I’m with Farage on breastfeeding – we need to take on the frenzied glorification of motherhood

News & Analysis

6th December 2014

Let’s get one thing straight. Women have been bringing up children perfectly happily for centuries without breastfeeding them in Claridges.

The fact that we are having a row about a politician daring to slightly support a posh hotel that has sort of said it would really rather prefer it if women breastfed their babies behind a napkin or cloth while they are sitting at the table is nothing to do with what is really good or bad for mothers.

Don’t be so absurd. Of course it isn’t. It’s about lots of other things: It’s about the increasingly intemperate women’s lobby bullying men into submission, again, and it’s about the frenzied glorification of motherhood in our culture – the way we worship at the altar of this mystical thing, which never used to be mystical at all, called ‘having a baby’.

Farage has explained himself. His words are there for the record and they seem to me to say simply that he can see it from both sides: both the hotel and the breastfeeding mother. The tenor of his remarks is to suggest that maybe he’s an old school chap who likes modesty. Maybe he isn’t that bothered about breastfeeding, per se, but about what he sees as the general slide into ‘anything goes’ and letting it all hang out. Maybe he’s a stickler for old fashioned table manners. So what? A lot of people might agree with him.

But for goodness sake, let a man have an opinion. Are we really going to let the pious, politically correct outrage mob hound our only vaguely entertaining, authentic or interesting politicians into not saying anything any more, so they are like all the rest of them – beige, bland and platitudinous.

Speaking of which, David Cameron and Justine Roberts of Mumsnet chorused tritely that Mr Farage was wrong to say anything at all about breastfeeding ever, because it was all perfectly ‘natural’.

And so it is. But a whole range of bodily functions are natural. It doesn’t mean we should get to do them in the middle of Claridges. The mother in question was ‘completely shocked and appalled.’ She knew the terms of the Equality Act. Oh yes. She said she didn’t understand why as a society we were offended by breastfeeding. Here’s the thing. We are not offended. What is being questioned, I think, is the putting on display of an act of intimacy.

What about breastfeeding being a rather private and special experience between a mother and a child? Why would you want a room full of people to witness it? Perhaps, for their next trick, the women’s movement might like to campaign for inclusion in the next Equality Act the right of any woman to elect to give birth in the hotel or restaurant of her choosing, with NHS back-up. After all, giving birth is all quite natural. Are you saying we can’t chose to do it where we feel most comfortable? Shame on you!

Maybe, just maybe a certain type of modern mother glows with pride at having apparently invented the concept of giving birth and all that follows and wants the world to see how clever she is.

Naturally, the concept of babies in grown-up places is something you are not meant to question, but I still find it odd. I don’t go into my local coffee shop any more because it smells like a nappy changing room. It is as if the whole world must bow down and say to mothers: ‘we are not worthy. Anything you demand we will offer you. Any shop or hotel or coffee shop you wish to colonise, be our guest.’

And yet the fact remains that for thousands of years, women had babies and got on with it and it didn’t even occur to them that lactating was something to which society should give listed status. The growth in maternal narcissism has crept up on us.

The cult of motherhood, the glorification of child-rearing, the idea that babies must go everywhere, and be accommodated everywhere and that the needs of adults must come second is a new development. It is also a relatively recent idea that every intimate experience must be Tweeted, Facebooked, or otherwise put on show for general consumption. And if people were honest, like Farage, they would admit that sometimes, this modern mania for doing everything in public is just all a bit too much.