Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The problem with American Airlines breastfeeding policy

The reason this apology sucks is that, while it apologizes for the misguided airline attendant, it does not apologize for the misguided policy that allowed this to happen in the first place.
All fifty states provide protection for women to breastfeed. Some states even explicitly protect women from being harassed because of how "covered up" they are. But I guess when you are in the air, AA can subject you to whatever the heck they feel like?
And what AA feels like is actually pretty stupid. A policy that requires breastfeeding be done with "certain discretion and a sense of modesty" that may include asking "that the mother cover-up (sic) in an appropriate manner" is messed up for a few reasons.
  1. Modesty is described as a mode of dress intended to not encourage sexual attraction in others. Breastfeeding is inherently modest because it is intended to feed a baby, NOT to encourage sexual attraction. This policy unfairly and inappropriately implies that breastfeeding is immodest and a sexual act.
  2. Interestingly, discretion is defined as "the power or right to decide or act according to one's own judgment" which is sort of the exact opposite of what American Airlines means. They really mean, acting according to the judgment of those around you, which can vary wildly. Some religions dictate that women cover up their shoulders. Other's dictate that women cover up their entire body and face. How is a mother supposed to act according to those judgments when they don't even know what they are until someone bullies, intimidates, shames, or humiliates her?
  3. Because this policy is ambiguous (see above), the mom essentially asked to be responsible for anyone around her who happens to sexualize the act of feeding an infant or who happens to have misogynistic expectations that they can force a women meet their arbitrary standard of "covered up." And that ambiguity is what leaves mothers vulnerable to harassment and bullying from flight attendants.
Yeah, American Airlines apologized. Yeah, they "allow" breastfeeding. But their policy is misguided and it serves to shame, humiliate, and inconvenience mothers and families. And even though I'm (FINALLY) not breastfeeding any babies, until their policy changes, my family of four will not be flying on any AA flights.

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