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Bill Maher: I think I hate you

On September 8, 2007, nursing mamas in 105 locations in 38 states participated in a nurse-in, "after a breastfeeding mother was treated poorly by Applebee's on both local and corporate levels."  On September 14, 2007 Bill Maher, on "Real Time with Bill Maher", spent a good part of his opening comments elborating how he thought breastfeeding in public was narcisistic and inappropriate.  See the whole thing here (and forward to the 7:00min point).

He said, "Breastfeeding a baby is an intimate act, and I don’t want to watch strangers performing intimate acts…” He equates breastfeeding, a “natural” act, with masturbating, also an “intimate”, “natural” act.  Making it sound like breastfeeding is some fad, he speculates, “Next thing, mothers will want to give birth in the waterfall at the mall.”

If we mamas nurse in public and are not decent about it, we are “lazy to either plan ahead or cover up.”  To the mothers who nurse publicly, he says you are “fighting for the spotlight that you surely will get when you go 'Janet Jackson' on everyone."  And, finally, he winds down with “Only in America do women think they deserve a medal for having a kid," and he suggests that even dogs can have kids (so are we all dogs?)  He closes with “it’s about how petty and parochial our causes have become, how activism has become narcissism..... There is a place where breasts and food go together, it’s called ‘Hooters’”.

Cyberspace is teeming with anger with his comments, just google "bill maher breastfeeding" to find mamas and others around the country who are writing about it.  I try not to be hypersensitive when it comes to comedians trying to make a buck and tell a joke, but Bill Maher goes too far and is offensive, obscene, misogynistic, completely outta line.  Local mama Bridget is preparing a statement to send to HBO, and you can email her at billmahermustapologize@comcast.net to add your name to petition.  Are there other ways we can express our views? 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript, for those of you who want all the gory details:

Last week, the world’s first “Nurse In” was held to protest the case of a woman who was breast-feeding in public, and asked by an Appleby’s manager not to leave, but just to cover up a little bit. Because the wait staff got tired of hearing, “I’ll have what that kid’s having.” [laughter] [applause]

Look, I’m not trying to be insensitive here. I know your baby needs to eat, but so do I, and this is Appleby’s, so I’m already nauseous. [laughter]

Breast-feeding a baby is an intimate act, and I don’t want to watch strangers performing intimate acts. At least not for free. [laughter] It cheapens it. [laughter] But breast-feeding activists – yes, breast-feeding activists, called “lactivists” – say this is a human right and appropriate everywhere, because it’s natural. Well, so is masturbating, but I generally don’t do that at Appleby’s. [laughter] [applause] Not in the main dining area, anyway.

I mean, next thing, women will be wanting to give birth in the waterfall at the mall! [laughter] Look, there’s no principle at work here other than being too lazy to either plan ahead or cover up. It’s not fighting for a right. It’s fighting for the spotlight you surely will get when you go all “Janet Jackson” on everyone. [laughter] And get to drink in the “oohs” and “aahs” from the other customers because “You made a baby!” [laughter] Something a dog can do. [laughter] [applause] [cheers]

Only in America do women think they deserve a medal for having a kid. In China, women give birth on their lunch hour, and by the afternoon, they’re back on line, painting lead onto Barbie dolls. [laughter] [applause]

But this isn’t really about women taking their breasts out in public, as much as I’d like it to be. [laughter] It’s about how petty and parochial our causes have become, how activism has become narcissism. It’s why Al Gore can’t get people to focus on global warming unless there’s a rock concert. “Melting icebergs, brought to you by Smashing Pumpkins.”

It’s why there’ll be no end to this dumb war until there is a draft. Because, at the end of the day, Iraq is somebody else’s problem.

And, by the way, there is a place where breasts and food do go together. It’s called “Hooters.” [laughter] [applause]


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that is terribly depressing.
I dont understand how people can think like that?

I think for some men, unless breasts are available to them, they can't see any other value. Ultimately, he's in a loosing position -- trying to tell a mother not to feed her child is like trying to pull down the moon, change the tides, or make the sun rise in the west. He's fighting a one of our most basic, affirming instincts.

