Trine Maria Larsen doesn’t feel that showing your boobs in public should be considered indecent exposure – at least not if is done with the purpose of feeding your child. That’s why she and 500 other women gathered on Copenhagen’s Rådhuspladsen yesterday for a group breast feeding of their babies – a sort of ‘nurse-in’ if you will.
The impetus for the protest came in September 2011, when the cafe Spisestedet in the Illum department store asked a nursing mother to leave and then decided to ban breastfeeding all together. The mother laid a complaint with the equality board, Ligebehandlingsnævnet, accusing Spisestedet of violating her rights. Ligebehandlingsnævnet ruled against her earlier this month.
Debate over the decision that an eatery is within its rights to bar nursing women from service areas has been contentious. But for Larsen, the mother of a five-month-old boy, words weren’t enough to express her disapproval. That’s why she organised yesterday’s protest.
“We [nursing mothers] accept that restaurant owners make their own decisions regarding their business'. But it would be great if most places would welcome us in the future. We need to show our dissatisfaction with the direction our society is going,” Larsen wrote on the event's Facebook page and urged people not to be aggressive as she did not want demonstrators to appear as “hysterical bitches”.
Women brought their babies, husbands, friends and family to support the cause during the hour-long demonstration.
Larsen had only expected to see a maximum of 100 people, so the turnout surprised her. With all the media attention, she said she didn’t have time to greet all the attendees, which, she said, was unfortunate.
“I felt that the demonstration was very successful, but I think that for next time, it would be better if someone with more time and energy than me planned it.”
Larsen isn’t looking to change any laws, since she saw people’s problems with public nursing as something “social, not political”.
“It would surprise me if it didn’t make a difference seeing all the media coverage and attention we got.”
Larsen’s biggest fear was that negative attitudes towards nursing would affect mothers-to-be and serve to turn them away from it.
“If it is okay to kick nursing women out, then what’s next? Asking people to leave because they are wearing a headscarf or because of their skin colour? We are becoming an intolerant society that doesn’t permit diversity,” Larsen said.
While she can’t understand why cafés would ban nursing women, she found it reasonable that they ask women to cover themselves when they were feeding their children.
“Breastfeeding is a very quiet act and it is not disgusting or unhygienic,” she said. “I do however understand if a cafe would not want families with small children, since they tend to make a lot of noise.”
Some have said that breastfeeding in public amounts to indecent exposure, but Larsen said that in a legal context, indecent exposure carries a sexual element – for instance showing children pornography or flashing.
“I have not become a flasher just because I had a child. This word is being abused and it offends me,” Larsen said.
Cafés, she said, should at least warn women that they disapprove of breastfeeding by posting a sign or a sticker. Ideally eateries could have a facility where women can breastfeed. This way, women could breastfeed and others wouldn’t be exposed to anything ‘indecent’.