I felt pretty betrayed at the end of “Real Time with Bill Maher” last weekend. Being one of those people who has actually done things like written to Sinclair Broadcasting in protest of their censorship practices (they were the galvanizing force that got his network show cancelled a few years back), I’ve always found his understanding of gender politics awfully limited, but I was glad he was out there, shaking the trees for free speech.
But his “New Rules” chastising breastfeeding moms that held a “nurse-in” at Applebees restaurants across the country, just came across as petty, unfair, and a clear case of the “look-at-me-ism” he absurdly accused these women of. I know journalists like this – people who go off the rails on a topic that they know will stir things up because they just aren’t getting enough hate mail lately, and hate mail is something that they’ve come to rely on to validate their celebrity. If it wasn’t deliberately disingenuous, then it was certainly horribly, horribly researched.
First, there were some facts that he just got wrong. He said that the Applebees nurse-in was the “world’s first,” when, in fact, these kinds of formal protests have been going on for some time. Wasn’t it only last year when a bunch of moms held one outside the studio where they tape “The View”? There have also been protests of Delta airlines, Starbucks, even hospitals. The purpose of these protests certainly isn’t vanity – it is the raising of awareness of a public health issue.
Maher is one of the only pundits out there who routinely addresses environmental problems created by our food supply, the toxic nature of additives like high fructose corn syrup and the nationwide health problem of obesity. So it’s baffling to me that he knocks the promotion of a health choice that is well known to reduce the risk of childhood obesity and a variety of illnesses, has health benefits for women, is completely ecologically sound and could have far-reaching economic benefits if it were promoted more effectively (over infant formula, which is often the product of behemoth drug companies).
The events are also an opportunity to re-acquaint business owners and the general public about the breastfeeding laws in our country, many of which protect a woman’s right to feed her child anywhere she deems necessary. In other words, companies should thank “lactivists” because they typically get so much media attention, they make managers revisit laws and policy, hopefully to the point where they make sure everyone who works for them realizes that it’s illegal for us to them to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave even if they are offended by a naked breast.
Lastly, his suggestion that women just “cover up” is basically moronic, and only forgivable in that he has clearly spent no time around infants. Hello Bill – babies have arms and hands, and it doesn’t take long before they begin to figure out that they can be used to pull blankets and things off of their faces. They also don’t have the cognitive ability to understand things like “but the people around you will be uncomfortable if you do that here” or “you’ll have to eat later.” Incidentally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with any number of national health agencies, recommend that mothers breastfeed for a year. The World Health Organization recommends two years. So yes, in a healthier world, babies would have teeth and the ability to say words before being weaned, and after the first 2-3 months, a blanket on the head is not going to stay there long.
At any rate, I certainly don’t have any problem watching and listening to a person I disagree with. I’ve watched Bill Maher for years (since his days on Comedy Central) and liked and disliked lots of the things he had to say. But in this case, his ignorance was personally insulting. If he doesn’t do any mea culpa on this, I definitely won’t watch him again for a while, if at all.
Add this to what I read about Facebook and MySpace at IzzyMom today (namely that breastfeeding images have been removed as “obscene” even as hundreds of pro-anorexia groups are free to give women directions about how to starve themselves), and I’d say it’s been a pretty depressing news week for chicks.