The latest assault on the right to a peaceful cup of Joe comes courtesy of Lorig Charkoudian, a Silver Spring woman who not only wants to breast-feed her daughter at Starbucks whenever she likes but expects me to avert my eyes or leave if I don’t share her enthusiasm for double breast milk latte. It’s not enough that a new Maryland law supports her right to lactate in public – no, she wants Starbucks to issue a nationwide corporate policy supporting her position.
Speaking for the school of not letting it all hang out, let me say: Don’t. Please, please please. Just don’t.
Charkoudian’s goal is to liberate women and advance the cause of nursing as a public health issue, which is why she staged a nurse-in at her local Starbucks on Sunday.
As a former baby snack bar, let me say upfront: I’ve been there, done that. But not at my neighborhood coffee bar.
Charkoudian, 31, began her coffeehouse crusade last month while nursing her 15-month-old daughter, Aline. A store clerk who had received complaints about other nursing mothers in the past asked her to go in the bathroom or cover her breast with a blanket – suggestions Charkoudian rejected. Feeding her daughter in the bathroom was disgusting, she said, and covering her would be uncomfortable.
She had Maryland law on her side: An act passed last year prohibits restrictions on public nursing, and a Starbucks spokeswoman has instructed employees to inform any complaining customers of the new law and suggest they move to a different seat.
But Charkoudian, a conflict resolution trainer, is pressuring Starbucks to enact a national corporate policy stating that mothers will “never be asked to leave, cover, move, or hide” when breast-feeding, that it will train employees that nursing is different from offensive behavior such as loud music or obscene language, and that offended customers should avert their eyes or move.
But overt public breast-feeding makes lots of people uncomfortable, so this is less about nursing than about imposing a belief system on those who do not share her views. It’s about who offends whom, for what reasons, in what settings. It’s not about rights, per se. It’s about taste and prevailing social norms.
We are an uptight, prudish lot and in general believe large expanses of flesh, personal grooming and breast-feeding are not spectator sports. “In America, breast feeding is done only among intimates,” writes Judith Martin in “Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium.”
The “it’s natural, it’s beautiful” lobby says nursing is nothing to be ashamed of and the rest of us just need to get over it. Let’s talk natural. Scratching in inappropriate places is natural. Clipping toenails is natural. Passing gas is natural, as is picking one’s nose. None poses a health threat to those around us, and we probably all have a legal right to do so in public. But we don’t because we have decided, in our arbitrary, old-fashioned way, that some things are not done in polite society.
In most states, private businesses have the right to say “No” – as in “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” No bare chests. No bare breasts. Customers who don’t like it can take their business elsewhere.