Breastfeeding campaign posters stir online debate

Photo: Johnathan Wenske & Kris Haro via Yahoo Shine

The campaign called "When Nurture Calls," depicts provocative images of women nursing their babies in public toilet stalls.

“Private dining. Would you eat here?” asks the text of one poster, which features a young mother breastfeeding her infant while sitting on the lid of a public toilet. Two others in the series, featuring different mother-baby pairs, ask, “Bon appetit. Would you eat here?” and “Table for two. Would you eat here?”

The ad campaign is the work of University of North Texas graphic-art majors Johnathan Wenske and Kris Haro, both juniors, who decided to take on the polarising issue of public breastfeeding for an assignment that required students to design a campaign for a social issue or product, as if it were being created for actual paying clients.

The first image, posted on Facebook by blogger Mama Bean on May 3, has been liked more than 13,000 times and shared more than 8,000, generating a lengthy stream of comments ranging from supportive to insulting, including a woman calling public nursing "trashy" and a man objecting to women baring their "sex objects." The negativity led one of the mums in the ads to take to Facebook to defend herself.

Photo: Johnathan Wenske & Kris Haro via Yahoo Shine

Some early comments personally attacked photo model Monica Young for being everything from indecent to too young to be a mum. That prompted her to post, “I get more sexual comments than anything. So yeah, it’d be pretty great not to have any nasty comments made while I’m feeding my child, with or without a cover. She adds, “Whether I was a too young or not, what does it matter what age I am? Teen mums breastfeed, too. I'm 21, so yeah I'm pretty young, and younger mothers are less likely to breastfeed. So hopefully it will encourage younger mothers to breastfeed, breastfeed in public and to not be ashamed to do any of it.”

Wenske and Haro, both 20, say they chose the topic while researching issues online and coming across the story of a woman harassed in a Texas Target for breastfeeding in 2011. “We thought that was totally messed up,” Wenske tells Yahoo Shine.

They were further inspired by learning about a state bill, introduced last year by Texas state representative Jessica Farrar, which sought to strengthen the state’s existing public breastfeeding law by bringing in an enforcement statute. It would have essentially protected mums who nurse babies in public from being stopped or harassed. Though the proposed law, HB1706, died at the end of last year’s legislative session, a Farrar spokesperson tells Yahoo Shine that the office intends to reintroduce the idea in January 2015.

Public breastfeeding laws do exist in most US states, but with the exception of a handful. In Australia, breastfeeding is a right under Australian federal law. Babies can be breastfed in any place at any time it is illegal, under the Federal Sex Discrimination Act to discriminate against a breastfeeding mother.

The more than 2,200 Facebook comments on the campaign were mostly passionately supportive of the campaign’s message, though plenty took the other side. "As a mother who breastfed, I disagree. I personally think breastfeeding in public shouldn't be allowed," wrote one mom "The rude comments people make are uncalled for, but having your boob out in public is trashy. Women shouldn't be comfortable having their goodies shown to everyone and their brother." Another mom warned that you never know what "weirdos" are watching you nurse, while others said that breasts were "sex organs."

Others stressed modestly more gently. “I am all for women breastfeeding in public — I breastfed — but why can't we cover up?” wrote one mother. Others rejected that idea, though, including one mom who wrote, “Why is it considered to be disrespectful of others to not use a cover? What about being respectful to these babies? Throwing a hot blanket or cover over their faces and not letting them see mom while eating is disrespectful to them.”

Another noted, “I have yet to see a woman breastfeeding that I even notice she’s breastfeeding. Most of the time it looks like a mom cuddling her child. So if you have a problem with it, the problem is you’re staring.”

Seeing the huge response to their work on Facebook was a bit of a shock for Wenske and Haro. “We know people in our families who [have breastfed in public], but I never knew it was actually that hot of a topic,” says Haro, who did the photography for the project. “We never expected so many comments.”

For more information or support within Australia please contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, established by the Government, on 1800 686 268.

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