Breast-feeding mom kicked off plane for reminding fellow passengers that humans are animals.

November 15, 2006 | By | 24 Replies More

According to this recent news item on MSNBC, Emily Gillette, 27, filed the complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission late last week against Delta Air Lines, for kicking her off of a flight between Burlington and New York City.

Gillette said she was breast-feeding her 22-month-old daughter as their flight prepared to leave Burlington International Airport. She said a flight attendant handed her a blanket and told her to “cover up.”

The airline is defending itself by claiming that Gilette wasn’t being sufficiently “discreet.”

A breast-feeding mother is perfectly acceptable on an aircraft, providing she is feeding the child in a discreet way,” that doesn’t bother others, said Paul Skellon, spokesman for [the airline]. “She was asked to use a blanket just to provide a little more discretion, she was given a blanket, and she refused to use it, and that’s all I know.

Huh?  Let’s see . . . I’m looking at my calendar . . . it is the year 2007 A.D.  

I’m not going to waste any time wondering whether Ms. Gillette was “discreet.”  Immoralist that I am, I don’t see any reason why any woman should have to be discreet while nursing her baby.  There’s no more reason for this than for requiring a woman to throw a towel over her own head while she herself eats a pretzel.  Or requiring a man to be discreet when he blows his nose.

I’m wondering why an airline would have a policy that requires a nursing mother to be “discreet.”  What part of nursing needs to be discreet?  The part about nourishing milk being made available to the baby?  The part about the baby drinking the milk?  The part about the baby not going hungry?  None of these is the true fear, because no one would have any problem with a woman conspicuously feeding breast milk (which she previously pumped from her breast) out of a bottle.  Nor is the worry that some portions of breasts are offensive.  Women expose large swaths of tops of their breasts through their conscioius choice of clothing. To combat this “top of breast” onslaught, airlines would need to invoke strict dress codes.  I haven’t heard any outcry for such airline dress codes.

This inane airline policy is really about protecting “us” from nipples.

Gee . . . I wonder what social segment is pressuring airlines (and everyone else) to protect us from nipples?  Let’s have an unscientific survey.  Let’s put 500 religious fundamentalists over here on my right.  Now, by a show of hands, which of you fundamentalists think that the nipple of a nursing mother should not be visible in a public place?  I see about . . . oh . . . 462 hands.   Now, let’s put 500 secular humanists over here on my left. Please raise your hands if the airlines should protect us from seeing nipples.  Two hands?  Wait!  One of you is clentching a Bible!  Get over in the other group where you belong! Only one hand now?  No wonder they call us God-cursed immoralists!

So . . . the people trying to “protect” us from nipples are the same people who strive to “protect our marriages” from gay people. It’s the same people who try so hard to foist that sex obsessed book on the rest of us.  You know, the Bible.

Here’s a little self-help therapy for those of you who just can’t get over the fear and shame of nipples.  Go into your bathroom and lock the door.  Stand in front of a mirror and take off your shirt.  Now, carefully take a look at your nipples.  There . . . that’s what nipples look like.  Ask yourself whether your head exploded.  Probably not.  Did a demon emerge from the floor and stab you with a pitchfork?  Probably not.

I’m also going to suggest some reading for you fundamentalists.   There are articles that discuss nipples and areolas. I know reading these article is going to be difficult, because what really bothers you guys is that you don’t want to be reminded that you are animals.  Yes, humans are animals.  We are cousins with the other animals (and plants).  We poop.   We breathe, we sleep, we cough, we have emotions, we eat, we guard territories.  Just like other animals.

Yes, and we lactate.  Take a deep breath and listen up: seeing a nipple won’t make you turn to stone.  If you get sexually bothered seeing a woman’s nipple, it’s YOUR problem, not hers.  Really, you need to get over it.


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Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Civil Rights, Sex

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (24)

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  1. Nelson Blaha says:

    I don't know about this one. It sounds to me like the woman was intentionally making a scene, when she probably should have covered up some like most women do for the other passengers' sake. The female breasts are a sexual organ and have an obvious function for sexual appeal.

    Yeah, it probably wouldn't have been a big deal if it weren't for christian fundementalism, and it probably is the same thinking behind gay marriage bans, but what would you say to some guy taking out his penis and masturbating in the same situation? Totally natural, right? Other animals do it. I think you're right on the money for gay marriage, but asking a woman to cover her breasts isn't unreasonable.