I say we should ask him to refrain from eating in public himself! Only in the privacy of his own home, from now on. No more Hooters for him.

Does he have an open audience? Can anyone say "nurse-in?" Or I can see a public nurse-in outside his studio. It's sure to happen! I'm sure he is not expecting the public outcry his monologue is going to cause! I thought they had people they were supposed to pass their material by before they were able to use it...I guess no one thought it was a topic that required a "second-thought filter..."

I know there are moms like me out there who simply cannot let others do our complaining for us. This is an issue that I believe can not be overlooked quietly and passively. The contact information for the Bill Maher show is quite convenient. Visit http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/

There is a "contact us" link at the bottom. You can choose which show you would like to email about and then compose your own message for HBO management.

The REAL problem is our culture has forgotten what breasts are for... which is feeding babies. Men think they are for them.

I happened to see this on TV and at first I thought he was being sarcastic. Once I realized he was serious I was so completely disgusted and blown away! I don't know much about Bill Maher but I thought he was supposed to be a progressive. I am going to make some assumptions about him after watching this:
1. He was not breast fed.
2. He has a terrible relationship with his mother (and possibly his partner, if she's a woman).
3. He was a geek in high school and college and is still pretty upset about it (ie: never got the girl)
4. He got his heart broken by a woman who later went on to have a child with someone else and is now a lactivist!
5. He lives in NYC which is NOTHING like the west coast/Portland (not an assumption, but the cultural difference contributes to his ignorance)

this is truly disgusting. worst of all, I work for the same company as Bill Maher (at AOL, I'm also under the Time Warner umbrella) so the "I'll sell all my stock in protest" reaction makes no sense!

what I *will* do is send corporate communications a strongly-worded note. geez.

Having participated in the Applebee's event here in Portland I was so angry Friday night when I just happened to catch Bill Maher's show. My first instinct was thousands of us nursing Mothers should find out where he has dinner reservations and book the rest of the restaurant....and continue to do so until he retracts ALL of his remarks!

that would be awesome Erika.

I was livid and couldn't sleep well after staying up to watch my favorite show. However, having watched Bill Maher for as long as I have, I know he is most likely trying to see what reaction he can get, and it's unlikely he really cares as much as he let on. After all, he did show an awesome picture of a woman breastfeeding during his New Rules rant.
If anything, I think we could call him somewhat of a hypocrite for how he is so into natural, organic foods - and we all know that breastfeeding is the best nutritional start. The nutrition / food argument is likely the best approach, what do you think?
Also, knowing he is somewhat 'anti-kids' and never plans to have any, he really doesn't have babies' best interests at heart anyway. Really, Bill was just being Bill, but those remarks were not very libertarian.

I just posted about this on a breastfeeding support board and on an attachment parenting support board. Also passed the info on to my family and friends. Oh I am so mad I am SHAKING. Maybe there should be a nurse-in on the Bill Maher show!!!!!! He should be sanctioned somehow by HBO... or by La Leche League... or forced to take a breast feeding class.

Wow that clip was disgusting to me. I did make sure to e-mail in a comment and I hope that everyone else will as well. I believe that when people speak up on public tv, radio, etc... there is some level of responsibility to be educated about the topic. By the comments that Bill Maher made, it seems apparent to me that he is completely ignorant about this topic and had no business speaking out about it. It's one thing to educate yourself and to have a different opinion, and another to just publicly rant your thoughts on a topic you know nothing about.
E-mail in your thoughts...there is a lot of power behind those that speak up.

yes he's a sarcastic comedian and says a lot of stuff to get a laugh, but what makes me sad about this, is i know a lot of women who are already incredibly self-conscious about breast feeding in public and the last thing they need to hear are comments like his. he sounds very out of touch.

I saw this on air last night. I want to go on record right here and now saying I found his remarks on the subject as abhorrent as the rest of you who've commented here. When it comes to women, I think Bill Maher ranges from idiot to misogynistic ass, who probably does have very difficult, if any, personal relationships with women.

