Just basic acceptance of women and their children would do for starters. Photo: Getty
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Should mothers have to be thankful that businesses “welcome” breastfeeding?

A healthy, humane culture should have space not just for the idea of us, but for our bodies, our children, what we are and what we do.

At primary school I had a friend called Pamela. I knew she was my friend because she told me this on a regular basis, albeit rarely without the qualification “even though everyone else says you’re really fat and ugly”. Plucky, brave Pamela. Without her, I may never have known companionship, given all that was offensive about my appearance. Without her, I may never have realised just how repulsive a body like mine must have been. Without her, I might have carried on assuming, if only for a little while longer, that I was alright, really. Thanks, Pam. I am grateful for your “friendship” – but that’s what you wanted, right?

Thirty years on, a poster in my local chip shop brings back memories of Pamela. I’m waiting for my cod bites when a bright pink slogan declaring that that this business “welcomes breastfeeding” catches my eye. Obviously I approve of this. Cod bites can take a while to cook and you don’t want to be stuck with engorged, leaking breasts and a screaming, hungry baby while you wait. If I was still breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have hesitated to do it there and then. Yet up until that point, it had not crossed my mind that my chip shop even felt in a position to grant permission. It all feels a bit “I’ll still be your friend, you fatso”; “I’ll still take your £4.25 even though you’ve been brazen enough to bear your veiny areolas in my humble establishment”. Should breastfeeding mothers be thankful for this? Is our freedom of movement – and to buy chips – so dependent on the largesse of others?

It’s not that I don’t understand the motivations behind the Gloucestershire Welcomes Breastfeeding scheme. As a new mum, I felt incredibly self-conscious about breastfeeding in public, hence my first child endured plenty of miserable feeds in cramped toilet cubicles and baby changing rooms that stank of dirty nappies. In a society that both sexualises women’s breasts and offers them slut-shaming advice on how to avoid sexual violence, it feels counter-intuitive to just sit down on a bench and whip your tits out for all to see (and no, I don’t buy the “it can always be done discreetly” line. Babies wriggle; it can be hard to get into position for latching on; sometimes, oddly, one’s own arms and knees seem to get in the way; a whole new wardrobe of breastfeeding tops is prohibitively expensive; achieving let-down occasionally requires a bit of a squeeze; and no, a “modesty apron”, hiding both breast and baby from view, is not the ideal solution to any of this). It was only when I had two children under two that I was stressed and distracted enough to think “sod it” and breastfeed anywhere and everywhere: on park benches, by roadsides, in shops, at people’s houses, in workplaces. I was lucky, I suppose, that no one ever challenged me (it may be that my accompanying weaponry – a double buggy the size of a military tank – was enough to ensure potential critics kept their distance).

Since 2005 it has been an offence under Scottish law “deliberately to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child from feeding milk to that child in a public place or on licenced premises”. In England and Wales the 2010 Equality Act states that it is against the law for women to receive less favourable treatment if they are breastfeeding when receiving services (there is, however, no right to breastfeed at work).  So, ladies, unless you are trying to sneak in a quick feed under the till or by the photocopier, it looks like you can relax: you cannot legally be discriminated against for trying to feed your own baby. Hooray! But this does prompt the question: what kind of culture is this, in which we need laws in place to ensure that something so fundamental – the very stuff of life – is not openly rejected and condemned?

Much of the rejection of breastfeeding in public strikes me as out and out misogyny; breasts are for the enjoyment of heterosexual men and we mothers are “spoiling” them by exposing them in all their leaking, squirting, nurturing glory. I think, however, this rejection also fits in with a more general view of motherhood as “other”. Raising children is essential to the continuation of the human race and yet it is sidelined in a male-dominated, wealth-obsessed culture. Mothers of young children are granted access to public spaces and workplaces on sufferance. We are told off for taking up too much space with our buggies, criticised for the noises our children make, shamed for “harming” businesses with our maternity leave and our flexible working hours. Women who have done nothing wrong and simply want to participate in society are put in a position of feeling grateful for every tiny concession granted to them. We tell ourselves this is because we chose to have children (even though not all mothers are mothers by choice). That we should not have to pay such a high price is rarely considered.

