Picture it: Northampton, MA, June 13, 2011, Paradise City Tavern patio. One disarmingly tempting, racially ambiguous new mother dares to breastfeed her 6 month old while she and similarly tempting (though a little too pasty for ambiguity) wife wait for the $6.95 beer/burger/fries special. Handsome, young white man with tattoos, black t-shirt, linen pants walking by. Under his breath, as he stares at breastfeeding mother: “Classy.” Whitey wife says, “Excuse me?” as the heat crawls up her neck and face, giving away the fact that he got to her in that instant. Man keeps walking.
“What just happened?” racially ambiguous wife asked.
“That really just pissed me off,” says wife #2 while trying to quell the redness with the waving of a flimsy napkin and a pint of Old Rasputin.
A few minutes later, said man passes by in the other direction, this time staring down both women without saying a word.
“Do you have something to say?” wife #2 semi-shouts, heart racing and ready for a fight.
Said staring man, so intent on his gaze, fails to notice the trash can in his path and runs squarely into it. As both women giggled, hearts still racing a bit, man turns around and comes to the table. He sits down and the unfathomable happened: A dialogue took place.
Being beet-red and pissed off, it took all I had not to jump down this guy’s throat for telling us that it is inappropriate to feed our child in public.
My voice was shaking a bit as he reached for the dog, “ He will bite you.”
“That’s ok. I bite back,” he says with very little irony.
My natural inclination (of course) was to go on the defensive and rip this guy a new one, to protect my family, the honor of breastfeeding, the right of women to not have to feed while sitting on the toilet in some bar just to make sure everyone else is comfortable. But, I held myself back and was able to actually engage this man in a conversation about what had transpired, about his feelings about breastfeeding, about our feelings about breastfeeding (individually and as a family). And a funny thing happened, we listened to each other and connected around the common place: breastfeeding is best for babies (his 2 young children were/ are breastfeed…though not in public). He listened as I talked about American society’s problem with seeing breasts in public when they are not sexualized. He talked about his upcoming move and we, ours. We agreed to disagree. I told him that it took a lot more courage for him to sit down and have a discussion about his thoughts rather than shuffling by with empty barbs to throw. Wife #1 talked about her own struggles with modesty and how that has impacted her breastfeeding in general and, especially, in public. She talked about how threatening it is when a man stares down two women. He listened. Did he get it all? No, Mark didn’t get it all. But he listened. So, I, Betsy, learned how to channel the fire and Mark just listened.
Do I think he was out of line? Absolutely. Did I really want to say, “You fucking asshole. You have no right to tell me or my family how or where to eat, shit or do anything else. So back the fuck up before I call the fierce mamas of the valley rally round and shove their dripping nipples in your face as all their children grow plump and tall off the love of that milk.” But I didn’t. I just said that I hope he will continue to have discussions like this one, rather than punching and running. I stayed pretty hot-cheeked through dinner, winding down slowly from the events. Maybe it was the conversation, but in the end, I think it was the beer.
(This post takes part in the Mothering.com Blog about Breastfeeding event: http://www.mothering.com/community/a/blog-about-breastfeeding-and-win)