It was a pretty typical day for Sam Anderson, 21, of Starbuck. The Alexandria native was running errands with her grandmother and baby girl at the Viking Plaza in Alexandria.
Anderson’s daughter started to fuss and she immediately knew what the problem was: feeding time.
While waiting for her grandmother, Anderson sat with her infant on a couch in the center of the mall. Using her sweatshirt as a cover, she breastfed her child.
Anderson told the Echo Press that during the feeding, she could feel the eyes of onlookers. She started catching what she describes as odd looks and angry glances. Anderson readjusted her sweatshirt and tried to focus on the task at hand. That’s when she heard the comment that she says she will carry with her forever.
“Look at that slut feeding the baby,” Anderson said, repeating the words of a female who passed by her in the mall.
After that incident, Anderson said she was terrified to breastfeed in public. She admitted to hiding in public bathrooms whenever her child was hungry, anything to keep her child happy but to avoid what she called abuse from the community.
It wasn’t until a few months ago, shortly after her child’s transition from breastfeeding, that a fire was lit inside the young mom.
“I was browsing Netflix and I saw the Free The Nipple movie,” Anderson said. She explained about the group of women in New York with the mission to decriminalize the female body. The women protested censorship laws throughout New York City. They did so topless and armed with lawyers.
When Anderson heard that one of the protests was coming to Minnesota, she felt her calling and organized a Free the Nipple chapter in Alexandria.
“It’s not like I support running around topless all over town,” she said. “That’s not what I desire.”
Anderson decided to plan a Free the Nipple Go Topless event to take place at Noonan’s Park in Alexandria on Sunday, August 23, the same day as the protest in Minneapolis. While only a handful of people were in attendance, Anderson held on to good faith that her mission would one day be accomplished.
“Awareness is the first step and that’s what this event was all about,” said Anderson. “My number one priority when it comes to this movement is a breastfeeding mother.”
Anderson was happy to report that since the failed event, others have joined the Alexandria group and are already fundraising for an event next year.
“I worry about people who are already criticized for breastfeeding in public,” Anderson said, reflecting on her own traumatic experience. “Personally, I sometimes like having a cover, but if I don’t have one I shouldn’t be scrutinized for it.”
THE PUBLIC VIEW
Legally, breastfeeding is protected by Minnesota State Law, as well as state laws in 48 other states.
According to Minnesota legislature, a “mother may breastfeed in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”
The state legislature also protects breastfeeding from being considered nudity or indecent exposure.
When Echo Press readers were asked on Facebook to share their opinions on breastfeeding in public, many mothers and other community members poured out their support for public breastfeeding and their outrage for those who ridicule mothers like Anderson.
“It’s a human right to have access to food while hungry,” commented Miranda Lavender. “A baby is no different. Everyone is worried about the mother’s breast in the situation, but did anyone consider the baby?”
“Mothers need support and so do children,” added Facebook user Amanda Dahmes. “They should be able to be comfortable and free to eat however that may be in our community without being bashed or ridiculed or put down or made to feel uncomfortable.”
“That’s the real problem,” Anderson said. “It’s people’s views, not the law.”
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
To join the Free the Nipple movement, visit http://on.fb.me/1JO0wo6
Donations to the group can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/bk32ybrc
For more commentary from readers, refer to the Your Turn column here.