You’d think that by now most people understand that breastfeeding a child is a normal, decent act that all moms have the right to do — with or without a cover, and in any location they are legally allowed to be. But the sad truth is that there are still some people who haven’t gotten the memo. And unfortunately as a result, breastfeeding moms sometimes experience harassment.
Sarah Olson knows this reality all too well. A Washington state resident and mom to a sweet 5-month-old girl, Olson had been proudly breastfeeding her daughter anywhere and everywhere for months. In fact, she’s been happily doing so at the very Subway restaurant (housed inside a Walmart) where she ended up being harassed for breastfeeding last week.
“I’ve been feeding my daughter in the same place for FIVE MONTHS now, with the same manager working there, with no problem,” Olson tells Babble. “We’ve actually gotten along well; he makes my boyfriend food that isn’t even on the menu.”
But for some reason, last Friday, things were different. That same manager began harassing Olson while she was nursing her daughter. First, he started giving her dirty looks. Then, when Olson went to the bathroom, she claims the manager told her boyfriend that she should “cover the tit” while breastfeeding.
If you think that kind of language was uncalled for and disgusting, Olson says it only got worse from there.
Later that same day, Olson went back to Subway to get her boyfriend some lunch and feed her daughter. Olson claims that the same Subway manager came up to her and began berating her with commands and insults, telling her she must cover up or go to the back of the store.
“I told him he cannot ask me that because it is against my civil rights, and against the law, and also his policy,” Olson tells Babble. “He proceeded to loudly tell me if it’s my legal right to ‘expose’ myself, then he can just ‘whip his penis out and piss everywhere.’”
Yup. According to Olson, he really said that. Excuse me while I pick my freaking jaw off the floor.
Rightfully infuriated, Olson tells Babble that she immediately went to speak to the Walmart manager, who was not able to offer Olson any consolation. In fact, as Olson explains, he only made the matter worse:
“The Walmart manager was very mean to me, telling me I am a nuisance, and me feeding her ‘continues to be an issue,’ and that if I’m going to continue to ‘do that thing,’ I need to be discreet about it. I read him the laws, and he still refused to listen to me and told me to just make a report.”
At one point during the altercation, she asked her sister who was with her to record what was happening on her phone. This video was posted on Olson’s Facebook page as well, as part of a news story about the incident that aired on KIRO 7, Olson’s local news station.
“Where I am welcome, breastfeeding is welcome. That is state law,” Olson is heard proudly saying in the video.
“Understood, but if you are going to be a distraction or nuisance to people that work here, that’s going to be an issue,” the Walmart manager responds.
Olson continues to defend her right to breastfeed openly, saying, “That’s not my problem; they can turn their heads like this.”
But the manager continues to ignore Olson’s arguments, responding with: “Or we can ask you to leave.”
Olson said the whole incident with the Walmart manager was awful and left her in tears. “It was a horrid mess. I cried for hours. All I wanted to do was feed my kid, and do some shopping, and I got absolutely humiliated.”
Still, none of that stopped Olson from continuing to fight. She decided that if the manager of the store couldn’t help her, she would contact the local news because she felt that it was important for her story to be heard.
“I wanted people to know this is the LAW, this is our right, and this is NATURAL,” Olson tells Babble. “I really didn’t want to be on TV, but I felt I had to because I don’t want any other mom to feel as horrible as I did. Nobody should.”
Can we give this mom a standing ovation? Going public with something like this takes guts, but she’s taking a stand for any breastfeeding mom who’s been harassed this way.
Thankfully, despite some negative comments Olson’s been getting on the news station’s article, going to her local news actually seems to have helped. KIRO 7 shared that although Walmart couldn’t comment on the specific situation, they assured the station that they were looking into the matter.
But the best response Olson has gotten was from Subway. Olson claims that the owner of that particular franchise called her personally to apologize for what happened, promising to educate the store manager about the rights of breastfeeding mothers in his store. He also told her he’d given the manager a strict warning.
“He can either sign a paper stating he knows what he did was illegal and against policy, or he can be fired,” the Subway owner told Olson, according to her Facebook post about their conversation.
Coincidentally, I was also harassed for breastfeeding over 10 years ago in a Subway restaurant. Although I did end up contacting the owner of the Subway (and getting a pretty awesome apology), I was terrified to go more public with it than that. But times have changed, and more moms are refusing to put up with this kind of treatment.
Kuddos to Olson for being one strong mama. I think what she is doing for breastfeeding moms in her local area and beyond makes her a true hero.