Cafe owner explains after breastfeeding backlash
Protest ... Regan Matthews, centre, is standing by her version of events. Photo: Tamara Dean
A Sydney cafe owner who this week sparked a protest by asking a mother not to breastfeed on her premises says she has been subjected to a cyberbullying campaign.
Ash Houghton, the owner of Newtown's Satellite cafe, said she had received threats, including calls for the business's windows to be smashed and hopes that it burns down.
Breaking her silence to the media on the incident, Ms Houghton said she had not told customer Regan Matthews that breastfeeding in public was "an offence to humanity", as was quoted, but admitted to asking her to stop nursing her nine-month-old son on Saturday.
"Nurse in" ... about 50 people gathered outside Newtown's Satellite cafe. Photo: Tamara Dean
"My comment about humanity was that 'humanity has rights' when they tried to tell me business owners don't have any rights, which I think is a real insult, to be honest," she said.
The cafe made several attempts to apologise for the incident, which sparked a fierce reaction on social media and a "nurse-in" protest of about 50 people on Tuesday.
Ms Houghton, who stayed away from the Wilson Street cafe on Tuesday, said while trade had not been affected, the cafe had received threats over the phone and online.
Breastfeeding protests around the world
Sydney, NSW; January 2013 - Up to 200 women protest outside the Sunrise studios on Jan 21, 2013 after host David Koch said that women should be ‘more discreet and modest’’ when breastfeeding in public. Picture at left from Twitter, at right from Sunrise Nurse-in Facebook page.
"There was no way in hell I was going to turn up to a bunch of people that have been so vicious to me online," she said.
Ms Houghton said she had approached a breastfeeding Ms Matthews to say, "Look, this is just not something we encourage" in light of earlier complaints from two customers about a separate incident involving another mother.
"And they just attacked," she said.
Ms Houghton also claims she did not say that breastfeeding was "disgusting", rather directed the remark at Ms Matthews' friend, who ridiculed the request.
"She laughed it off and that's when I said 'that's disgusting', referring to her reaction," she said, adding the friend was not a "legal witness" to events.
But the cafe owner said her apology stands and "I've learnt my lesson".
"Despite the intention as a small business owner to advocate for the comfort of all my patrons, I acknowledge that it is not my place to comment on the discretion of individual mothers to breastfeed in public," she said.
But Ms Matthews would be welcome back only with the assurance she did not support the vitriol that has been directed at the cafe, said Ms Houghton.
"She's the one who had the power to stop that from actually happening but she didn't so I see that as endorsing it, which is incredibly cruel," she said.
But Ms Matthews, who stands by her version of events, said she did not condone the threats against the cafe and was "really really sad to hear that there is a minority of people who are taking this to the extreme and being abusive".
"And if I knew anyone that was making threats I would be reporting them to the police," she said.
The mother of two said the protest was about educating people, not revenge, and she was "disappointed" Ms Houghton would not take responsibility for her comments.
"I'm trying to give her the chance to admit what she said and give me a proper apology. If she can't do that, then I will be taking further [legal] action," she said.
Lactivist Australia spokeswoman Victoria Brookman accused the cafe of trying to use some of the online reaction to distract from the main point.
"Which is they broke the law by villifying Regan for breastfeeding her child in their cafe," she said.
"That's completely unacceptable and that's why there's been such a big outcry about it."