Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Ikea Breastfeeding Debacle: a call for sanity


I suppose most of the free world has heard this week about the alleged incident at the Ottawa Ikea location wherein a mom has claimed she was called ‘disgusting’ for breastfeeding in line—by a store manager, she says. According to her statement, Brea Rehder (24) says she was waiting in line to argue a price with a manager when she started breastfeeding; that’s allegedly when the manager told her to head to the bathroom if she was going to do that. Trouble is, Ikea has reviewed the footage for that entire day, tracked Brea’s movementsthrough the store and cash line, and finds no evidence of this incident at all. In fact, while in line they see that Brea didn’t even have her baby with her.

So that’s the start and the end of the story; what’s really troublesome is all the stuff that happens in the middle.


People took to social media like a plague of locusts and started calling out Ikea for their horrid treatment of a breastfeeding mom. Feminist bloggers took to their keyboards, calling for boycots and protests, swearing they’d toss their EKTORPs and RUTGATs and burn their alan keys at the stake. Mom bloggers* jumped on board too and swore they’d storm Ikea topless wearing nothing but baby bottle nipples as pasties. Giant breasts were graffiti’d onto the vast blue walls of the megastore. Store managers were strapped to the hotdog counter where they were given a million paper cuts with those cheap paper measuring tapes available at the counters.

Okay, I’m exaggerating the protests, but you get the idea. The entire brand was called out and publicly disgraced…for something that doesn’t seem to have happened. Also, for something that MIGHT have been done by ONE staff.


There’s a problem with the internet these days, and it’s social media. Why is that a problem? Because humans aren’t mature enough to understand the power they wield, much like harnessing the atom or inventing Teflon. The reality is that, for millenia, written word was written by someone who knew what they were doing. Getting your words into print was expensive, and you had to carry some credibility in your field before any readers, scribes, or publishers would take you seriously. Social media has allowed everyone to broadcast their thoughts without any sort of vetting process, and this is positive because it reduces the amount of Orwellian censorship that has happened in the past…but it’s dangerous because humans are still wired to believe that everything they read is true.


Adding to the problem is that in social media, the squeakiest wheel gets the grease. So the tens of thousands of people who were skeptical but silent about Brea’s report aren’t heard, but the furious few hundred feminist social media users who raged about the case are heard from continent to continent. Likewise for the mom blogger community, notoriously squeaky as it is and absolutely blindly biased to believe the unconfirmed word of one mom (who also has publicly reported suffering from post-partum psychosis, which could affect her perception of reality. It'd be like asking me to accurately describe the size of a crowd or a spider, given my anxiety troubles).

The damage done to Ikea cannot be undone. Because the inflammatory headlines are so much more likely to hit the top of our search engines, the original story where Brea called out Ikea will continue to circulate for months to come; meanwhile, posts like this one I’m writing will be found somewhere around page 20 on your google search. Many people will never even find out that Brea’s story cannot be verified.

Ikea’s best option at this point is to use the situation to create a big loud goodwill campaign, shouting it out over social media until it’s picked up by Upworthy and other good news sources. About a hundred moms are planning a boob-in at the Ikea today, where they’ll suckle their offspring on the couches in the living room section; Ikea is welcoming them with open arms. Still, the head-shaking truth is, about a hundred moms are about to disrupt their kids’ entire day to go sit in a protest that was spurred on by the complaint of one stranger—a complaint that seems to be entirely untrue.

I shake my head at you, internet mob. Imagine if you put this much outrage into the well-researched, if less-dramatic news stories about toxins in our products, slave labour in third world countries, or factory farm-raised meats. (Ahh, but for some of you, that’d mean giving up your blog sponsors P&G, Joe Fresh, and Maple Leaf. Hm. A rant for another time.)

*Author's note: It's been pointed out that not every mom or mom blogger jumped on board the Ikea hate-wagon; I know this and you know this. Trouble is, the loud angry ones get a lot more shares and that means a lot higher up the google feed, which means more readers read those posts than the balanced ones. For the moms and mom bloggers who used their discretion and temperance in reporting this story, I say thank you and I am really glad you're out there.

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