Despite this, I watch with some regularity because he often invites interesting panel guests and gets them involved in political conversations I don't see anywhere else on television. I am radically opposed to this administration and the state of American politics and so I choose to support his show with my cable dollars because I want to hear someone talk about impeachment with people like Scott McClellan on a nationally broadcast show.

It sucks that the political discourse is accompanied by the sort of drivel he espoused last night on nursing. We should let him know he pisses us off. That said, I don't want a world where anyone who says something that makes me mad or that I disagree with is pulled off the air, no matter how stupid the remark might be. That feels too much like censorship to me. I'm sure that much of what I like about his willingness to speak his mind on issues I care about makes lots of other people equally pissed. I'm not trying to throw any bombs here, just my 2.

peace, kym

I just did a blog entry on the topic...

I do not even know what to say. Such much ignorance in our society, it is simply depressing.

Bill Maher is right. He didn't say you couldn't feed your baby in public. He just said cover up. I breast fed my son and I wouldn't have even considered doing it without covering up.

Kristin, what a great idea, "No public eating for Bill Maher".
Sorry, Bill. Sometimes we Mamas just forget, that boobs were meant to sell fast food and fast cars rather than nourish our young.

so depressing! I think he said much more than just "cover up" -- he said that advocating in favor of breastfeeding is petty and breastfeeding in public is narcissistic. Well. . .I'm done with that show.

You can cover up for the first couple months, but then the baby pulls it away. Also, covering up takes away from eye-to-eye contact with your baby, which is so important.

Congrats to you to finding a way to feed your baby that worked for you and that you clearly are proud of. I am sorry that you feel like your way is the only right way to do it (?) Or really that anyone thinks THEIR way is the only right way...it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Covering up just doen't always work. I was someone who was very self conscious about breastfeeding in public. But when my kids were hungry I fed them. To compare that to masterbating is absurd. I have never been a fan of Bill Maher, but he is entitled to his opinion. Let's just hope that someone is able to educate him just a little.

What sucks is that Bill Maher could have totally taken this another way and been a hero. He could have ranted about the absurity of asking someone to cover up when nursing in public, and how crazy our society is for glorifying breasts everywhere else but villifiying women for doing something that should be accepted as just part of daily life. He could have had the audience thinking in a different way (and isn't that what he supposedly trys to do on his show?) but instead he pandered to the ignorance of the audience, made enemies among moms everywhere, and didn't do anything to forward intellgent thought or discussion on this topic. Sad.

After watching the clip last night, it also appears he was talking about the absurdity of standing up for what you believe in when we should be doing what we can to stop the war. While I believe he is right about the war, who is he to judge what is an absurd stand to take? In the long run, the war will end someday (I think?) but breastfeeding has always been here and always will (except for a brief stint in the 1950's when formula propaganda was at it's highest). I really think he picked a poor example to make his point about the war. He did a whole bit on Brittany Spears just minutes earlier...maybe he could have talked about how instead of spending their time worrying about pop stars, Americans could be protesting the war? Nurse-ins actually serve a purpose, even if it doesn't to Bill Maher.

Well, he certainly has gotten all of our attention. While I don't agree with what he is saying about public breastfeeding, I do agree that the overall American population just isn't engaged in other important issues such as global warming and war until it hits a personal note. Perhaps he is using relatively minor infringements on personal liberties at home to bring attention to our apathy toward the greater injustices in the world. It would be great if all of us mamas were as riled up and engaged with the atrocities happening to children and families in Darfur or South Africa as we are about not having the ability to breastfeed in public.

Thanks to those of you who have added your name to the petition. I am actually getting responses from all over the US! If you want to be included email name and city to: billmahermustapologize@comcast.net all emails are private and not shared with anyone.

