Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thank you for not Existing too Close to our Artwork

Every so often there are incidents that arise in the popular media that make you wonder, make you shake your head, perhaps huff a laugh before flipping the page or clicking  the next link. You dismiss them swiftly, but they remain in your brain as a source of confusion, laughter even, and once reminded they are easily recalled. It is in these events, however, that we must pay close attention; they show the color of our society, we are fascinated because they are strange, and anomaly, and we hone in on that, our bodies built to detect incongruity or confusion, a lesson I learned well in perception class. The professor had shown us a model of the ventricular system, the tubes in the ears that detect movement of the head, and explained that they were maximally activated by rolling and pitching the head forward, twisting the chin downwards in a movement much like trying to place your ear on your chest. It took me a great deal of thinking before I understood that the body didn't care when your head was doing normal things, it wanted to know when they systems were failing, when things were going wrong (like when you decide to kiss your chest with your ear, for example).

The particular incident I am referring to in the paper, perhaps Dear Reader noticed it, was about a women who was told not to breastfeed her child in the Edmonton art gallery. It was not, mercifully, about decency laws; she was apparently violating the Food and Drink policy of the gallery. She was welcome to breastfeed her baby in the hallway, she was informed, but not in the show-rooms themselves.

It is a confusing state of affairs that we have evolved to the point that we consider a woman's body food and drink, but as a non-mother, perhaps this is a subtle aspect to the process of breastfeeding I am not privy to. I am just dying to know if the gallery had suffered damage to the artwork as a result of some particularly acrobatic breastfeeding.

The main problem is between the fact that the gallery apparently considers breastfeeding a "food or drink" issue (she was not thrown out of the gallery or asked to step into a restroom [a suggestion many commentators brought forth, despite the fact that they refuse to eat in a bathroom] so it isn't really a breastfeeding insensitivity issue), and the couple considering the issue a "human rights violation". I tend to get my hackles up pretty hard for human rights violations, and I do believe they can happen even here in Canada, but is being asked to move to a different room to breastfeed a human rights violation or is the phrase being tossed about any time the members of the general public feel fed up and ill treated? It almost feels like our emotions and devotions are being led by the nose by the indignation, the triggered reaction to a "human rights violation", and I don't like being led.


Anonymous said...

i think it's interesting that I remember hearing about this, but not that she had been welcome to breastfeed anywhere else, except around the artwork.
Having breastfed three kids, I'm thinking this is a completely realistic request.
I'm quite sure that when breastfeeding in public most women are going to take care to keep their breasts somewhat covered but accidents happen and I'm not talking about the sight of a naked breast.
Let-down milk can easily travel in a lovely arc covering eight feet or more (yes, personal experience!). Not to mention that babies themselves are notoriously messy. Anyone who has been in the way of projectile vomit, which happens completely unexpectedly and more often around mealtime, can just imagine what would happen to a piece of art with a little of that splashed on it.
In the terms that you have shown that it was offered in, it was a completely reasonable request by the gallery and completely blown out of proportion by both the couple involved and the media, who chose to downplay the part of the request that made it reasonable and thus make a story out of nothing. Maybe it was a slow news day.
lol, mapa

Michael said...

Completely reasonable request. Both our kids were breastfed, and I remember occasionally having to dodge the output of mother or child.

They didn't say breastfeeding women were not permitted, just that ACTIVELY breastfeeding around the artwork was not permitted. The woman was not food and drink, but she was the source of it.

My dear wife fed our kids in public regularly, always tastefully covered. The most convenient baby food ever.

Side note: Breastfeeding is brilliant. Mom takes the food supply everywhere she goes, requires no heating or sterilization, ideally nutritionally balanced... Just brilliant. Add to that how it strengthens the mother-child bond, fights post-partem depression, aids in uterine contraction and recovery after birth... Fantastique!