Continuing (belatedly) the series in which I answer the ten questions posted at Blue Milk concerning what a feminist mother looks like. Today is Part 3. You can see Part 1here and Part 2here. Since Blue Milk’s post went up in 2007 and I have answered the questions over two years, my answers may be a bit skewed. See something inconsistent or that make you go “huh??,” ask me about it. This is always on my mind.
9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?
This has forced me to do more difficult intellectual work concerning theories of difference. I hope I would have come to this place anyway but exclusive and extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing mean that my relationship with my children is different from their father’s who can not breastfeed and with whom they wish to do less of all of these other things. The acts of attachment parenting have made me look at what equality means and redefine it in a more nuanced way. “Equal” does not mean “exactly the same.” One can not measure the work of two parents as one might flour on a scale. If the other parent of my children were also female and were also breastfeeding, perhaps coming to equity would be a simpler task.
Also, Second Wave Feminism assumes my equality depends on my ability to earn the same wage as men. It does not value parenting as it does waged labor. I don’t think this devaluing of unwaged work is feminist. It is capitalist and feminism does not need to be capitalist. True equality and true feminism values my unwaged parenting as it would my waged lawyering.
10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given
Feminism has given mothers more than I could possibly list. It has given mothers the legal right totheir children. Prior to feminism, under common law men owned children and had the right to dictate what happened to them. “Father’s Rights Movement” rhetoric aside, they don’t have a clue how good they had it. Feminism gave mothers the vote. Feminism gave mother legal recourse if they are raped by their husbands. Feminism gave mothers greater ability to force the fathers of their children to provide financial support even if the mother is not married to the father.
Only three U.S. states have no public breastfeeding law – West Virginia, Idaho and Nebraska. Unfortunately the majority of state public breastfeeding laws don’t do a particularly good job of stopping harassment of women who breastfeed in public (this is where I tell you again to go read my feature in Mothering magazine called Lactation and the Law, remind you that “a right without a remedy is no right at all,” and tell you I have an update feature on U.S. breastfeeding law coming out in Mothering in probably the May/June issue).
Section 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast-feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be.
Introduced by State Senator Annette Dubas, it does not appear this bill, if passed, would confer any right, enforceable or otherwise. As written, this is a permission law. Women may breastfeeding in public and, it seems, other people may interfere with her ability to do that by telling her to leave or cover up. And it doesn’t appear there is anything the nursing woman would be able to do about it.
Since breastfeeding in public is not currently illegal in Nebraska, one must wonder why women need permission. They don’t. They need protection. And this bill doesn’t give protection.
Senator Dubas may not understand this is how public breastfeeding laws work. And it may be helpful if Nebraskans tell her what kind of public breastfeeding law Nebraska really needs.
Are you a Nebraskan? Have you nursed in public? Can you contact Senator Dubas, the bill’s co-sponsors and your own state senator and let them know Nebraska needs a public breastfeeding law that will really protect a right to breastfeed in public?
West Virginia is one of only three U.S. states (along with Nebraska and Idaho) that has no law whatsoever protecting breastfeeding. So I was glad to read that this month not one but two bills were introduced in the West Virginia Senate concerning breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, one of the bills could result in a law that helps breastfeeding mothers and the other … well, not so much.
Senate Bill Number 82, a public breastfeeding bill, needs some work. The bill has a “note” attached to it that is not actually part of the law. It states:
The purpose of this bill is to declare a child’s right to nurse and making a statement by the Legislature that nursing in a public place is socially acceptable.
I know this looks good (other than the awkward wording and visceral response I have to a statement that nursing in public is “socially acceptable” – just makes me want to scream “I don’t give a damn if it is socially acceptable!”). Breastfeeding advocates love the idea of a child having a right to nurse. I love it too but it is problematic. Why? Because adults have protected civil rights in the U.S. and children, generally speaking, do not. So the U.S. legal system as it is renders the note empty.
But remember, this is not actually part of what the law would say if it passes. What the law would say is:
ARTICLE 1. STATE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM.
§16-1-19. Child’s right to nurse; location where permitted; right protected.
(a) The Legislature finds that breast feeding is an important, basic act of nurturing that is protected in the interests of maternal and child health.
(b) A mother may breast feed a child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be.
Again, looks good right? But if you have read my other writing on the practical impact of public breastfeeding law, you will know what is wrong with this bill. If a store owner tells a woman she must leave because he doesn’t allow breastfeeding in his store or says only women who cover up can breastfeed, what can the mother legally do? Nothing. This bill contains no mechanism to enforce any “right,” either of a child or of the mother. And, repeat after me, “a right without a remedy is no right at all.”