  2. Martian says:

    A friend emailed me today about your blog, and I must say I'm glad he did. Your perspective and mine seems to have a lot in common.

    Personally, I'm all for women exposing their breasts, as often as possible. Seriously, though, what really offends me is that in the USA, a big deal is made about nudity, but not about violence.

    Janet Jackson exposing a nipple on TV? Oh, that's bad. But violent football games and shows about torture and murder? No problem.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Fundies are not offended by *all* nipples, only female ones: we don't see Christian groups on beaches demanding that men wear shirts, do we? (Though we might have seen them do this a century ago.) No, the Fundies are out on the street, protesting against same-sex adult couples who wish to make a loving, life-long commitments to each other. Then these same devout Believers hop into their cars and drive past homeless people living on sidewalks, content they have done their duty for Christ. Just think of how much better the world might be if all the time, money, radio campaigns, television ads, etc., that Christians have spent fighting same-sex marriage had, instead, been spent fighting…oh, I dunno…hunger, childhood poverty, illiteracy, obesity, drug abuse, alcoholism, elder abuse, detainee torture, teen suicide…. How odd that in a world filled with so many life-and-death problems, Fundamentalist Christians are obsessed with the one issue that isn't. I wonder which chapter of the Bible says that protesting against human happiness (i.e., gay marriage) is a higher priority than working to end human suffering.

  4. Deb says:

    Public masterbation and feeding children are not the same thing at all.

    Organs that feed babies are only 'sexual' because our society has deemed them so. Many other cultures don't find breasts particularly erotic. Remember the National Geographics we tittered at as adolescents? The ones where native women were pictured topless? Our culture even goes further and attempts to make non-lactating women look like they are lactating by creating large, 'perky' breasts.

    A couple of years ago a young mother and her infant had some business at city hall in a large city. The business took longer than expected and the baby got hungry, so the mom asked the security guard for a place she could go to nurse her baby. The security guard directed her to the restrooms. He wasn't directing her to a rest room with a sofa or chair in a little lounge the way some have (you know the kind, they have 'swooning couches' at least I assume that is the purpose because I don't know why else anyone would sit in a toilet and not be ON the toilet). He told her to "sit on the toilet" in there because what she was doing was "disgusting." Mom promptly went to the mayor's office, and sat in the waiting area in the most comfy chair and nursed her baby. She was threatened with arrest for 'indecent exposure.' Charges may have been filed, I do not know for sure. Mom left (baby was full), but she didn't stop there.

    This mother got others involved, including my lactating daughter and 5 week old granddaughter. A couple of dozen nursing mothers went to city hall and had a 'nurse in' for several hours. They got the law changed, or at least how it was applied, and any charges filed were dropped.

    I'm very proud that before 6 weeks of age, my granddaughter had already demonstrated in her first display of civil disobedience to an unjust law, even if she did sleep the whole time.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here is a collection of state and federal laws regarding breast feeding from La Leche: Here's a sample breast feeding law, this one from Illinois:

    Section 10. Breastfeeding Location. A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother's breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding; however, a mother considering whether to breastfeed her baby in a place of worship shall comport her behavior with the norms appropriatein that place of worship.

  6. gatomjp says:

    Martian wrote" "Janet Jackson exposing a nipple on TV? Oh, that’s bad. But violent football games and shows about torture and murder? No problem."

    I agree. Why is it that we are allowed to witness the most vile, sadistic, gruesome acts of violence against one another in movies like Saw, Hostle, Wolf Creek, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others, but the image of a healthy female breast or a couple making love is "obscene"??

    To me the act of pointing a gun at someone is one of the most obscene gestures one can make but we and our children can see dozens of such examples on television and in the movies every day. We can watch images of life being taken away…but not life being created!

  7. Cathy says:

    Nelson Blaha Says:

    "The female breasts are a sexual organ and have an obvious function for sexual appeal"

    The PRIMARY (most obvious) reason why we women have breasts is to feed our offspring with the best source of nutrition that Mother Nature provides – for free! I speak as an erstwhile breast-feeding mother.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Today, "About 30 parents and their children sat in front of an airline counter Wednesday to protest the treatment of a passenger who said she was kicked off a plane for breast-feeding her child."

    Here's the link.

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    The flight attendant has now been "disciplined." See this follow-up article here.

