What do Breastfeeding and Buses and Clarice Starling have in common?

There’s two stories this week that interest me. They’re both about power and authority and who can wield it. They look like pretty similar to me, but the reaction to each has been the opposite. Who gets to be violent towards women with children?

It seems pretty clear the answer should probably be nobody. But sometimes violence is necessary, like in Hannibal [Spoiler alert] when Clarice Starling has to gun down a woman holding a baby to save her own life. In what ways are waitresses and Bus drivers like Clarice Starling? Should waitresses roughhouse women with babies? Should Bus drivers push them about? You might ask, as she does herself, should even Clarice Starling be able to do this?

Nobody asked these questions this week. This is what made for the stark contrast between the reaction to Claridge’s banning women from breastfeeding openly and to First Bus winning a court case saying saying women with children in buggies couldn’t be forced to give up space reserved for wheelchairs.

If Claridge’s really wanted to enforce their ban it would ultimately involve either their staff violently ejecting and breastfeeding women who didn’t comply. First Bus argued that yes, the wheelchair space is for wheelchairs, but no, their drivers aren’t authorised to force a woman to move. The first of these was greeted with incredulity, especially when Nigel Farage requested an end to ostentatious breastfeeding. Of course women can breastfeed where they like. The second was greeted with outrage. Of course wheelchair users can use the space reserved for them.

But both of these questions revolve around who gets to exercise violence. Perhaps bus drivers wrestling with mothers and newly born is a good idea, but it’s not a clear cut case. The court may look callous in its decision, but it has laid out where legitimate violence may and may not be used. This is to the detriment of disabled people, if a mother can’t be reasoned with, but I can’t see a way around this because that unreason is not a cause for violence.

Few people think about what private property means, but it means excluding people, sometimes consensually, often violently. There’s lots of advantages to this system but there’s also drawbacks and these cases sit at this intersection. Private property means being able to force people to do what you want, but society places constraints on what and who you can boss about. I think Clarice Starling was right and FirstBus was right but I think Claridge’s was wrong and those positions are perfectly coherent. Violence can be put to good use, rarely though against women with children.

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