Saturday, November 25, 2006

Living With Lactivists

To the layman, a free society can be incredibly complicated. The KKK will have a right to protest but a person will be kicked out of a theater for talking too loudly. Both are equally disturbing--indeed the former one is often more disrupting than the latter--so why the double standard?

This is a question "lactivists" (people advocating that women be allowed to breast-feed any place they wish, including airplanes, as the recent new story indicates) should ask themselves because then they might learn why their side lacks the moral high ground. It certainly sounds like a nice idea. Mothers need to feed their infants at some point of the day and the kid is rarely compromising when that is. But some people don't like to see it. The same men who love breasts in ads don't like to see them used for feeding (even if it is "natural").

The basic difference is between public spaces (such as parks, streets, squares and other places no one owns) and private spaces (such as movie theaters and airplanes). Public areas are owned by no one and so nobody gets to make the rules. On a public beach a KKK member should be allowed to protest and nurse an infant--a sight to see if she did both at the same time. In a private space (and yes, this includes a store or mall or other so-called "public areas"), the owner should be able to make whatever rules he or she sees fit. If a bar, porn shop, country club or restaurant doesn't want a woman to nurse because they think doing so will hurt their business (and I think it would), it's their right to kick the woman out. Why should they be punished because she came in their store?

Women complain that they can't choose when their baby is hungry but they do choose what airline to take. Perhaps if they knew they didn't have a right to tell someone how to run their company, they would remember they don't own everything they sit in.


Anonymous said...

Right, people find it disturbing to see women breast feed in public, but then if they provided a place, perhaps a stall in the bathroom, where instead of a toliet, there is a seat and maybe a shelf, we wouldn't have this problem. I knew someone who worked at "Baby's R Us" and got fired cause she requested time during work to pump breast milk!! Baby-friendly heh?

Anonymous said...

There isn't a double standard. The KKK advocates and represents violence towards people not like them. Breast feeding does neither.

Your argument falls apart when one asks "where does it end?" Some airlines in other countries want to ban burkas even though not wearing one violates a Muslim woman's right to her religion. Now in this case one can make the case it's a legitimate security concern. But there's also the argument that we are punishing a minority because the majority doesn't like them.

How about this, say the passengers on a flight are all white republicans except the last person on board is a black guy with a "Bush Lied, People Died" t-shirt. Do the passengers have a right to deny the man the right to use the ticket he bought? What you are advocating is creating a major inconvenience for one person to address a minor, insignificant inconvenience for several people.

Since you're flying home for Xmas, why don't you check your contract for the tickets? Does it have a "ticket holder shall not offend the other passengers" rule?

As for your claim "they do choose what airline to take", what happens when all the airlines have this rule? People who bought tickets shouldn't have their purchases invalidated because someone else is offended.

Actions have consequences, if someone is SO offended by a woman breastfeeding, a passive act, that he insists she should leave, he should offer to pay for a second ticket and anything she needs until the next flight takes off. Why should she be punished because he is offended and is the offense so great he will never fly that airline again? Remember, he chose what airline to fly too. Please find me one case where a passenger was so offended by breastfeeding that he never flies on airlines that allow them.


Mike said...


I'm not sure I understand your problem here. These women, as far as I can tell, are not calling for government intervention (The rest of what I have to say flows from that; if I'm mistaken, then obviously the rest of this makes no sense). Rather, they are trying to change both public opinion and a company's policies. You end with, "if they knew they didn't have a right to tell someone how to run their company," but you know they DO have that right. Just as the airline has the right to ignore them and lose business. I wouldn't be surprised if several airlines change their policies soon, as they discover the business they might lose from women.

Sounds like good old fashioned market behavior to me.

Anonymous said...


To play "devil's advocate" for a moment, what you're suggesting has to be used carefully. I don't disagree with you, if enough people people said, "I won't fly X airlines because they don't allow women to breast feed" market forces would coerce change. But what if the cause wasn't so just. What if there was a boycott of a company because their health plans included abortions or same-sex partners?

Or how about this? Say the CEO of a company takes an unpopular stand on a controversial issue. Now this issue has nothing to do with the product the company makes. Is it right for consumers to boycott this company because of what the CEO believes or demand he be punished?

What I'm concerned about is everything turning into a popularity contest where the losers have to hide or be punished. We have to weigh who is harmed most and in what way. That's something very hard to do.


David said...

Mike: My concern--and I should have made this clear--is that this will turn into a bit of legislation. One woman said "It's a basic human thing that we are doing and we should be able to do it in public without being kicked off planes..." Basic human right? Bullshit (again note that "on the plane" is not public). This is how it starts.

Jason: Firms respond to consumer demand and clearly the firm is concerned about what the other passangers see. Let's revisit the story. The stewardess suggested the mother put a towel over the baby so other people wouldn't see and the woman refused. An argument ensued leading to the mother getting kicked off. The stewardess was later lectured by the company. Granted, we don't know what the lecture was about but I'm betting it was about kicking the woman off, not about suggesting a towel.

This tells us that the firm does care about what others think and they are perfectly aware that if they loose a customer they probably loose him/her for life. That can translate into the loss of a small fortune. And any crazy thing that you tolerate might be intolerable by others. Firms have to be allowed to make any rules they wish.

For the things that matter enough to the consumer, the consumer looks for it. I checked, before I bought my ticket, if it was refundable. (It wasn't, I prefered that it was but since the price was so good, I let it slide.) I'm sure that for long flights, Hasidic Jews check to see if there's a kosher meal. I don't care that much about breastfeeding, so I didn't check.

I also note that me having a peaceful journey is the expectation of both myself and the airline. It doesn't need to be on the ticket for me to demand it. Airlines know this, which is why in situacions like the one that inspired this posting, the airline tries to please both parties (the mother and the hypothetical passenger who isn't saying anything but is pissed off anyway). In this case, the stewardess did a bad job.

Anonymous said...


"f they loose a customer they probably loose him/her for life"
Don't you think the airline wouldn't loose the mother and her family as customers for life? You talk about seeing the bigger picture, picture this.

It's hard to see other people in airline seats (since we're taller than average, it's easier for us, but it's still difficult). Someone is going to really have to try to see the mother "flash her nipple".

As for a peaceful journey, a mother breast feeding is a much lower threat to that than say ill-mannered children or some drunk who starts demanding more alcohol. Now if booze and brats are allowed on planes, why not a nursing mother?


David said...

Right, that's the calculus they make. Which do group do they care more about pleasing: the mothers or the sensitive passengers? In this case the airline ultimately sided with the mother (though in a roundabout way) but if more people become sensitive to it, the airline has to have the ability to adapt.

Laws prevent adaptation and niche markets. The lactivists aren't at the legal level yet, but I bet they will someday soon.

Tim said...

Jason - it might have already been said, but the point David made (and I'm responding to your FIRST response - it's 3 am and I'm going to bed then) was that it may be your right to do as you like, but that right ends as soon as it bumps into my rights.

I couldn't agree more that protest and voices are needed to spur change - sometimes businesses don't know the best thing to do until their customers inform them point-blank by going on national news to complain.

It may be your right to feed your baby, but it's not your right to get onto my airplane unless you agree to the terms of use.

Maybe not breastfeeding is a bit more inflammatory to some than the prohibition against using cell-phones in flight, but it's the same curtailing of your freedoms in both cases.

Women can always plan to use formula, bottle their milk in advance, etc. There are options. If a demand still exists, a source will arise to fill it providing that the government doesn't stop it (be that through active outlawing of a certain business service or by erecting trade barriers that make competition uneconomical).