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Lauredhel is an Australian woman and mother with a disability. She blogs about disability and accessibility, social and reproductive justice, gender, freedom from violence, the uses and misuses of language, medical science, otters, gardening, and cooking.

This author has written 1618 posts for Hoyden About Town. Read more about Lauredhel »

69 responses to “Etiquette maven misfire: breastmilk is “seriously inappropriate””

  1. TimT

    Gosh, someone better not tell her what bodily fluids her yoghurt was made out of. Think of how inappropriate she’d find it!

    In other examples of stunningly bad advice of the etiquette-ish sort, Girlfriend Magazine recently advised against binge thinking.

  2. Deus Ex Macintosh

    “Pretend you’re less smart and the other girls might like you more” (thanks Mum…)

  3. tigtog

    This calls for a big steaming cup of Get The Fuck Over It.

    Bloody Oath, you’re not wrong. Anyone who can look at breast milk and have an “ewwwww” response is well beyond precious and deep into fainting couch territory.

  4. lilacsigil

    “Ew” is not an appropriate reaction, but “biohazard” might be. I wouldn’t want anyone’s bodily fluids stored with my food, thanks. The employer is silly to allow it.

  5. The Devil Drink

    Explain to her how you handled the situation for yourself, and why.

    I would recommend White Russians.

  6. tigtog

    Further to Lauredhel’s explanation of how breastmilk is not a biohazard, I’ll also add that I’ve never known a pumping mother who wasn’t absolutely punctilious about hygiene, for the benefit of their babies (after all, if one is going to the trouble of pumping, there’s no way one wants that fluid to be contaminated by any pathogens that might make one’s infant unwell). I guarantee that any bottle in a workplace fridge that is being used to store breastmilk is far and away the most hygienic container in that fridge by a mile.

  7. Ariane

    The worst etiquette advice I ever got was in our EEO/anti discrimination training. We were informed that nothing offensive can ever be seen or heard or read in the workplace. What’s offensive? Anything that anyone chooses to take offence about. No “reasonable person” clause.

    I mentioned the person who had complained about a colleague wearing short sleeved shirts in the office as offensive to him. I was told that if he found it offensive, employers were obliged to ensure he wasn’t exposed to it. it was hypothetical by that stage, the situation had occurred two jobs ago, but I definitely think the law needs a “Get the Fuck Over It” clause.

    I should add that I doubt all of this would stand up in court, but that is the legal advice we were given.

    Arianes last blog post..Are tie dye and politics compatible?

  8. katarina

    What’s the worst etiquette advice you’ve ever heard?

    a long, long time ago I read an old Readers Digests with an article about Ann Landers, a US agony aunt. It included an anguished letter from a guy whose problem was that French girlfriend didn’t shave her armpits.
    The columnist’s replied that the girlfriend in question had better wake up to herself and start shaving; that’s how it’s done in America.
    I was prepubescent at the time and I don’t think I ever heard of Ann Landers again, but I’ve never forgotten her ferocity with regard to (female) underarm hair in the US.

  9. The Devil Drink

    OK then to the question.

    What’s the worst etiquette advice you’ve ever heard?

    That would definitely be “nice girls don’t drink beer”. That’s a class insult, a category mistake, and a failure to recognise social fact all rolled into one.

  10. lilacsigil

    Thanks, Lauredhel. I have read through those links. My thoughts were based on the hazard of HIV-, HiB or HiC-positive women breastfeeding – those sites say that transmission does not occur through handling, so I stand corrected!

  11. outfox

    you’re uncomfortable about this, and you’re a breast-feeding veteran; imagine how childless colleagues, male and female, would feel.

    I’d feel patronized by the poor attempt to make herself sound empathetic to mothers and the childless, while stereotyping and insulting both.

    So, milk flagrancy is for bad mothers, who forget that something that “sacred” should be hidden in paper bags. Like the also sacred mail order pron and cheap wines.

    I’m now having an utterly ridiculous image of Ms Manners reaction to the gents who google for breastfeeding pron. Perhaps she’d recommend double bagging, to protect the milk’s modesty too.

    I honestly thought this was a parody at 1st.

  12. Francis Xavier Holden

    I wouldn’t be offended seeing breast milk in the fridge – as long as it wasn’t mixed up with the Rev.

