"You breastfeeding your baby in our waiting room makes some people uncomfortable so could you do it in private?"
This is what I was asked by a salon in Norwich where I go for massages. I was told that the salon needs to keep all its clients happy and therefore they'd appreciate me taking my baby and my breasts elsewhere.
Never mind that I feed my baby for a few minutes before my massage so she'll be calm, relaxed, and quiet while I have my treatment (and thus not scream from hunger and bother other customers).
Never mind that her head covers my breast while she feeds so it isn't as though I am sitting there bare-breasted. Although the salon keeps stacks of fashion and gossip magazines in the waiting room, most of which feature pictures of cleavage and more, so I don't know why a glimpse of a breast doing what it's meant to do disturbs the people who read such publications.
Never mind that I too am a client and it would be nice to have my needs considered.
Never mind that people don't have to watch a woman breastfeeding if they find it upsetting. They control their eyes.
And, most importantly, never mind that the salon telling me not to breastfeed in a public place is a clear case of discrimination. Since the salon is a public location, I am allowed to breastfeed there, unless it's a health and safety issue (which it isn't). The Equality Act of 2010 makes this extremely clear.
When I pointed all this out to the salon, I was told that they weren't aware that it was illegal to ask me to breastfeed in a private room. How a business can be run without an awareness of the law is rather worrying. It makes you wonder what other laws they might be ignoring.
The salon told me they were just trying to offer me a peaceful and quiet spot. Well, sure, we all appreciate peaceful and quiet spots, but not when we're told we have to be there so we aren't visible to close-minded, bigoted people who find a natural act threatening.
In principle, treating people equally, in accordance with both the Equality Act and common sense and decency, doesn't seem like a terribly hard concept. But as our society shows time after time, some people just aren't willing or able to do so, even when it's enshrined in law.
The obvious analogy is if they'd said to me, "You being a Jewish person in our waiting room makes some people uncomfortable so could you do it in private? There's a room that you can sit in alone so you don't upset the other clients."
The salon's owners have assured me that this was all a mistake and a misunderstanding. I have suggested they place "breastfeeding welcome here" signs on their premises to show that they encourage breastfeeding and are aware of the law. This would potentially also help all those women who are scared of feeding their babies in public, because they worry about what reactions they'll get.
I hope the salon does put up such signs, but the larger issue applies to many more businesses and individuals than just this one place in Norwich. Breastfeeding in public places is a legal right in the UK. People need to recognise this. They need to stop discriminating, whether blatantly or subtly, against breastfeeding women. Those who breastfeed are doing the best thing for their babies, and it is only ignorance and foolishness in our society that is to blame for people believing that half-naked models are more acceptable than women breastfeeding.
The Equality Act must be implemented and followed, and it's breastfeeders who need to be made comfortable, not stupid people who can't stop staring and then whine about what they've seen.