Is there a way to make being publicly shamed for breastfeeding your kid even more insulting than it already is? Of course there is! Just ask Aidan Johnson, an Ohio mom who was told by fitness center staff that she had to cover up or leave. She says staff then insinuated that she was playing the victim when her family spoke up about the incident.
The Dublin, Ohio, mom was at an onsite café in a fitness club called Premier for a meeting when her son got hungry, something babies are sometimes known to do. Johnson went ahead and nursed her 8-month-old baby, only to have a staff member approach and ask her over and over again if they could accommodate her by moving her somewhere more private. Johnson declined.
It's not hard to see why. Fumbling with all your stuff plus a baby who is perfectly content where he is to trek up the stairs and across the building to an empty room hardly sounds "accommodating." But it gets weirder from there, according to Johnson, who shared her experience in a lengthy Facebook post.
Apparently after an upset Johnson cut her losses and left the gym, she talked to her husband, who thought the entire thing was out of order. So he went to go talk to the gym and give them a quick primer in Ohio law, which — along with nearly every other state — protects a woman's right to breastfeed wherever she's allowed to be.
He had the misfortune of speaking to the gym's general manager who informed the angry dad that the Johnsons were merely playing "victims" and insisted they find another gym if she couldn't cover up. He also claimed that he himself saw Johnson breastfeeding and fielded complaints before sending the female staff member down to make her disappear.
According to the gym's Yelp page, which is already getting angry reviews from breastfeeding advocates, Aidan Johnson definitely isn't the first gym member to get on the manager's bad side. He's described in previous reviews as being "rude" and a "jerk" who regularly shouts down customer complaints. Other patrons describe encounters with the manager where he's done everything from monopolize reserved courts to berating members by calling them "a**holes" or "sick old [men]." It kind of casts doubt on the guy's claim that he was just responding to customer complaints and starts to look more like a personal problem.
Pair that with the training manager James Buffington's comments to local news outlet WCMH-TV Columbus, and you've got something that's truly incongruent. The trainer said he unequivocally supports breastfeeding, saying, "I would not work here if I thought this was the way we handled business."
That's actually a pretty telling statement that goes to the root of what so many of the companies who make headlines for being nasty to breastfeeding mothers have in common — a failure to educate staff about what to do when they see a woman breastfeeding.
Anyone who's ever worked in a customer service-oriented line of work knows there's information in the employee handbook for everything from marrying ketchups to folding perfect T-shirts and defusing tense customer complaints. Employees train on how to accommodate everyone from toddlers to tantrum-throwing adults. They learn which laws say what about reasonable accommodation for guests in wheelchairs or with service animals and what the dining room capacity is, all in the name of staying on the correct side of the law and human decency.
Still, you will rarely find a bullet point that describes how to properly mind your own business when a woman wants to breastfeed at her table or next to the sale rack or in the dressing room.
Breastfeeding laws say that if a woman is authorized to be somewhere — yes, even at a fitness center she pays dues to attend — she's allowed to breastfeed. Full stop. Not "with a cover," not "on the toilet" and not "at another gym instead." There. Where she is. Staff opinions on breastfeeding modesty are entirely inconsequential.
That the senior-most member of this particular business either didn't know that or didn't care is more than a little disheartening. If something good can come out of these tiresome stories of public breastfeeding debacles, let it at least be that they shine some light on how easily businesses could avoid this kind of incident in the future — and then urge them to take the necessary steps to do so.
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