    I think there’s a need for MORE Etiquette in the workplace not less.

    I’d ban excessively low pants showing crack (all genders), cleavage displays challenging gravity and men with more than one button undone from top on shirt. More than two bits of metal poking out from face, in-ear phones up so loud I can hear stsh stsh stsh stsh stsh.., displays of stomach and or lower back flesh. Not to mention “jokey “ties and socks and people who cycle to the coffice without subsequent shower.

  13. Sweet Machine

    I’d ban excessively low pants showing crack (all genders), cleavage displays challenging gravity and men with more than one button undone from top on shirt.

    One of these things is not like the other — for many women with large breasts, cleavage is a near inevitability.

  14. Karrigan

    Good point, Sweet Machine.

    Also, everyone knows Fainting Couch Land is where the Ladies Against Feminism live, trapped in their everlasting Victorian afternoon.

  15. Beppie

    for many women with large breasts, cleavage is a near inevitability.

    As too is the occasional bit of plumber’s crack– I always by my pants as high waisted as I can find, but I’ve yet to find a pair that don’t reveal something when I bend over, even when I wear a belt. It’s a fact of life.

    On the main topic of this post, I was really too flabbergasted to say much– how about showing some good manners towards breastfeeding women?

  16. kate

    On a practical note, what makes her think putting a bottle of milk in a brown paper bag is a good idea? Surely that would make it less stable on the fridge shelf and more likely to tip & leak on *gasp* the other food and drink?

    Also, the breastmilk is probably better for you than the Rev, so getting it mixed up would be a boon for you. It would obviously be highly inconvenient for the mother and infant though. Any lost expressed breastmilk made me tear up.

  17. amandaw

    As too is the occasional bit of plumber’s crack– I always by my pants as high waisted as I can find, but I’ve yet to find a pair that don’t reveal something when I bend over, even when I wear a belt. It’s a fact of life.

    YES. Thank you. I rarely ever see this recognized. Unless I wear my pants up to the bottom of my bewbs, I am going to show a little undies when I am sitting down or bending over. Unless, of course, I wear undies that don’t even cover the whole crack, in which case, WTF is the point?

    Ahem.

    My ex-boss always got on my coworker-friend for the cleavage. I told her multiple times — this as a member of the itsy bitsy teeny weeny committee — that when you are large, unless you wear nothing but turtlenecks, you are GOING to show some cleavage.

    And you know what I think? If this shit is inevitable, then damn it all, I’m going to have some fun with it!

    I happen to love tops that (un)cover a little extra real estate in the chest area, whether you’re wearing F cups or AA cups. On an aesthetic basis, it is simply lovely.

    Propriety be damned. It is tiring to hear these shameful standards being imposed on women entirely based on the male experience of wearing clothing. (For instance: when my hips are -significantly- wider than my waist, the higher the pants ride, the more of the “hula hoop” effect I get at the top, which is both uncomfortable and unattractive.)

    As far as breastmilk, you have to figure that the sort of woman who is pumping is also the sort of woman who is obsessed with healthfulness — after all, this is the sustenance she is feeding her child! — so I’m not terribly worried about catching the cooties simply having known that there is breastmilk in proximity.

    On that subject, there was a small refrigerator at my work (camera shop) for the control strips that we ran through the C-41 every morning. We would sometimes put our drinks in the side shelf to keep them cool.
    Aforementioned coworker-friend owns several rats and a snake as pets. One day her friend came in asking to keep a small package of “pinkies” in the fridge until C-F got there and was able to take them home with her. Pinkies, of course, are the small baby mice used to feed snakes.

    It took me a long time to feel comfortable putting my drink in that fridge again.

  18. BeccaTheCyborg

    I think it is a bit gross. Sorry, but it is, a least to me, and to every other person I’ve known, including parents. (It’s come up in the past.) Stranger’s bodily fluids, even if they are categorically safer and the Sacred Magical Stuff of Life, are still a squick to a lot of people. I’m not sure how a paper bag is somehow so terribly objectionable.

