After spending $150 at Victoria’s Secret at the Domain—Austin’s upscale outdoor mall—Ashley Clawson, mother of a four-month-old, asked employees if she could use one of the store’s dressing rooms to breastfeed her son. To her shock, store employees refused her request, according to My Fox Austin:
On Monday afternoon she asked an employee behind the counter if she could nurse her 4-month-old son in the fitting room. It was the response she got that came as a shock.
“Said no, you cannot nurse your son in our fitting room but you can go outside to the alley and nurse him there, no one usually goes there,” Clawson said.
After clarifying with the employee what was said, she knew it was no misunderstanding.
There are a few different threads to explore here: First, under Texas law, a nursing mother is allowed to breastfeed anywhere she’s allowed to be, so the fact that Clawson sought the privacy of a dressing room to do so is fully acceptable. Second, the idea that a nursing mother is supposed to run out to an alley to feed a baby is downright bizarre (alleys: the baby’s version of a dining room!) and speaks to a weird misunderstanding of what breastfeeding is and how babies work.
But let’s focus on the third one, which is that this happened in a Victoria’s Secret. There are plenty of arguments that occur every time breastfeeding in public comes up about whether or not it’s appropriate—which, mind you, the law says it is—because people took their kids to that restaurant/store/DMV/wherever and they don’t want their kids to possibly glance askance and see an exposed nipple being used to fulfill its exact biological purpose.
That’s an argument that it’s possible for a certain segment of the population to drum up some sympathy for, if it occurs in, say, a Chuck E. Cheese. But Victoria’s Secret is a store that is profitable solely because of a cultural obsession with breasts. If a person takes his or her kid into a Victoria’s Secret, the fact that the kid might spy a breast is not an accident of fate, but merely a circumstance of the child having eyes. Furthermore, Victoria’s Secret is a store whose customer base is almost exclusively women, which means that many of the customers who shop there either have had or will have experience with breastfeeding—which makes a no-breastfeeding-even-behind-a-curtain policy seem downright bizarre.
Of course, that’s not an official policy of Victoria’s Secret, who—after the story began getting traction on Clawson’s Facebook page and in the media—quickly issued an apology.
“We take this issue very seriously. We have a longstanding policy permitting mothers to nurse their children in our stores and we are sorry that it was not followed in this case. We have apologized to Ms. Clawson, and we are taking actions to ensure all associates understand our policy that welcomes mothers to breastfeed in our stores.”
That’s a good idea, and it’s definitely worth noting that the breastfeeding-denial came from an employee who might not have known this policy, but it doesn’t do much for the optics of a company that makes it seem like it’s very comfortable with breasts as objects to stuff into sexy lingerie, but extremely uncomfortable with the idea of breasts as glands that are used to produce nursing fluid for babies. (h/t Austinist)