Mom Breastfeeding in Court Told to 'Cover Up' by Judge Who Should Know Better

gavelStories about moms being told to "cover up" while breastfeeding in public are unfortunately nothing new. But a recent story out of North Carolina is particularly upsetting, because the breastfeeding mom in question was shamed in a courtroom by a judge -- as in, someone who should have been well aware that North Carolina law permits women to breastfeed anytime, anywhere, without covering up.

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Stephanie Rhodus was in court on Monday waiting to be called to the stand to testify in a custody trial for her 8-year-old son when her younger son, 8-month-old Archer, started to get fussy. As any mom knows, oftentimes the only way to calm down a cranky infant is by nursing him -- immediately -- so, Rhodus did just that. 

She was still nursing him when judge Peter Knight called her to the stand (awkward!), but everything seemed okay at first. Then, Knight apparently got fed up with the situation, saying, "Ma'am, you need to cover up. For you not to realize that is absolutely ridiculous. Step outside, and cover up right now. Stand up, and go, now."

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What a nice, tolerant guy! He also added that for Rhodus to be nursing in a courtroom was "absolutely inappropriate." Ah, but as Knight undoubtedly must know, nursing in a North Carolina courtroom also happens to be absolutely legal. Rhodus knew this too, as she had nursed Archer in a courtroom presided over by a female judge last week, but she was so intimidated by what she called Knight's "condescending" and "aggressive" manner that she stopped breastfeeding and attempted to carry on with the hearing.

Unfortunately, Archer was upset from that point on (naturally!), and the judge ultimately ruled against Rhodus, issuing a six-month protective order that bars her from seeing her 8-year-old son (the boy's grandmother currently has custody).

Rhodus is pretty sure that the judge's feelings about her breastfeeding had something to do with the verdict, and she told the Washington Post that the incident definitely made it difficult for her to argue her case effectively.

"It caught me completely off guard. I couldn't think straight to present my case properly," she said. "It was just -- I was in shock."

Who could blame her? There she was, trying to be a good mother to her baby -- and prove to a judge that she could be a good mother to her 8-year-old -- and she was essentially prevented from doing both. Knight called the act of breastfeeding in a courtroom "ridiculous," but what's truly ridiculous is the fact that a grown man in a position of authority would react to a perfectly natural and important biological function with disgust. And during a custody hearing, no less!

The fact that breastfeeding isn't 100 percent normalized at this point is one of the most powerful indicators of ongoing misogyny in our society, and it's pretty scary that these attitudes can still be found in our courtrooms. 

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For his part, Knight issued the following statement:

We as a court routinely accommodate women who are nursing, including while they are waiting for a case to be called in the courtroom. However, when a case is called and a party is participating in a formal hearing before the court, all litigants are expected to respect the same rules of procedure, decorum and dress. That was the case here. If breastfeeding accommodations were needed, those certainly would have been made.

Pretty far from an apology, which is the statement Knight should be issuing right now -- directly to Stephanie Rhodus. Here's hoping that at the mom's next court date, she'll be treated with the respect she deserves.

 

Image via Joe Gratz/Flickr

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