  19. Liam

    My packed bus this morning was given a glorious display of labourer’s crack. The bloke waited until the bus drove past, then smirked, bent down to do something with a crowbar at ground level, and we got the full view of at least ten centimetres of pale hairy reverse cleavage over worn tracksuit pants. I myself had the window not a metre away from the sight, and got to hear the comments of all of my fellow passengers.
    Standout:

    Jesus, I could park my bike in that and you’d only see the back wheel.

    I’ve got to hand it to him—he knew his audience. Anonymous exhibitionist arse-crack labourer, I salute you!

  20. Phil

    I’m struggling to work out why breast milk in a fridge is anymore of a problem than cow’s milk.

    As for a woman’s hairy armpit, as an old hippie I must confess they have always been a turn on for me. Shaved armpits are just so unnatural IMO.

  21. Office kitchen biohazards: in pictures at Hoyden About Town

    [...] [Inspired by the comments on Etiquette maven misfire: breastmilk is “seriously inappropriate”] [...]

  22. ms poinsettia

    The worst advice I ever read was in a sex advice column by ‘Ms Salisbury’ in the Sunday Herald. A new mum had discovered that while she was pregnant her husband had secretly been ringing sexlines and calling prostitutes and while she felt interested in sex again, she was no longer interested in sex with her husband. Ms Salisbury’s advice was for the woman to address her prudishness and, I quote, “discover her inner prostitute”.

    Writing that a few months after I read it, I’ve just discovered that it still makes my blood boil.

  23. hexy

    Hahaha… I just keep coming back to the bit where she was eating YOGHURT!

  24. BeccaTheCyborg

    Well, if someone was burping/farting/scratching themself in the lunchroom, I’d think that gross, and hope they’d not do that around the number of people who find that repulsive either. I hardly think expecting co-workers to be remotely polite about something most people find deeply unappealing (or alternately, very personal) is somehow oppression, and really just smacks of the whines of “You’re too PC, I can say _ if I want, it’s your problem!”

    Preferring basic bodily civility really isn’t that much of a demand.

  25. tigtog

    How does having a (clean) labelled bottle in the fridge, which one never even saw their co-worker placing there, remotely equate to burping and farting in front of people?

    This is even if one concedes your argument that simply burping and farting are major faux pas in any case.

  26. katarina

    Becca The Cyborg says: “I think it is a bit gross. Sorry, but it is…”

    It doesn’t smell, it doesn’t make a noise and it looks the same as cow’s milk. How can it possibly be “gross”?
    “Sorry, but…” is so passive aggressive. It’s a sure sign that a stupid remark is going to follow.

  27. Jodi

    The only way I see it clear to asking the lactating mom to cover the milk in a bag is if it is a requirement to cover all food in the fridge with bags.

    Srsly, there is nothing squicky about milk, no matter where it came from. The woman who’s complaining has some other agenda.

    I wish that woman could have worked in any number of healthcare areas I’ve worked in, where you just didn’t look too closely at what happened to be residing in the freezer. At least in my current job, there’s a separate fridge for frozen blood plasma/stool/urine samples…but it’s parked right next to the food fridge.

  28. Grouchiegrrl

    Does anyone think that anyone in the office except this person actually noticed? I suspect noone else in their office even noticed, let alone were offended. as for ‘what if a workmate drank it’ well if you are going to help yourself to other people’s stuff, without asking, then I think the balance of ‘rudeness’ is on the other side.

    Worst advice? I was ‘made over’ by friends as a teenager and was put in tight-tight pants, teased hair and lost of make-up, and the friend’s mother saw me and said ‘gosh you look good (srly???) now if you just stop talking, you might even get yourself a boyfriend! (me- yeah? and if I am not allowed to talk to him, what do you suggest I do with him, preytell? I am 14, so I KNOW you aren’t suggesting anything sexual….right?)

  29. BeccaTheCyborg

    Actually, I’m really not a troll. Been a long-time reader and fan, actually, as well as a lifelong feminist. :(

    And I’m more than aware the a secretion made for food is quite different from excretions, and I must say that the strawman is making my allergies act up

    And yes, I think far too often, lactivists make entirely too much self-comparison to people who are actually oppressed.

    Also, shockingly, I’m female. And fully support public breastfeeding.

