A woman who says she wasn't allowed to breastfeed her child in a coffee house has started campaigning for a law to allow nursing in public. It's sparked a controversial debate about breasts, rights and common sense.
Deutsche Welle, 24 February 2016
When all was said and done, Johanna Spanke felt hurt, embarrassed and angry. The 30-year-old PhD candidate just wanted to grab a drink and treat herself to a piece of cake in a café in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. In tow were her boyfriend and her three-months-old baby.
"We had just paid at the counter and had picked up our forks to eat the cake. One of the staffers then said that it's not allowed to nurse babies here," Spanke told DW.
She said she was perplexed since she hadn't started breastfeeding or shown any intentions of doing so, but grew concerned what she should do if the baby became hungry. She then decided to talk to the owner, she said.
"He was very gruff and arrogant. He said it was prohibited since this was an upscale café," she recalled. According to her account, she tried to reason with him, asking whether it would be okay if she would do it in a very discreet way, covering herself and the baby with a cloth.
"But he said no - he would give us our money back, but then we should leave."
Legally speaking, owners can throw out undesirable guests by exercising his property rights and tell customers to leave.
'The customer decided to leave'
However, that's not how Ralf Rüller, the owner of said coffee house, remembers the incident. "We asked a customer not to breastfeed [by the] window. It would have been possible to do this in the back [of our café]. The customer decided to leave," the Barn Roastery wrote on its Facebook page. That's the same statement Rüller sent to DW when approached for an interview.
"We are not against breastfeeding," the statement reads. "We ask to do this discreetly and with respect towards our other guests - which are also coming from other cultural backgrounds."
|Berlin's Barn Roastery came under fire in 2012 when it installed a bollard|
to keep strollers out
According to Spanke, he did not offer an alternative to breastfeed somewhere else in the café.
"I was very hurt and felt snubbed. We didn't make a fuss by pointing this out to other customers, also because I was a bit afraid that they might say 'Yes, it's really disgusting, there's no place for that here,'" she added.
The café already sparked uproar in 2012, when it installed a bollard to keep baby strollers out.
"We are probably not the first choice for someone visiting with an infant or young child. We ask to respect this - there are many alternatives in the neighborhood", the Barn Roastery statement ends.
Back home, Spanke decided to take action and set up a petition - she's calling on Germany's Family Minister Manuela Schwesig, demanding a law that allows women to breastfeed their babies in public. So far, she's just shy of 17,000 signatures.
Breastfeeding in public is not forbidden, but it's also not specifically stipulated that it's allowed. That's what Spanke wants to change - she's hoping her petition will lead to an open debate about the true nature of breastfeeding.
|Spanke hopes people will no longer|
regard breastfeeding as disgusting
"Women's breast have apparently become so sexualized that it's considered disgusting now," she said. It's recommended to breastfeed babies at least until the baby is 6 months old, she added.
The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency called the ban of breastfeeding in public places gender-based discrimination.
The National Breastfeeding Committee at the Federal Institute for Risk assessment which advises the government on - you guessed it - breastfeeding, commented on a similar petition and said nursing babies should be put under legal protection. It's to be assumed that a substantial proportion of breastfeeding mothers shun doing so in public, the statement reads.
Countless studies have proven that breastfeeding is good and important for both mother and child, a spokesperson of Germany's Family Ministry told DW. It's crucial for a society that wants to be family-friendly to enable mothers to breastfeed their children in public, the spokesperson added. "It should be possible to find good solutions in the interest of all parties."
Where to go from here?
Breastfeeding seems to be a contentious issue that's hotly debated. On social media, some point out the obvious hypocrisy: "Use boobs to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers and nobody cares. Use boobs to feed a baby in public and everyone loses their minds," one post reads.
But there are also others who voice their anger about the "disgusting" practice of breastfeeding, saying their are put off by women nursing their babies right next to where they are eating. They suggest women use bottles instead or simply feed babies at home. They don't care what the women do as long as they stay out of sight. Often, they use derogative words for breasts.
Spanke plans to submit the signatures calling for a new law to German Family Minister Schwesig and hopes for change in society. "It really seems to be a big issue," she said. "Unfortunately, this seems to be a form of discrimination that's accepted by society."