Friday, December 23, 2005

Open Letter to Caroline Flint

Caroline Flint, MP
Minister for Public Health
Department of Health
Richmond House, 79
Whitehall, London SW1A 2NS

Dear Ms Flint,

I’m going to trust that you are aware that the long term benefits of breast-feeding. I am going to assume that you have considered the recommendations made by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. I am going to assume that you believe breast-feeding to be beneficial to children, families and society.

For this reason, I urge you to reconsider your position on David Kidney’s New Clauses 3 and 4 in the Health Bill. For a public health official to be dismissive (about an issue of critical import to the nation’s health) astounds me. In addition, I was shocked and dismayed to learn that you believe the evidence of obstruction for mums wanting to breast-feed in public is “anecdotal.” I believe this to be what author, Meredith Tax, calls gender based censorship.

Gender based censorship “is embedded in a range of social mechanisms that mute women's voices, deny validity to their experience, and exclude them from the political discourse. Its purpose is to obscure the real conditions of women's lives ... by targeting women who don't know their place in order to intimidate the rest.(1) What I can clearly determine is that you are not aware that the very reasons you have given not to support this legislation are in fact the same tools used traditionally to silence women.

New motherhood should be one of the most empowering, euphoric times in a woman’s life. However, it is one of the most vulnerable, terrifying and isolating moments. The extreme physiological changes in postpartum women combined with sleep deprivation, financial, familial and professional concerns create vast emotional fluctuations. It becomes easy at this point to victimise women.

Public breast-feeding is stigmatised because of the objectification of women’s bodies. What is indecent and criminal, is the idea that it is not acceptable to provide the absolute best possible care for your child. Breast-feeding women - like rape victims or battered women - fail to report these assaults because of a lack of awareness. Many are unaware that they have been violated. They blame themselves. They believe they deserved it. They believe they are indecent.

Any mother who has been shamed, harassed or forced to leave an establishment has been discriminated against based upon her gender. More importantly, both the woman and her child have been assaulted. This assault has tangible and immediately quantifiable effects. It is impossible to explain to an infant or toddler why they are not being fed. All they are able to understand is that something critical to their physical well-being is denied. And because the woman blames herself, she weans the child.

I strongly urge you to visit this bulletin board which police officers frequent.
The officers were discussing the case of the woman from Norfolk who came forward to complain about how she was treated for publicly breastfeeding her 28 day old child. This is the attitude of the people who should be looking after the best interest of the country. Many of the officers equated public breastfeeding with “urinating in public.” And while it is the “most natural thing in the world to do,” “so is urinating.” Legislation would quickly solve this attitude problem.

It is hard to believe that even 50 years ago, courts allowed a woman’s previous sexual history to be entered into evidence, thereby placing the woman - not the rapist on trial. We would no more say - as a modern society - that a woman who was raped was asking for it because of her clothes, her attitude or her geographic location. As a society, we have come to realise that this violence against women is not a function of her gender, but an act of violence by a criminal. Still, it took years of studies to put in place the barest minimum of protection for women because it was largely seen as “anecdotal.”

The silencing shameful nature of these crimes continues - even today - and leads to 80% of women failing to report these crimes. This is exactly what we are doing by failing to protect breast-feeding mothers. We are forcing them to carry shame and humiliation due to the actions of malicious others.

For this reason, I am writing to testify on behalf of myself and other breast-feeding mothers. I am going to trust that you are aware that for every one woman who speaks up, there are 8 or 9 others who will say nothing. So count my letter eight times.

I have been harassed frequently for breast-feeding my child in public and private. And I have been harassed by people who should know better.

1. When my son was sick, rather than care for him, the emergency room physician wasted time berating and arguing with me about nursing. Breast-feeding saved my son’s life. By the time they hydrated him and drew blood, they realised he was 2 hours away from renal failure due to severe dehydration. Breast-feeding kept him alive long enough for them to stop chatting about my feeding practices and do something.

2. My son wanted to nurse after another child at a Surestart baby group, grabbed his toy and pushed him over. Rather than chastise the baby-bully, the Surestart worker decided to say “Surely, you’re not still feeding him, are you?’ When I replied in the affirmative, She said, “but surely you know studies show there is no benefit after one year.” I invited her to visit UNICEF and the WHO web sites so that she could improve her level of service.

However - I am a rude person. I assert my right to care for my child in the best manner possible. I am aware of my human rights. I have been trained not to be a victim. I am in the minority of most women. As a unique and phenominal woman,

I urge you. I beg you. I invite you to greet your higher self with respect and dignity. Reconsider.


(1) Tax, Meredith, The Power Of the Word: Culture, Censorship & Voice, Women’s World Publications,, 23/12/05


Anonymous said...

Why do you think you have such clout in British law-making?

Christina Springer said...

I don't. I don't even think my letter will make a difference. At the end of the day, at least, I can say I tried to make a difference. Because I did something.

Fasting For Dafur is a much more eloquent reasoning behind why I'd even bother to write a letter or make a comment.

Find it here:

These laws affect me and I will speak out, regardless.

Karen said...

One voice spoken in soft protest is much more powerful than one thousand silent cries of regret.

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