  30. BeccaTheCyborg

    Actually, I’m really not a troll. Been a long-time reader and fan, actually, as well as a lifelong feminist. :(

    And I’m more than aware the a secretion made for food is quite different from excretions, and I must say that the strawman is making my allergies act up

    And yes, I think far too often, lactivists make entirely too much self-comparison to people who are actually oppressed.

    Also, shockingly, I’m female. And fully support public breastfeeding.

    And for that matter, troll? What? I politely disagreed. If that’s what passes for trolling these days…

  31. BeccaTheCyborg

    Well, I do try to be considerate about others, I don’t think it exactly a hardship. Breastfeeding is, as I understand, a rather intimate affair, and I can understand why having it in your face in the office fridge would make people uncomfortable. But then, I work at a workplace, where people also take care not to bring in things that smell extremely strongly, or otherwise bother co-workers. We’re funny that way here in Canada.

    And though mothers are discriminated against in some employment situations, so are non-mothers in many other ones. That’s really the shit of being a woman, really, no matter which choice you make, patriarchy will shit on you.Perhaps I’ve been really lucky in my conservative, rural town, but every public building allows (and displays stickers saying such) that breastfeeding is welcome. The US is rather different in a lot of ways, though.

    But if you’d like, I can go back to lurking. I do enjoy reading here, and I’d rather no hard feelings.

  32. BeccaTheCyborg

    Fair enough. I can tell my preference for being considerate is certainly not going to change any minds, and you have different priorities.

    I shall return to lurking.

  33. tigtog

    Becca, what you call “being considerate” I would certainly consider an unfair imposition upon a co-worker who is simply exercising her worker’s right to use the fridge to store food hygienically.

    There is no indication in the original letter to the agony aunt that the co-worker was flaunting her breastpumping in any way – the only evidence of it at all was that a bottle with her name on it was in the fridge. A bottle of milk in the fridge is hardly shoving her breast into the face of her co-workers, as you so colourfully describe.

    In this situation it behooves others to be the ones showing some consideration when their co-worker is quietly using a corner of the office fridge in order to look after her child. She is already showing plenty of consideration for her co-worker’s sensibilities by pumping discreetly, and shouldn’t need to do any more than that.

  34. Mindy

    If she was walking around the office, breast out, leaking milk onto people’s desks then they could get a bit upset, but a bottle discretely tucked into the fridge is not offensive. Would people feel the same about a bottle of antibiotics in the fridge, someone flaunting that they were sick at work? I doubt it. Do vegans complain about their lunch sharing the fridge with meat and dairy products?

    Also, how many people would take a sneak peek into the bag and risk tipping the bottle over? At least labelled with her name they know exactly what it is and leave it alone.

  35. katarina

    BeccaTheCyborg, storing breastmilk in the fridge is not the same as breastfeeding in your face any more than having toilet paper in your grocery bag is defaecating on your chest.

    Mindy, I am a pedantic old bore and the use of “discrete” (meaning separate or individual) for “discreet” (meaning subtle or tactful) drives me insane. So I cannot resist telling you that British/Australian spelling of discreet is still discreet.

  36. Caitlin

    Becca the Cyborg: being Canadian isn`t a reason for thinking breastmilk in a clean, sealed container in an office refrigerator is gross or that keeping it there is “inconsiderate,” and I have to admit that as a fellow Cnadian, I somewhat resent you using being Canadian as the reason for thinking it`s inconsiderate. IMHO, telling a coworker she can`t store her breastmilk in the office fridge is far more inconsiderate, and even discriminatory.

  37. BeccaTheCyborg

    Actually, I was merely bringing up my nationality and regional status in relation to public breastfeeding laws/attitudes. Please read better.

    And nowhere did I state that the co-worker should store her milk somewhere other than the fridge, merely that perhaps out of immediate eye-level, or in a bag (I know there are plenty of lunch bags in my office fridge.)Who exactly is so curious about other people’s bags, Mindy? Really now, what kind of idiots do this? And where did I use the term “shoving one’s breast in co-worker’s faces?” I said nothing of the sort. Again, my allergies just can’t handle all these strawmen.

    But again, I’m not in any authority to enforce any standard of courtesy, no do I think anyone should be, really.

  38. tigtog

    Becca the Cyborg in #46:

    And where did I use the term “shoving one’s breast in co-worker’s faces?” I said nothing of the sort.