So what can you do if you are in West Virginia? Have a look at this interview with state Senator Dan Foster, one of the sponsors of both of these bills. He gets it. He understands the importance of breastfeeding, both the health benefits and the economic benefits to the state.
According to this report, Foster anticipates having more difficulty getting the public breastfeeding bill passed than the bill disqualifying breastfeeding women from jury duty. The news report also erroneously states that women would be given a choice of pump accommodations on jury duty. That is actually not in the bill and should be.
So if you are in West Virginia, contact state Senator Dan Foster and tell him what you think of these bills. Let him know similar public breastfeeding laws in other states leave women unprotected because they have no enforcement mechanism. If he says he doesn’t think he can get such a bill passed, pledge your support for a strong law protecting a civil right to breastfeed in public. Tell him you are willing to make phone calls to other state Senators and help him get a strong bill passed.
I got a fundraising e-mail from Amnesty International the other day. It was from a celebrity, as so many non-profit fundraising e-mails are. But this one really made me stop and look. It was from actor Patrick Stewart and it was about supporting Amnesty International’s campaign concerning violence against women. He wrote:
I know too much about violence against women – as a child I watched in terror as my mother was abused by an angry and unhappy man who could not control his emotions, nor his hands.
Amnesty was instrumental in the passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 – signed into law by President Obama in July. This law begins to reverse the alarming rate of sexual violence against Native American and Alaska Native women. Survivors of sexual assault finally stand a real chance of getting a police response, a rape kit and the opportunity to see their case prosecuted.
Amnesty is also a driving force behind the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which aims to revolutionize the way U.S. foreign policy confronts abuses like domestic violence, rape, honor killings and human trafficking worldwide. If passed, IVAWA will support measures to prevent violence, protect survivors and bring perpetrators to justice.
I knew this about Amnesty International but I didn’t know this about Patrick Stewart. So I did some research and came across this powerful video.
As someone who grew up in a home much like Stewart’s, a good bit of this resonates with me. The first time I dialed 911, I was ten years old. I watched in fury as one police officer after another refused to arrest my step-father. He was walked around the block. He was believed when he said my mother open wounds were the result of a fall. Not only was my step-father never sanctioned in any way for beating my mother, no police officer ever called an ambulance or offered to help her get medical care. As a ten, eleven, twelve year old, it was my job to mop up the blood. And there was a lot of blood. Night after night.
The neighbors knew, of course, but no one helped. I was never even offered a safe place to stay for the night as we waiting in fear for my step-father to bang on the door.
As an adult, when I was Litigation Coordinator at the Women Against Abuse Legal Center in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, I found that not much had changed since I argued with New York City police officers in the 1970s. My clients were accused of provoking the men who broke their arms. My clients lost their children to protective services because there was violence in the home but I could not get protective orders enforced that would keep abusers out of the home. And one day I got a call from a priest who ran an in-patient drug rehab program. He wanted to talk to me about a man in his facility. The man was distraught to discover his wife had filed for a protective order against him. The priest told me he thought the man was a good man. That he wasn’t dangerous. That I should help him resolve this without going to court. He put the man on the phone weeping bitterly about losing his family and never having hit her. I told them when the next court date was and that he could make his arguments there. The priest thought me heartless.
Indeed I did make a huge mistake that day. A fatal mistake. I did not confirm whether the man was free to leave the facility if he wanted. If I had known, I would have called the client immediately to report the conversation. I would have, and should have, warned her. But I didn’t. And within a few hours of that phone call, the man left rehab, went home, and stabbed his wife twelve times in front of their two toddlers. I will live forever knowing that maybe, just maybe, I could have saved her life.
The violence I and Patrick Stewart saw as a child, and that I saw as a lawyer, continues today. The law has changed significantly in most places in the U.S. but enforcement is still woefully inadequate. Women who defend themselves end up going to prison while their abusers are still walked around the block.
Q. In any earlier interview you said you hadn’t received an apology from the TSA but the TSA claims you accepted an apology from it. Did you receive an apology from the TSA?
A. In March of this year, TSA sent me a statement. It stated that they were responding to my report that on “numerous occasions [I was] urged to put the breast milk through the x-ray machine and [was] subjected to additional screening.” They stated that the “screening workforce [had] been briefed regarding this situation.” The letter also stated that it was their “understanding that…the issue has been resolved” and they “extend [their] sincere apologies to [me] for the discomfort and inconvenience [I] experienced during the screening process.” The letter concluded by stating that TSA “appreciate[d] that [I] took the time to share [my] concerns with [them].” Of course, the complaint that I sent over to TSA on 2/2/10 addressed many important issues this letter did not acknowledge at all including being retaliated against, harassed, humiliated, degraded, threatened with arrest, held in security for an hour, among other things. Frankly, I disregarded this letter from TSA in March as a standard form letter they would issue to any complaint and did not view it as an apology for what happened on 2/1/10.
