that it’s pretty cool but I was amazed at how many of the women supporting Everitt asserted that breasts were ONLY for feeding babies and not to be associated with things like pleasure. And I couldn’t help but think, “Dang, ladies…y’all have missed out on some FUN!”
And, yes, as someone who breastfed frequently in public, I do have an opinion on the situation and although that’s not really what I want to talk about here, let’s go ahead and get it out of the way. In fact, I’ll just cut and paste from the short comment I made on a well-known local blog:
“…And as someone who also grew up around a lot of older and more conservative folks, I know that many of them have more modest proclivities than I do. And I don’t see that as either good or bad—it just is. So, when I was out in public, I threw a light cover over exposed areas when I nursed. It was no big deal and caused no harm to my baby and no one ever, in all the times I nursed in public, had anything negative to say. It seems to me that those who take the defiant stance of refusing to cover themselves are making a judgment about those who have more modest tendencies and that they are trying to impose THEIR values on others. And I wonder, if their objective is to promote breastfeeding, if they’re not antagonizing people more than winning them to their very worthy cause.”
I also wanted to add that I find it interesting that Ms.Everitt just happened to be there right at the time that local church-goers would likely be sitting down there with their families. I find it curious, as well, that she asserts that all she wanted to do was to breastfeed her child because if that were truly her objective, I think she would have simply gone ahead and slipped a light cover over her breast, her child (and the other diners) would have eaten in peace, and no one (except those nearby) would have been the wiser. Instead, an unpleasant scene was created, the police showed up, and I’m quite certain her baby was distressed by the whole encounter. But, of course, had she covered herself, she wouldn’t have gotten to be the Noble Breastfeeding Martyr, would she?
But, as I said, that’s not really what I want to discuss. What I really want to talk about here is respect. And tolerance. And understanding. All attributes that most political progressives and liberals would like to smugly think of themselves as having. I know, because I am a liberal. A blue-collar liberal. And I was appalled at the tone that so many of those who would call themselves “liberals” took in the debates that played out on the local message boards and blogs. Particularly here and here in the Mountain Xpress forums. It was pretty ugly with “entopticon” asserting that another commenter had a “mental disorder that makes them freak out when they see a breast” and that they were “deranged” and “warped” and had a “diseased mind” because they dared to speak of having courtesy for others who might be uncomfortable with an exposed breast in public. Then “entopticon” (who took every opportunity to demonstrate his vastly superior intellect *insert eyeroll here*) insulted the intelligence of another commenter, and later resorted to calling those who disagreed with him “right-wing extremists.” And, yes, one commenter did call Ms. Everitt “an attention whore,” but he later apologized.
As a blue-collar liberal who voted for Gore, Kerry, and Obama, I’ve often torn my hair out over some of my blue-collar friends who vote consistently against their best interests and I’ve wondered why they did so. And I’ve often seen liberal commentators lamenting the same thing and wondering why they can’t win over the blue-collar constituency, baffled as to why liberals are seen as “elitist.”
Well, it’s complicated and I don’t fully understand it myself, but what I do know is that liberals are often seen as elitist because they…so often are. The one thing that came across to me in reading the message boards and comments concerning the breastfeeding brouhaha was that many of the people (whom I’m sure would call themselves liberals) came across as just plain contemptuous of those who were offended by an exposed breast. They weren’t content just to state their own viewpoints—they resorted to name-calling and general attacks on conservative people and so-called “right-wing extremists.” And, yes, I know that personal attacks are also a favorite tactic of those like Rush Limbaugh and his ilk. But when we, as liberals, resort to the same thing, we are not only exposing our own prejudice and intolerance, we are playing into the hands of those like Rush Limbaugh, who will twist our words into something even uglier.
“Extremists” and “fundamentalists” come in all shapes and sizes…and political and religious persuasions. It would behoove us all to acknowledge and contemplate the meaning of liberal which includes (in my American Heritage dictionary) “open-minded and tolerant” as well as “tending to give freely; generous.” Contempt often breeds contempt, just as respect and courtesy often breed respect and courtesy.
To quote “Think of Others” who also commented on the Mountain X-press forum:
“Me Vs.You is ultimately what is going to end this planet. Let’s try to reach a middle ground on the easy stuff! Peace out.”
Yeah, I’m with him. Let’s try to reach a middle ground or at least begin to try to understand each other’s feelings. And so-called liberals need to examine their own prejudice and intolerance, seek to overcome their contempt for those who think differently from them, and remember that not all “extremists” are right-wing.