Here is a copy of the letter that i have so far:

Bill Maher must apologize for his offensive attitude toward women and their caring for their babies. His “new rule” about women not breastfeeding in public, comparing it to masturbation, or his comparing women having babies to dogs is misogynistic and we expect more from him and HBO. HBO has a reputation for being intelligent, creative, and sophisticated. None of these terms define Maher’s erroneous and ignorant rant on your airwaves September 14, 2007.
There is no reason for this type of hatred to be considered humorous and we hope that HBO will educate its public and its “comedian”. Maher should attend a class on breastfeeding so that he actually understands it role in human survival, or have Carolyn Malone, who sponsored the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, on his show.
Does Bill put a blanket over his head when he eats? Does he remove himself to a dirty public restroom to eat? If Bill can’t control his hormonal, physical, or emotional response when he sees an inch of the side of a woman’s breast while she feeds her child then he should get some therapy. His comments are disgusting, denigrating, prejudiced and inciting of hate and misunderstanding. His promotion of misogyny should be considered a hate crime.

Look, Bill Maher is the guy who has styled mself as being "Politically Incorrect" and who said something publicly right after 9/11 that was taken at the time as being so inflammatory that a major network canceled his show outright (I can't remember what he said exactly - wasn't it about the al Queda pilots being "courageous?").

In other words, this is Maher's schtick: pissing people off in a big way and in a surprising way. Frankly, I find his misogyny no more stunning than Howard's Stern's, or any number of comics I could mention. And speaking of ol' Howard, where were all you ladies to fan the flames of righteous anger all the years that Howard Stern, his butt bongo, his lipstick lesbians du jour and his hookers had a tight grip on the mainstream male imagination? Gawd, what a pig.

In sum: Don't give Maher the attention/controversy he craves. He'll just find a way to make money off it.


Great letter! I was with you all the way until the hate crime part, though. Killing, raping, beating based upon one's identity -- these are all hate crimes. Bill Maher is completely abhorent, but not in the same category as, say, Matthew Shepard's killers -- and I don't think he's promoting something that horrific. Other than that, the letter totally rocks.


Great letter! I was with you all the way until the hate crime part, though. Killing, raping, beating based upon one's identity -- these are all hate crimes. Bill Maher is completely abhorent, but not in the same category as, say, Matthew Shepard's killers -- and I don't think he's promoting something that horrific. Other than that, the letter totally rocks.

I love the ideas of sending letters to HBO and other media outlets. I wonder what efforts are currently in effect in cyberspace.

I think Bill Maher just took his fun and jokes way too far. Motherhood is such a sacred part of my life, and - on the raw emotional level - it just plain HURT to have him tell me that my two labors and births are something a dog can do, or to have him tell me that I am just trying to get some thrills when I nurse uncovered in public, or to have him tell me that I want a medal for having kids. Well, F*CK yeah I want a medal. And some damn respect. I nursed, between the two girls, for 5.5 years. While I did it to nurture our relationship and did it some for me as much as them, it was also a huge sacrifice for me. Mamahood is so hard and so tough, and we all juggle so much in our individual situations - single mamas, married mamas, working mamas, stay-at-home mamas, all of us mamas. It hurts when the core of our mamahood is slaughtered like that, taken so lightly. For me, it was so personally painful. It was like a jab at my heart.

I don't want mamas to be portrayed in the media as narcissistic for nursing in public. I don't want birth and labor to be portrayed in the media as something that just happens, like a dog births a litter.

I would love to ask a mama supporter in the media - perhaps someone like Oprah - to support us in voicing our thoughts as mamas, to support us in not support these kinds of statements made in the media. Would she elevate the issue, dissuss it with a larger audience?

Bill Maher has been saying this stuff abuot breastfeeding for YEARS. He is very misoygnistic and always has been. He says some awful stuff about a lot of things. His partners of late have tended to be women of color involved in the sex industry.l There's a whole master's thesis right there.

He sees women as either "f*ckable" or useless waste of skin. Fat women especially get the brunt of his hatred.