  10. Karyn Lovell says:

    As a breastfeeding mother myself I was appauled to hear about this incident. Yes, I do cover myself while nursing, but if my breast were to be exposed it is no big deal. This is a perfectly natural and wonderful gift to give a child. Most people that are offended by it or oppose it are the ones who dont understand the importance of it or were too lazy to do it themselves. A breast can be a sexual object, but when a mother is breast feeding it is for nourishment not sex. People need to get over the whole nudist phobia and get a grip on reality. As one of the other responses indicated, theres no dress code for women walking around with their breasts popping out of their shirts. So why is breastfeeding so intrusive? Oh, and as far a s a man masturbating in public, come on how can you even say something that ridiculous? Breastfeeding nourishes, what exactly does masturbating do? I think that girl was completely correct in being offended and the airlines should be happy that they didnt say anything to me.

  11. Erich Vieth says:

    Speaking of breast feeding . . . [click here]

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    “Our society still doesn’t recognize the functional use of breasts,” says Karen Peters, executive director of the Breast Feeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles. “It only recognizes the sexual aspect.” For more, see this article on breast feeding on MSNBC.

  13. Venna says:

    I was recently kicked out of a quite unbusy lounge in a family restaurant while breast feeding my son. I didn't want to sit outside in the cold and feed him and there wasn't sufficient room at our booth to fit him between me and my table. I had asked if it would be a problem before hand and was told no. I advised I'd only be 10 or 15 minutes and there were only two couples in there and I was not consuming alcohol. I sat in the corner farthest away from the other customers, as close to the lounge entrance as I could and made sure I was discreet, not exposing anything. My son was only 3 weeks old at the time.

    The lounge waitress walked past me three times but didn't say anything to me until she went to check on, and held a brief conversation with the older couple in the farthest corner from where I was positioned. She approached me and said I had to leave because the baby was a minor and couldn't legally be in the lounge. I've read laws that say a nursing mother cannot be kicked out of a public place for breast feeding as long as she has a legal right to be there. I'm 36 years old so well past the legal drinking age.

    I don't know if this is the case in Oregon or not, but I have taken an infant into a lounge area of a family resterant before and was not forced to leave. It makes me wonder if I would have been if I had started breast feeding then also.

    I am looking into what my rights are, or were in this situation and whether or not I was within mine, or the resterant was. Mostly just for my own curiosity then anything else, just in case I should find myself in a similar situation again, I'll know if I can stand up for my rights and my son's right to eat, or if I'll have to stand up and walk out to find another place to feed him.

  14. vance says:

    i am not licienced in your state so this is not intended to be legal advice. however, this could not happen to a man thus it raises the issue of discrimination. might be worth speaking to a lawyer in your area.

  15. Srinivasan S.R. says:

    I agree with the reasoning that a nursing mom should be allowed to feed her child anywhere even so in religious places. After all, it's human life we are talking about, people. We can't let a child go hungry. When a mother has breast milk to give and is in a position to do so, why all this nonsense about obscenity?

    There are so many sites that make pornography available on the net and there is no one to do anything about that! Millions of people die due to hunger and starvation in the 3rd world countries and there aren't people doing anything about that… then similarly there should be no fuss made on breastfeeding too.

    Afterall, the breasts are part of a woman.They have milk ducts due to which they look like that. Men too have breasts and nipples but when a man goes topless on the beach, no one says anything about it.

    Finally, every woman/guardian who has a child and has breast milk has every right to feed the child at anytime and anywhere.

  16. Sarah says:

    As a mother who has just taken her eight month old baby on a flight, breastfeeding your baby is pretty much neccessary and can be very difficult. In order to keep your baby's ears from popping, you have to breast feed them on take-off and landing, so there's two feedings at least. Personally, I am always crazy neurotic about it. Oh god, did my nipple just show?!? Give me that blanket! Argh, she pulled it down, oh no there's that nipple again, Damn. It's really hard for nursing mothers, so if you have a problem with this neccessary act, just look away. Unless your child's asleep, blankets usually don't help. Either they don't like them or they find them extremely interesting, and there you go, no more blanket and the nipple is right out there for all to see because now the baby's mouth is full of, what, that's right, blanket.

  17. Deb says:

    I think it is utterly ridiculous all the fuss being made over feeding a baby. Obviously this woman was within her rights to nurse her child. It isn't as if she was running down the aisle flashing people for a .."gone wild" video. Chances are more breast is exposed at beaches than was being exposed on that plane.

