KLM’s breastfeeding storm shows dogwhistle misogyny
There is a minor storm brewing on the Dutch Airline company KLM’s Twitter feed currently, after a woman was asked to cover herself and her baby with a blanket whilst breastfeeding.
Shelby Angel was asked to cover up by a flight attendant during the a flight between San Francisco and Amsterdam. KLM later clarified its position on Twitter, stating that breastfeeding was “permitted” onboard, but they may request a mother to cover herself to avoid offending “passengers of all backgrounds”.
They are ostensibly trying to argue that as an international airline with passengers from many different countries and social climates, their hands are tied. In a bid to make all passengers comfortable, they must give in to the demands of those from more chauvinist cultures. This is a cop-out.
KLM tweeted “we absolutely don’t want to make the mums of our youngest passengers feel judged”, whilst continuing to do just that. They also don’t seem to have realised the irony in apparently trying to make everyone “feel comfortable”, but putting themselves into a position where they’re forced to state that they “permit” babies to eat on a ten hour flight.
Several commentators have taken to Twitter that it’s not that big a deal to cover the baby and breast with a blanket, or to “just use a bottle”. By and large these are males with no personal experience in breastfeeding, and — due to the pervasive and damaging idea that babies are a “female issue” — probably no second-hand experience or interest either.
You don’t have to think very hard to realise that a baby might hate being hidden under a blanket, especially on a hot and airless flight. Not all babies take to bottle-feeding, and it’s not necessarily easy to get a baby to use a bottle after they are used to being breast-fed. But these people don’t want to think about it, they just want to dismiss women and tell them that they’re being overly dramatic.
Pandering to those with more regressive views on this one issue does not make any sense. There are plenty of cultures who would be “offended” by the women on the aeroplane wearing shorts, or the gay couple holding hands. Are KLM going to throw blankets over those people too?
Far from tolerating or normalising these backwards views, KLM should be showing leadership. The offended party’s rights should not trump those of the woman who is merely feeding her child. Someone who does not want to see a female breast can look away, but the baby must be fed.
Thankfully other airlines responded to questions on Twitter stating that they do not have a problem with breastfeeding mothers.
At the heart of the issue lies the rotten belief that women’s bodies are sex objects. There is no other remotely plausible explanation for someone being offended by another human being feeding their baby. They believe that the female breast is a sex toy, and it obviously follows that you should not sit with a sex toy on view in a crowded aeroplane. Female nipples are obviously indecent, and that’s why they must be hidden from view.
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