Feature Article - October 2005
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That Feminine Mystique

Solving the mystery of successfully marketing to women

By Stacy St. Clair

Mothers in Laws

No matter how creative your women's programming, it can fall flat if your facility doesn't meet the basic needs of female patrons.

This means installing lockers big enough to store a purse, gym bag and a diaper bag. It means offering changing stations, day care and family bathrooms.

And, as some facilities have learned the hard way, it means having a free and open attitude toward public breastfeeding.

In regards to the latter, insensitivity toward nursing mothers can lead not only to angry patrons but bad publicity as well.

In 2004, a suburban Chicago mom was asked to leave the nursery at her local fitness club after she was seen breastfeeding her infant daughter there.

The club employee suggested Kasey Madden go behind a partial wall to nurse, but her older child, a toddler, couldn't accompany her there. The other, even more impractical option was a stone bench in a small room half-way across the club.

Madden said she was covered up and had not drawn any attention before she was asked to leave.

"Adult biases should never trump a baby's right and access to nutrition," Madden says. "Yet we interfere with parenting that is medically recommended, that benefits a child, all because it involves a breast."

Corporate officials at the nationally known health club agreed and clarified its policies to prevent it from happening again. The company—which says it had always allowed breastfeeding—alerted managers and directors verbally and in writing how to properly handle the situation.

Madden, however, was not done. She began lobbying local newspapers and politicians for a law to protect nursing mothers. In August 2004, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed legislation that gave women the right to nurse in public.

In joining 25 other states with laws protecting breastfeeding, Illinois provided additional support to the 68 percent of women who nurse their newborns and the additional 30 percent who continue to breastfeed after six months. The act, among other things, gives women the right to sue establishments that deny women the right to nurse.

Madden's story created such a media stir, several local towns passed similar laws and Illinois First Lady Patti Blagojevich spoke out against discrimination toward nursing mothers.

"Breastfeeding is the best form of nourishment for young children," the first lady says. "We need to do everything we can to help women feel less hesitant about breastfeeding."

And the national fitness center—which had endured reams of bad press for its earlier actions—received some positive publicity in the end. On the day Madden's law was passed, a chain spokeswoman praised her efforts and called the law "the right thing to do."