As former Bfing in public, fat, black mama I have many issues with Bill. But he isn't the beginning or end of this so I won't be writing in. As long as other women stand in solidarity with him, um, it won't help. I would rather talk to the woman at the mall or on the bus shooting death glares to the nursing mom.

There has always been a bizarre misogynistic hypocrisy in Bill Maher's routines... I was so disgusted after watching last week's rant about breastfeeding (he never once referred to the act as 'eating'), and then he went on to bitch about how our society mistreats animals! He's more concerned for the welfare of animals than that of the female gender! His shtick is very weird... he's articulately liberal, but then suddenly turns into an oaf when it comes to Jews, Blacks, and women.... I'm pretty sure he has a "short man complex"!!!

I've enjoyed watching Maher's show in the past, but watching this segment was definitely disappointing and NOT funny. I can't believe the audience was laughing?! I haven't followed his career, or this show, continuously to comment on whether he's misogynistic, but I tend to agree with some of the previous comments...I think he's just going after a controversial topic and trying to get attention. Does it make his comments okay? No. Is he the only one in today's media making misogynistic comments? No. If people want to write a complaint letter to HBO or elevate the issue, that's awesome and their choice, but I think the energy would better be served elsewhere. (I'm thinking about examples of counter-protests that happen on a certain issue, where the issue gets lost because of the polarizing views, escalating voices, and intense emotional levels). Maybe all the disgust towards the Maher segment could be channeled into a supportive 'eat-in' at a local breastfeeding-friendly restaurant to recognize them? Or organizing a panel discussion on the topic at In Other Words bookstore? Letters to local media or local businesses to bring awareness of the issue? Just some ideas. I know it's cliche and cheesy to say, but "turning a negative back into a positive" is what, in an ideal world, I would love to see in response to this issue.

Protest Mama and TJ, I love you.

Have you ever seen those ads for breast feeding covers? The ones that are supposed to be so beautiful, for the stylish mom? Here is her lovely smiling head (she's apparently enjoying a conversation), and here is this giant apron tied around her neck with a giant bulge underneath it. I apologize to everybody who owns one, but that is just the most bizarre -looking thing ever. Pay no attention to what's behind the curtain!
I don't really care about Bill Maher or what he said. But I think there is something wrong with a society that tells women to cover up so men don't feel uncomfortable or sexual or whatever.

Oh really, he doesn't like to watch others' "intimate acts" but masturbating is fine? Dare I ask what he's watching when he's masturbating? Most likely someone else's "intimate acts"!!!! What a sad, sad man......

I agree with catmom: I don't care about Bill Maher and whatever crazy thoughts he has. The maddening thing that, in my opinion, is making us so mad, is that his words aren't just his, they reflect what a lot of (backward!) folks in our country actually think, and reminds me what a long, long road we have to hoe. It also reminds me to be grateful for the place I live, where - mostly - I can breastfeed without risk of disapproval/strange looks. Sure wish I'd known abotu that Applebees Nurse-In, I woulda been there in a flash!! Next time anyone knows of sauch an excellent event, please e-mail us at activistas@gmail.com so we can spread the word and really pack 'em in.

Yes, Kristin, I agree. The hate crime part of my letter is probably taking it too far. I thought about it for a bit, felt like it wasn't really accurate, but also thought it might get HBO to stop for just a second and actually think about Maher's words... but there isn't a comparison to real hate crimes and Maher's words, the similarity is that hate leads to more hate and that is what concerns me the most. More than fighting for a right to breastfeed in public, which I totally believe in, I am fighting against hatred. As a woman, I always use my voice when I see misogyny. I can't help myself. Many times I might be better served if I went the positive route (and I'm a huge believer and participator in that option) but I also feel that intollerance should not be tolerated. Can we do both here mamas?

Like Kym said, I don't think this is about silencing Maher, its about speaking up for ourselves and being heard. He's just one more blabbermouth in the fray.

