Eau Claire City Council vote sparks feminist outcry

Public breast-feeding fuels controversial council decision

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020


Controversy over city council’s band of children from the dais raises red flags for progressive community members.

In my two short months at UW-Eau Claire, my eyes have been opened to so many things.

Maybe it’s been the ongoings of everyday campus life, my women’s studies class or my time spent writing for The Spectator — a predominantly female-run newspaper — but I can now say for certain that I’m getting really tired of the sexism women have to put up with.

Two weeks ago, the Eau Claire City Council passed a vote to ban children from the dais. This was not a decision made for the sake of the children or for the sake of progress; no, this was a decision made after four council members complained about Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle breast-feeding her infant son during a meeting.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Council President Kerry Kincaid supported the vote in an effort to “maintain meeting decorum” based on “how meetings have been run over the last 100 years.”

I have a few issues with this.

First of all, Kincaid is a mother. This took me by surprise. To be honest, I was definitely picturing an old white guy in heavy black robes until another article referred to Kincaid as “she.” I guess classic white male privilege isn’t always to blame.

Back to my point, though: Kincaid should understand the struggles faced by women who need to breast-feed while in public. It’s just something that has to be done sometimes, especially if it means balancing motherhood with workplace responsibilities.

Second of all, I understand tradition plays a huge role in societal customs, but if we as a nation never made changes to regressive practices, we wouldn’t have legalized gay marriage or desegregated bathrooms. Of course, this situation isn’t as extreme, but change is a positive thing, even in the smallest of settings.

Why is public breast-feeding such an issue for so many people? Because a woman’s breast is out? It’s serving a purpose: Feeding a baby. Maybe it wouldn’t make people so “uncomfortable” if society would start thinking of breasts as sources of nutrition, rather than sexual objects that exist purely for the pleasure of men.

Kincaid and the other council members maintain the stance that the ban on children has nothing to do with breast-feeding; the decision is based purely off of century-old standards of decorum. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, then, that this decision came after the complaints about Emmanuelle.

According to a previous Spectator article, news of the council’s vote has stirred up quite the outcry among Eau Claire residents. Some community members are embarrassed by the sexist decision made by the city council. Some female Eau Claire residents have even reported feeling discouraged from ever attempting to run for office themselves.

This ban does send quite the message, doesn’t it? It tells women even in positions of power, their bodies are never really theirs to control. Even in positions that demand respect, their personal choices will never cease to be ridiculed and criticised. How can women feel empowered when they live under the near-constant threat of being picked apart — sometimes by other powerful women?

It’s a shame we are living in the 21st century, a time of great progress and tolerance, and yet we are still dealing with such outrageous social issues. This is not an issue of decorum or propriety; this is an issue regarding the oversexualization of a natural process and the sexist idea that a woman’s breast is “dirty” or inappropriate.

If you agree, support Catherine Emmanuelle and her fight to breast-feed in public domains like the city council dais. If you disagree, I have a simple solution for you: Don’t look at it.