Q. The TSA states in its blog response: “The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.” Is this true?
A. The following week (2/9/10), I was ‘shadowed’ by a TSA authority assigned to me by Phoenix Airport to see what I go through each week. As soon as I asked for an alternate screening, I was told to put the milk through the x-ray machine. The TSA authority had to immediately make herself known to the TSA agent and said to give me an alternate screening. It was clear that any briefing or training that had been done was futile. In the weeks following that, after speaking with a Phoenix TSA customer service manager, I traveled out of a completely different gate. I didn’t experience any more harassment or retaliation thereafter. After a few more weeks, I resumed travel out of my original gate mindful never to encounter the four or five agents I had dealt with on 2/1/10. If there was a choice between two lines, I would pick the one with agents that were not part of the incident. I resumed travel out of my original gate fearful that I would encounter the same agents as on 2/1/10. I literally would start sweating wondering who I would encounter and how I would be treated.
On 4/22/10, after one of the final trips I took with breast milk, I emailed the Phoenix TSA customer service manager. I wanted to make sure he knew that every week since 2/1/10, I had been instructed to place the milk through x-ray and had to ask again for an alternate screening…every single time. I brought this to his attention so he knew the agents still had no knowledge or, possibly, no regard for the breast milk screening rules. The response back to me was they were okay with that so long as, at some point, the agents remembered that my request [for alternate screening] was allowed.
Q. How do you think the TSA should have responded to your complaint and how did its response fall short?
A. My attorneys have advised this I do not address specifically how the TSA should have responded. It may jeopardize my current tort claim against them, especially if they try to limit my relief to what I put in this response. After we exhaust all administrative remedies, we will file a lawsuit in federal court that addresses exactly what should have been done by the TSA.
What do you think about how the TSA has responded to Stacey Armato? Is the TSA “apology” and a “refresher” to TSA staff enough?
We extend our sincere apologies to any passenger who may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience during the screening process.
So is this directed at Stacey Armato whose video is being discussed or just airline passengers generally? And if they are talking about Armato, are they saying she may have experienced discomfort and inconvenience? Are we really in doubt on this point?
Well, actually maybe not. The TSA Blog’s “Blogger Bob” also writes:
We acknowledge this particular passenger experienced an out of the ordinary delay, and have worked with our officers to ensure we proceed with expediency in screening situations similar to this.
So the TSA acknowledges something happened that should not have happened. And what do they tell us about what happened to the agents involved?
After the investigation, the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk (an infrequently requested procedure).
Really?? How about a refresher course on retaliation and false imprisonment?
There is something Blogger Bob writes that may raises some questions for those of you who have read my previous posts about Stacey Armato’s visit to the TSA plastic detention booth in Arizona here and here. And that is:
TSA investigated the matter and sent a letter of apology to the passenger in March of this year. The passenger has flown since these events occurred and has provided TSA a written confirmation that she no longer experiences issues.
Armato has said she did not receive an apology, that she continued to see the same crew at the same gate as she made her weekly flight back from Phoenix to L.A., and she is in the process of filing a lawsuit against the TSA for the damages she suffered on February 1st when she was detained. So what does she have to say about the TSA response to her video? Hang in there. Armato’s response will be posted here shortly.
Please feel free to leave a comment at The TSA Blog with your feelings about the TSA response to the video in which Armato is detained for asking her pumped breast milk go through “alternate” screening.
And leave a comment here with your thoughts. How do you feel about the TSA response posted on its blog?
Was a “refresher” enough? Should there have been a more severe sanction for the TSA staff? How do you feel about how the TSA is responding to the complaints of flyers?
Take note also that in The TSA Blog post about Armato, there is a link which we are encouraged to use to share our experiences with the TSA. I filed a formal complaint with the TSA on November 22nd after my teenage sons were separated from me without warning while going through a TSA security checkpoint at Logan Airport in Boston. Other than an acknowledgment that my complaint was received, I have received nothing from the TSA in response to my complaint.
So why is the TSA encouraging people to communicate with it if it does not respond meaningfully to complaints?
[UPDATE: Within seconds of publishing this post, I received an email from TSA customer service in Boston restating my complaint and apologizing for any “discomfort.” I have replied asking again some more specific questions concerning TSA policy on screening families traveling together. Another post coming on that point.]