The thing about the lactivista movement that doesn't set quite right with me, from a PR perspective, is that the arguement is framed as "a woman's right to nurse" rather than "a baby's right to eat." You can come up with a lot of counterarguments to whether or not a woman should nurse in public. It's hard to tell a baby it can't eat. That's obviously simplifying things, but that's also kind of the point. Frame the conversation so that people think about the true point: babies eating. It's not really about the women or their breasts, is it?

And I've never really bought the arguement about covering up. When a woman is nursing you can't see much besides the back of the baby's head. What's to cover? Besides, uh, stretchmarks on your belly? ;)

Ah, to be frightened of ta-ta's. What a big wuss!

I always loved saying. . . "Do you eat in the toilet?" which would be answered by a lot sputtering.

I remember having all these rules about where I wouldn't BF based on other's discomfort. Needless to say, the baby trumped all of that. One day I was on a crowded SF bus. I Couldn't reach the diaper bag or blanket and my baby was SHRIEKING. I sat watching her shriek for at least 2-4 minutes before the bus folks yelled "Feed that baby" So I did, no covering and two young men standing over me. After the bus emptied out some, this little old lady gave me the most disgusted death glare EVER. I got shaky and began shrinking. A man walked by and said "Don't EVER let ANYONE make you feel bad for nourishing a new life" Those words meant everything to me. Everything. I still get teary.

It's not about Bill.

That is so beautiful I'm getting teary. Sometimes strangers get it just right.

I'll never forget riding a MAX train with my friend, a La Leche leader from Eugene, and her daughter, who was probably three at the time. We'd gone to Saturday market and the train was just packed, standing room only, and she had tried to talk her daughter into waiting to nurse - no dice. So my friend fed her daughter right there, with a ton of strangers standing right at her knees looking down on her. Her willingness to walk her talk has always stayed with me.

I think he's just trying to say that breastfeeding has become a form of narcissism and self grandeur. Like hey look at me "I'M GIVING MY BABY THE BEST!!!" I'm with him. What do you want a f***** medal? Good for you. You can flop a tit in a kid's mouth and it eats. I feel sad for you if this is your greatest accomplishment. Why else would a woman choose not to cover up a little while others are eating? Where will they be when the kid is 10 years old and not solely depended on mommy anymore? I guess they'll have to get their warm and fuzzies elsewhere.

Mr. Maher fails to communicate with the majority of us. He seems to have a really hard time talking to and down to women, who are 56% of humanity. He uses four letter words and lewed punch lines to describe political goals, marijuana use, global warmimg, war and stupid game shows.
Failing to communicate is the least of his problems. Most of us, need not only communication, but connection. We must be first provoked, then motivated, then inspired, and last passionate. When are passions are stirred we become the most effective means of changing our world. Both personally, and broadly. No one, will change anything unless this exciting process happens. But if it does happen, we become more. We become an answer. We become a leader. We become a miracle. Mr. Maher has lost any passion he may have had when he we younger. He has become what he most despises--old, sad, dried-up bottom-liner (money). So if you don't want to end up like him, reach down and grab that passion inside of you.

I'm a female and I agree with Bill 100%. Why? Because being a mother doesn't make you exceptional or unique. It makes you common. Women who do these things in public aren't focused on their baby like they claim to be. They want to feel like they're doing something wonderful and magical. Why are sites like this and protests like the one mentioned even happening if it was just about the baby? Yes, breastmilk is healthy and breastfeeding is natural EVEN DOGS CAN DO IT. Stop treating yourself like you're mother earth just because you had a kid. Most people have kids. And usually more than one. There are over 7 billion people on this planet and many of them are children in need yet you popped one of your own out and you want praise for that? Get over yourself. Breastfeeding in a public place is 100% avoidable unless you're on an airplane which you really shouldn't be on with an infant. More and more women are breastfeeding older kids. Kids who are two, three or even four or older are still consuming straight from the breast. Sure, it might provide them with nutrition, but they can get what they need from age appropriate food. There is no real, healthy reason for breastfeeding an older kid. They can eat solids for goodness' sake. So why do women do it? To feel good about themselves for being so wonderful and magical. You're not! You're common! And you're full of yourself!

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