On the whole I am happy that my chip shop welcomes breastfeeding. It is better, I suppose, than not doing so. Nonetheless I find myself thinking of all the Gloucestershire businesses who could have taken part in this scheme and chose not to. Why was that? Did they just not have any space for the poster? Did they not read the email? Did they find it patronising (as I do)? Or did they make a decision against actively welcoming breastfeeding mothers on their premises? That one should be asking these questions at all says something depressing about our attitude towards mothers, motherhood and the value of our work. A healthy, humane culture should have space not just for the idea of us, but for our bodies, our children, what we are and what we do. Extra chips – to cope with the increased calorie requirements of breastfeeding – would be a bonus, but for now just basic acceptance would do.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

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Theresa May wants a Global Britain? Then stay in the single market

The entrepreneur Lord Bilimoria argues the Prime Minister risks both the prosperity and reputation of the UK. 

Since coming to the UK as a student in the early 1980s, I have witnessed the shattering of its glass ceiling and the birth of one of the world’s most enterprising nations. Much of this progress is now under threat due to the great uncertainty Brexit is causing.

It has been six months since the referendum, and we are still presented with no clear strategy except a blind leap of faith out of the single market. By continuing to pursue a closed and inward-looking Brexit, Theresa May risks both the prosperity and reputation of this country. 

Last week I joined with thirty other entrepreneurs and business leaders in urging the Prime Minister to keep Britain within the EU single market. In the coming months Mrs May will face having to make a trade-off between immigration control and loss of single market access. The decision she makes will determine whether we retain much of our economic strength. 

That is why I was disappointed to see May’s most recent comments simply reinforcing the message that the government is pursuing a "hard" Brexit. Over the weekend her big interview sent the pound plunging – yet again. 

It is clear the government is solely focused on delivering stricter immigration regulation, regardless of whether it leaves Britain stranded outside the single market. To fall into the trap of calling the PM "Theresa Maybe" masks the decisive nature of her emerging strategy – which is to head for the hardest of exits.

We know that neither Council President Donald Tusk nor chief negotiator Michel Barnier will accept access to the single market without freedom of movement being part of the deal. This is incompatible with the vision set out by the government.

Yet, movement and access to the single market are vital to the future interests of British business. The PM must do more to reassure those set to be affected. We are currently part of a 500m-strong single market; this is good for British business. Although I believe the whole of Europe needs to reform the current free movement of people, not least for security reasons, we nevertheless must continue to have the ability to move freely within the EU for tourism, business and work.

It is becoming unequivocally clear that the PM is willing to pay any economic price to achieve stricter immigration controls for political gain. Driven by the fear that the far-right will use immigration in future election battlegrounds, the issue of immigration is undermining our ability to negotiate an exit from the EU that is in the best interest of businesses and the nation as a whole. 

The government’s infuriating failure to prioritise continued movement of people means we are set to lose a hugely competitive edge, reducing access to talented employees, and undermining the UK’s rich history of an open, diverse, and welcoming nation.  

To achieve the government’s absurd immigration control, we will have to leave the European single market. In doing so 44 per cent of our exports, the current percentage that go to Europe, will be jeopardised, as they will no longer have free access to their original markets. 

In tandem with an exit from the world’s largest single market, British business will also lose access to one of the strongest international talent pools. This has the potential to be even more devastating than the forfeiture of markets and trade.

Access to skilled workers is critical to future success. As a nation we have the lowest level of unemployment in living memory with less than 5 per cent currently out of work, and that’s in spite of 3.6m people from the EU working in Britain.

Britain will continue to need the expertise that free movement currently provides, regardless of whether Brexit happens or not. You cannot simply replace the skilled doctors, nurses or teachers living and working here overnight. 

The focus on immigration has also strayed into more dangerous territory with the government persisting in including international students as immigrants when calculating net migration figures, whilst having a target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. The PM’s insistence on this policy not only stifles encouragement of talent flows, but also sends an incredibly negative message to the international community. It is a policy that I have continually called on the PM to change and I will continue to do so.

Our competitor countries, the United States, Canada, and Australia, do not categorise international students as immigrants and, in fact, they also provide generous incentives to stay in their countries to work after graduating. In comparison, we removed our popular two year post-study work visa in 2012.

Brexit poses an increasingly dangerous reality that we are destined to be viewed as an inward-looking, insular and intolerant nation. That is not the Britain I know and love. That is not the Britain that has attracted enterprising individuals. The UK needs to establish itself once more as an outward-facing nation that welcomes international talent and entrepreneurship. This starts with retaining membership of the single market.  

Lord Karan Bilimoria is a leading British businessman and the founder of Cobra Beer.