According to Armato’s complaint filed with the TSA concerning what happened when she presented her pumped breast milk for screening at the Phoenix airport on February 1st:
All the same TSA parties were present from the week before surrounded [stet] me . I was demanding an explanation and wanted to speak with the manager but was refused. I was told to be quiet and do as I was told or I wasn’t going anywhere. I felt like a caged animal, stared at by multiple TSA agents and other travelers. After 15 or 20 minutes, my anger turned to tears. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt harassed, degraded, violated, falsely imprisoned, and retaliated against.
Finally, three Phoenix police department officers came. One … came in to tell me that I needed to calm down or TSA could have me arrested. He instructed me to go through alternate gates for security on my following trips because they seemed to have it out for me. He said these TSA agents saw me coming, remembered me from the week before, and wanted me to play along with their ‘horse and pony’ show or they would have me arrested.
Armato alleges as well:
The incident on February 1, 2010, was an obvious retaliation against me for lodging a complaint with the TSA the previous week. It is absolutely unforgiveable that these TSA agents would hold me like a caged animal in an apparent act to “teach me a lesson.” The TSA agents knowingly, and willfully, disregarded their own rules and regulations. I was placed in a glass enclosure, in full view of all the other passengers. I was continuously yelled at, talked down to, and threatened with arrest if I did not adhere to the TSA agents’ demands. The TSA agents, as well as the TSA itself as employers of these individuals, is liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, battery, assault, trespass to chattel, false imprisonment, and civil harassment, among other causes of action
While news agencies have reported receiving a statement from the TSA claiming that Armato accepted its apology concerning the incident, Armato maintains she has received no apology.
Amato’s story and the TSA video of her detention has gotten a great deal of press. Has the TSA’s treatment of Armato changed your plans for travel? How do you think you might behave if you were in Armato’s position?
Sustainable Mothering will continue to present the latest on this case, as well as other incidents involving the TSA that impact parents. Stay tuned.
After her negative experience the previous week, Armato had filed a complaint with the TSA. Now she was about to be screened by the same staff about whom she complained. But she could have no way of knowing what they had in store for her.
When Armato asked once again to have her breast milk (which she was bringing home to her 7 month old son) screened without an x-ray, she was held in custody by TSA for an hour. She was given no explanation. She never knew how long she would be held. As her flight left without her, she stood trapped in a plastic box weeping while her pumped milk – now out of its cooler – was played with by TSA staffed. Seriously, watch the TSA staffer in the foreground of the video below. She picks up, puts down and tosses about the containers of milk as if they are toys.
Below is a YouTube video made by Armato’s brother-in-law. The footage presented in this video was obtained by Armato through a Freedom of Information Act request and is the official recording made by the TSA. However, approximately 20 minutes of video – what happened after what you can see here – was destroyed by TSA as not relevant to her complaint.
If you would like to see all of the video Armato obtained without being sped up as it is below and without the graphic commentary, you can see it here, here, here, and here.
So let’s take a break right here and give Armato a hand. This mother returned to full-time work outside the home 13 weeks after her first son was born. Her son was fed exclusively with breast milk despite her work requiring she travel from Los Angeles to Phoenix once every week. She flew early morning and return in the afternoon, pumping approximately 12 ounces of breast milk during the day. It was this milk she was trying to bring home to her son.
Since this YouTube video went viral last week, many have asked whether she filed a complaint with the TSA about her treatment. The answer is “yes,” however to her knowledge nothing was done to discipline the TSA staff involved in this incident. Armato has taken this same flight many times since February and she has seen all of the TSA staff members at work. Armato has yet to find an attorney willing to represent her in a lawsuit against the TSA.
So what happened in the twenty odd minutes after this video ends? Armato was forced by TSA staff to divide her breast milk into more containers. Yeah, that’s right. Armato had 12 ounces of breast milk in four 3 ounce containers despite the fact TSA policy does not require breast milk be carried in 3 ounce containers. After being held in custody for an hour and a half, TSA staff forced her to sit on the floor and pour her breast milk into new containers so that each container held no more than 2 ounces.
Does any TSA policy or regulation require that breast milk be carried in 2 ounces batches? No. There is no explanation for what happened to Stacey Armato other than that she was targeted for harassment by vengeful TSA staffers against whom she had filed a complaint the previous week. And those staffers still work for the TSA. They not only got away with holding Armato hostage, they are free to do the same to you.
What are your thoughts about what happened to Stacey Armato? Have you been harassed while trying to carry breast milk through a TSA checkpoint? During this holiday weekend in the U.S., how are you treated by the TSA as you traveled with your children?