    Admittedly my wording was a paraphrase, but you certainly did write about breastfeeding being “in your face” in #38

    Breastfeeding is, as I understand, a rather intimate affair, and I can understand why having it in your face in the office fridge would make people uncomfortable.

    As for this little cliche:

    Again, my allergies just can’t handle all these strawmen.

    That’s really not as clever as you seem to think, and tedious over-repetition will not make it more so.

  39. BeccaTheCyborg

    I meant “in your face” as in “first thing you see when you go for the fridge”, not in a “flaunting body function because they’re awful and mommies are so mean”! I meant “eye-level”. But oooookay.

    I’m really not a fan of having words put in my mouth. Repeatedly. But, again, as we seem to be at odds, with nobody likely to move, I’ll go back to lurking. I really like reading this blog, and this seems to just be getting a bit out of control. If I’d known so many people would be so angry, I certainly wouldn’t have made a small, offhand comment. It’s not like I really care either way, and would shrug it off and forget about it two minutes later if it was in my work fridge.

    Sorry, all.

  40. Helen

    It’s not like I really care either way, and would shrug it off and forget about it two minutes later if it was in my work fridge.

    So why do you bother to go on a comment thread saying that it’s so grooooooooossssssss?

  41. katarina

    Ewww! Gross! Squicky! Italian mothers are taking it to the streets.
    Linked text

  42. Mindy

    Dammit, should read comments before posting. Thanks Katarina.

    Becca, people do look at things in work fridges. Get over it.

  43. gringo

    Another longtime fan/lurker here … just thought I’d put my two bob’s in:
    1. I agree wholeheartedly with the majority of commenters here… so what if there’s milk in the fridge?

    2. That being said, everyone here came down pretty hard and aggressively on BeccaTheCyborg for expressing an opinion that was different. And not in a particularly inflammatory way either. Just saying…

  44. Mindy

    Sorry Becca.

  45. outfox

    I hardly think expecting co-workers to be remotely polite about something most people find deeply unappealing (or alternately, very personal) is somehow oppression

    The oppression is in the social/economic norms, whereby showing some rack for advertising, fashion, pron, whatever is apparently liberal choice; whereas thinking: ” I need to feed my child, I will put some of my milk in the fridge for later on” somehow = OMG OFFENSE!!

    DO most people really find breastmilk deeply unappealing?

    If people is taken to include infants & mothers, we’ve an obvious NO here.

    If people is taken to mean adult co-workers, I’m very over this idea that being Not With Baby means that my brain somehow shuts down when sexist stigma against the mothers & infants is invoked.

    I accept that a mother may well need to keep her milk in the fridge, whereas that guy in HR who left his mould cultivating take-away curry in the fridge needs to get his act together. Why is lactation allegedly more unappealing than slobby housekeeping?

  46. Laura

    Worst etiquette advice I’ve read – well, on balance I think it’d have to be the advice quoted in the post.

  47. Aoife

    In a way, it’s understandable that people instantly react with ‘ew’ to boobmilk, coz we’re flooded with messages that bewbs are for fondling/jizzing on. Being reminded that they have food emissions takes the indoctrinated sexeh out of em. However, if you have this ‘ew’ reaction and someone points out why your reaction is pretty sexist and shit, don’t keep trying to justify it. Get over it. We live in a sexist, patriarchal world in which we’re bound to make many obnoxious mistakes.

    You know the way on slogan t-shirts, you have band names or logos or phrases plastered across your yabbos? Wouldn’t it be great to make a shirt that says ‘boobs are for milk’.

    Etiquette: Once a man on a train advised me to take out my piercings or I’d never get married. Thanks, random Russian dude.

  48. Stan

    Everything today seems to be centered around a person’s “right” to do or not to do something. My question is what has happened to common courtesy? As a common courtesy I do not think that it is appropriate to be placing your bodily fluids in the refrigerator on your job rather it be breast milk or other bodily samples. There is just a time and place for everything and breast milk next to your collegues muffins is just not cool. I am sorry for all of you loving parents out there and coincidentally I am one myself, but just because you have kids does not mean that the world should revolve around you and your kids. Please use some common sense and practice some common courtesy and keep your breast milk between you and your loved one.

