That clash of attitudes sparked Wednesday's protest, a Facebook campaign started after a Target employee repeatedly asked a Houston mom, Michelle Hickman, to retire to a dressing room instead of breastfeeding in an aisle.
Target's official policy is to allow breastfeeding in public areas of the store. But the message from corporate headquarters to Hickman's complaint about the Nov. 29 incident apparently had a different nuance. “Just because it’s a woman’s legal right to nurse a baby in public doesn’t mean she should walk around the store flaunting it,” Ms. Hickman says she was told.
Attitudes about public breastfeeding vary widely across the globe. In America, breasts have at least as much sexual significance as they do practical significance as a means to nourish babies.
Moreover, US attitudes toward breastfeeding vary by region: In Western, Midwestern, and New England states, 70 to 80 percent of babies have been breastfed at some time in their lives, while the rate is lower for babies in most Southern states. The highest rate is in Oregon, where 91 percent of babies have been breastfed. The lowest is Louisiana, where 48 percent of babies have ever received mother's milk.
“We are all affected by our culture's sexual emphasis on breasts and our consequent discomfort with breastfeeding in public,” Ohio University Prof. Jacqueline Wolf wrote in a 2008 editorial in the International Breastfeeding Journal. “While people from other cultures often find this controversy inexplicable, the reasons for the controversy are obvious to Americans – even those of us who fully support breastfeeding in public. We understand that many equate public breastfeeding with lewd behavior.”