So, in the public gallery of a courtroom, a woman
breast-feeds her baby.
For the baby, as for most human beings, being fed by her
mother will be among her earliest experiences of bonding and
love. The judge cannot stand the sight of this and the woman
leaves the courtroom. A media storm gathers; not that the
woman has complained, since she found the incident
The ODT asks some commentators about the matter: the Justice
Minister is unequivocally relaxed about breast-feeding in
public, saying she has "little patience for anyone who is
offended by a woman breast-feeding"; the Human Rights
Commission is likewise sympathetic.
Then the president of the New Zealand Law Society is asked
for comment by the New Zealand Herald. His name is Jonathan
Temm and he comes out with a courtroom fantasy.
He says: "Imagine if the public gallery were full of members
of the Mongrel Mob and say, other people from criminal gangs,
and you have a woman who breast-feeds.
"It just becomes a catalyst and people can become quite angry
about it. Other women can get angry about it. You don't need
more tension in the courtroom; you've already got enough."
Mr Temm's imagined scene requires us to graft middle-class
anxieties about decorum on to the Mob, which seems unfair.
Prejudiced, even. I can't remember a single court report in
which a woman in the public gallery was either intimidated or
humiliated for breast-feeding by gang members (or for that
matter, other women). The only report I've read like that was
the one in which the judge did the humiliating.
But OK, suppose a breast-feeding woman potentially faces some
sort of antagonism, from someone, in a courtroom. Mr Temm
seems to be suggesting the aggressor should be sheltered from
the scary scene of vulnerability and tenderness.
Er, isn't protecting the vulnerable from scenes of aggression
one of the purposes of criminal law proceedings? Isn't the
justice system in general pretending to represent a society
that both shelters, and nurtures to strength its vulnerable
ones, and that never compromises in doing so?
Isn't a woman publicly breast-feeding, and having her dignity
and safety assured in carrying out that act of responsible
care, a personification of those values?
Courtrooms are sometimes decorated with a statue of a woman.
Her name is Lady Justice, or Justitia, the Roman goddess of
justice. She holds a set of scales representing the weighing
of arguments, and a sword, representing the power of the
court to dish out punishment.
Maybe every court should be adorned instead with a statue of
a proud breast-feeding woman. She represents healthy human
relationships, responsible care for the vulnerable, and an
affirmation of our most basic shared humanity. Her gentleness
reminds us to be gentle.
Then every person entering the court, Mob members and cranky
judges alike, could not avoid seeing her.