  49. Mindy

    Breastmilk is not a waste product excreted from the body, it is food for babies. As food it has every right to be in the fridge along with all the other food. We keep cows milk in the fridge, which is food for baby calves and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.

  50. Mindy

    Probably lucky he wasn’t in the shopping centre where I saw the woman breastfeeding her baby while walking along, chatting to a friend and watching her older children run ahead. Now that’s multitasking!

  51. tigtog

    Breastmilk is not a waste product excreted from the body, it is food for babies. As food it has every right to be in the fridge along with all the other food. We keep cows milk in the fridge, which is food for baby calves and I don’t hear anyone complaining about that.

    That is such a good point. Nursing mothers should take their milk out of the fridge when all the other milk is taken out and not before.

  52. toni

    breast milk, unless it is your own or your mother’s, is gross. Just like hair, menstrual blood, sweat, other excretions. Or, if you want to argue that it’s a food rather than an excretion, fine, it’s just as gross as the gross pork casserole that my coworker brings in for lunch every monday. Gross. Other people’s bodily fluids are gross. Other people’s foods are gross. Other people, particularly coworkers, do gross things and are gross.

    That is not to say that breast milk shouldn’t go into the office fridge. To suggest otherwise is to ignore reality, necessity and equity. But to say that your breast milk won’t be gross to other people is also to ignore reality. Every time I see my co-worker’s pork casserole, I want to vomit. But I leave it in the fridge, recognising its right to be there.

  53. Emma

    “You’re a feminist. You know that women are oppressed. And if you’ve been paying attention, you know that mothers, particularly nursing mothers, are discriminated against in the USAn workforce. (Perhaps less so here, but it certainly still happens.”

    It seems to me that it wasn’t so long ago that a breast-feeding politician was booted out of parliament in Victoria (apparently the baby wasn’t a member or something and shouldn’t have been there) and a women breast-feeding on our parliament steps was asked to cease and desist (right next to an advertisement picturing a barely dressed young woman). I believe discrimination most definitely still occurs here. :-(

    As for the “ew” factor: I had an experience not long ago that may shed a little light on it… I defrosted some 10 month old breast milk the other day, to put on my toddler’s conjunctivitis (there is STILL no better cure than ONE application of breast milk, even 10 month old frozen breast milk!) and was surprised to find myself experiencing my own “ew” factor. I found myself not wanting to touch it, wanting to get the contact over with as soon as possible. This is the same reaction I get with things like my dog’s poo, and vomit, and raw meat. The whole time the logical side of me was screaming that I was being an idiot, that it was MY milk, and magical stuff at that, but to my shame I could not suppress the “ew” feeling.

    This made me wonder as to the source of my feelings and I came up with two theories: a) this “ew” feeling was indoctrinated into me when I was far too young to remember it and I’ll never be rid of it, or b) there was something that felt intrinsically wrong about breast milk being outside of me rather than going straight from breast to baby that I was picking up on.

    Funnily enough, I did not have the “ew” feeling when I was lactating. It only occurred when coming into contact with my breast milk in a different context (frozen, non-food use) many months later.

    So I get the “ew” feeling, I really do. But that the feeling is present does not make it reasonable, and unreasonable feelings are the ones we don’t act on, we drink the great big cup of Get the Fuck Over It, get on with our lives, and allow others to do the same.

    Emmas last blog post..For Non-providers of Abortion – a Notice to Patients

  54. noddysmiley

    Dammit!, if it was me I’d ask for a little. Doesn’t anyone else find it a little odd that we would actually prefer to drink milk for the breast of a stinking polluting cow (unless of course said coworker fits this description). I don’t even consider it a bodily fluid. People, get over your bloody ‘boobie obsession’ and find a life….like under a rock or something! 18 years old and already im keeping it real better than some chick with rugrats of her own……i dont know, this world….

  55. rozasharn.livejournal.com/

    The thing I notice is that the coworker saw a bottle, labeled with the woman’s name. The letter doesn’t say it had any other label. “Appeared to be breast milk” could just mean it was filled with a white fluid. But the coworker assumed that it was breast milk, and then wrote the letter about how the woman should have hidden the bottle to prevent speculation from occurring inside the coworker’s head.

    Coworker should’ve minded their own business.

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