    I even understand that some people (not always fundies) are a bit taken aback at first. Most people of my generation did not grow up seeing this in public. So when at first they encounter it they may be a little taken aback. Some of them may worry that there kids who also did not grow up seeing this publically will notice and ask questions. Some people just dont like answering those questions. But the good ones get over that real fast. I have a friend who nursed her kids and my youngest asked and I answered. No big deal. Time will show that the more it goes on the less "shocking" it will become and in time no one will give a second glance to the breast but maybe start concentrating on the innocent baby in front of it

    However I think it is also ridiculous to insinuate that all mother's who do not nurse are uneducated to the matter, lazy and oh one of my favorites, equal to child abuse by giving the baby a bottle of forbidden formula.

    Deciding to have a child, your birthing plan (be ready to throw to the wind if medically necessary) raise a child, nurse a child, bottle feed a child are all personal decisions. I gathered all the facts and talked to several moms and doctors and made my decision from there. Never assume that because you see a bottle the parent is neglectful, lazy, or dumb. Never assume that you know at a glance what is going on and has gone in that person's life. I see a baby and I look way beyond the nipple in the mouth, natural or synthetic. If you have babies, you hold 'em and you love 'em!

    For the record I dont think a nursing mother should be required or expected to use a blanket to cover everything. There is nothing wrong with offering one but sometimes it is just too hot or stuffy or will quickly become so for the baby. Would you want to be served a dinner at a restraunt and then asked to cover yourself with a blanket while you eat?

  18. Erich Vieth says:

    Human babies should drink human milk, right. All experts agree that human milk is better than cow milk for human babies. Far better. But don't try to spread the word effectively or the corporate infant formula lobby will smack you down.

  19. Kristin says:

    I agree with Deb about not being too quick to judge moms who give their babies formula. I have a 10-month-old, and I am still limping along with a low breastmilk supply. Not such a bad problem now that my girl is eating solids/table foods, but, believe me — it was a huge problem for me (postpartum depression because of it) and for her when she was a newborn. She kept losing weight on breastmilk alone, and finally we HAD to give her formula or she would have suffered. I kept giving her what breastmilk I could, pumping like a maniac when I went back to work (dad's a stay-at-home), popping first Reglan and then domperidone (from New Zealand because the FDA bans it for lactation in the US) and supposedly lactogenic herbs, and supplementing with formula when necessary, which was quite a bit. I had my comeuppance, and I will never again judge a mom who is feeding her child formula.

    Oh, on this topic: Breastfeeding isn't dirty. Look the other way if you must. I never felt comfortable doing it in the wide open because I tend to be a private person (except on blogs with intelligent people), but it would have been legal if I had.

    Another thought: breastfeeding presents an odd Venn diagram that takes in both hippies and homeschooling, conservative/evangelical Christians. And Jews. And liberal Catholics. A very diverse following! (I am a United Church of Christ Christian and a political liberal.)

    Thanks for reading, and happy Labor Day Weekend, everybody!

  20. Erich Vieth says:

    A Harvard student must be given extra break time during a medical licensing exam to pump breast milk, a Massachusetts appeals court judge ruled yesterday.  For more, see the NYT.

  21. Ham Bone says:

    Did someone say the female breast are a sex part and compared them to the penis? The breast serves the purpose of feeding the child, not to be inserted with a penis. Males also have nipples always shown in public.

    The problem is not breast or even nudity itself, but people are not mature enough and too dirty minded to handle it in some countries. Maybe the woman didn't like the idea that something natural and normal should be treated like something obsene?

  22. Erich Vieth says:

    Dozens of nursing mothers crowded into a downtown Vancouver H&M clothing store over the lunch hour on Thursday to protest the way the chain treated a breastfeeding mother last weekend. Here's the link.

  23. Lauren says:

    This is ridiculous. I cant stand the people that frown upon breastfeeding in public. I would understand if I was pulling it out and showing it to everyone, but breastfeeding is what God intended us to do to feed our kids. I have bottled fed my son with formula because he was in the NICU the first three weeks of his life, and I am currently nursing my five month old daughter and both are just fine! I am modest when I nurse, but I still get looks of disgust. Sorry but I am going to feed my baby when she is hungry! I am not going to deprive my daughter her food to spare someones feelings of embarrassment. They can endure me nourishing my baby or they can hold her why she cries in hunger!…..

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