In May of 2014, a Chicago business woman by the name of Kristen Osborne made headlines as the mom who got booted from an expo for having her ten day old infant in tow. The story struck up a dialogue about our nation’s inadequate attitudes regarding postpartum parents and breastfeeding. It wasn’t a very fruitful or progressive dialogue at all, apparently.
A little over two years later, we’re still seeing the prevailing attitude in society that some spaces ought to be “child free”. That children be excluded, and by extension, the woman nourishing them. This cultural ideology extends to airlines, restaurants, expo centers and movie theaters. And, while there are some sturdy arguments to be made for “time and place”, usually, the premises all rest on little more than either ageism or sexism or both. We see this most in cases like Osborne’s. And this weekend, we saw it again — ironically, during the opening night of the $23 million dollar box office hit “Bad Moms”.
“People with kids are notorious for saying they don’t have time to go to the movies. That raises a question regarding the target demo for “Bad Moms.” It’s a comedy about, and for, the current generation of overstressed, overworked, overly perfectionistic — and, as often as not, under-appreciated — mothers. But will they have the time and inclination to get away and see it? Let’s hope so, because the laughter this movie offers could provide cathartic medicine for the middle-class mom blues.” ~ Owen Gleiber, Vanity Fair
That’s exactly what 50 women from Southwest Florida decided to do.
But when they arrived at the theater two in the group were denied entry because they had their infants with them. Management at Regal Cinemas cited their newly implemented ratings policy for those under the age of six. With their advance purchase tickets torn, Brooklyn Cahill and Juliana Valverde were directed to a G-rated movie. The women opted to go into the movie they had purchased tickets to see instead. They were removed from the theater and a refund of over $500 was given after the majority of their group decided to leave with them.
And the rating of the movie, contrary to what you might believe, is not even relevant.
This specific film was rated R based on sexual content, language, drugs and full frontal nudity. The two children denied entrance into the movie were 4 weeks and 7 months in age. First, memory centers of the brain at this stage are far more focused on implicit memory than declarative memory — which means a child’s first words are not going to be “Fuck You” because profanity was in a movie. These infants were also breastfed. I’ll let you take a moment to absorb the ridiculous notion that somehow full frontal nudity would be a problem for them.
Regardless, ratings are little more than inconsistent subjective guides based on what the MPAA thinks most parents will mind. (This is why “R” ratings typically allow for entry of children with adult supervision). But Regal’s additional policy didn’t have parents in mind at all. By their own admission, they put the policy in place not due to ratings but to improve customer satisfaction and limit disruption — by excluding children. And that would be a fine point, if adolescents and adults never interrupted the movie going experience. It would also help if Regal didn’t have a history of dropping the ball on evaluating exactly what should constitute a distraction.
Nevertheless, that 23.4 million is shy some change because this cinema decided to forfeit revenue just to adhere to a policy that is arbitrary at best.
A lot of commentary since the story broke centers around entitled mothers wanting a bunch of exceptions to the rules. In fact, the News-Press reported the women themselves hoped their purchasing power would make a difference. It didn’t.
Because sometimes rules ought to be broken. Sometimes, exceptions should be made. Sometimes, mandates make little sense in context and so we figure out a way to evaluate. Or, you end up enforcing a policy that leads to a larger disruption in your venue than any suckling baby could make.
And, while plenty of key board warriors would like to use the opportunity to slam the women for their very vocal protest, some of us would like to commend them.
More than 35 from the initial group walked out of that theater, in solidarity for their friends and postpartum women who face these cultural double standards regularly in our nation. Double standards that with one hand targets the demographic for dollars while the other hand road blocks them from entrance. For nursing families specifically, child free spaces skirt the line of discrimination and force women out of the public. The fourth trimester can quickly become the most isolating experience a mother can have.
No, it’s not as easy as pump and get a sitter. That’s just not how lactation works for all women. And it’s not as simplistic as suggesting women just have to sacrifice when they have children. This is a nuanced discussion about our warped idea that children aren’t actual members of society and our sexist views that women have no real agency over their bodies. A woman who chooses to use her reproductive system to nurse a child ought to be able to do that without arbitrary restrictions that inhibit her freedom to move through the world. And if a woman is nursing exclusively, yes, that means that infant is quite literally, most often times, latched to her person. Prohibiting her child is prohibiting her.
And no, it’s not reasonable to tell two grown adults who paid full price admission for the movie they picked that they ought to just go watch a cartoon targeted to toddlers — just because they have infants with them.
Is it a big deal to get denied entry into a movie? No. Going to the movies is a privileged experience in and of itself. But it’s a big enough deal in context.
As one woman who was there said it best:
“Many people have said that it is not the end of the world that these moms didn’t get to see a movie. I agree with them, there are huge scary things happening in the world right now and not being able to see a movie is not the worst thing in the world. However, if we don’t put our heels in the ground and fight for little things like this, our world is just going to get smaller and smaller till the only reasonable place for a breast-feeding mother to be is at home on her couch. I refuse to accept that. You’re a person, mama. You deserve your place in this world just like everyone else. You matter..” ~ Llia Dee
It is incidents like this and like Osborne’s just a couple years ago that should spark better discussion about our view of family and postpartum parenting and the reproductive rights women ought to be able to exercise in providing their own milk to their children. It is time we actually start being consistent in our narrative of family and show solidarity when parents with infants are outcast. We can be a society that does that.
And if you doubt we can, look no further than thirty five women who got up from their seats and pitched their popcorn to walk out of a cinema demanding a refund when two were being told there wasn’t a place for them.
Not such bad moms after all.
Not mentioned in the above piece, but necessary to note specifically:
Juliana Valverde has stated that the manager of this cinema told her to cover her breast while she stood in the lobby, after the venue had issued their refund. It is not only an ignorant and sexist request, it is counter to the Florida statute on breastfeeding. Under no circumstances should any business direct a nursing family to cover up. If you have been harassed or discriminated for nursing in public, please call the Nursing In Public Hotline: 855-NIP FREE
This piece a first in a series coinciding with World Breastfeeding Week 2016. This year’s theme centers on how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our well-being from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share.
This piece published on Medium.