Today I want to take a moment to stir up a little lively debate about working mothers. (Or, for those of you who are bored by the topic, let’s just say it’s about BOOBIES!)
Now that I have everyone’s attention…
Last week I read about a professor who breastfed her child while teaching a class. Students in the class complained to the administration about it. Quite a debate has ensued around the topic.
Some commenters looked at it as an issue of discrimination against breastfeeding mothers. Others, like me, looked at it from a gender-neutral standpoint. A couple of women on the comment boards disagreed with me. Read the article and let me know what you think. I would love to hear some opinions, even if you disagree with me. Let’s have a debate!
Excerpt from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
A report in The Washington Post tells how Adrienne Pine has a baby daughter who woke up with a fever. Pine, a single mother, was worried she had no good options for a sick baby, so she brought her daughter to the “Sex, Gender & Culture” class she was due to teach on Aug. 28. When the baby grew restless during the class, Pine breast-fed her while continuing her lecture in front of about 40 students.
According to the Post: “On Tuesday morning, university officials issued a statement about the incident that seemed to indicate some disapproval of Pine’s actions, generally citing them as a health issue because the baby was sick. But school officials also noted that the situation was one that could confront any parent with multiple responsibilities. The university emphasized that faculty members should take advantage of options such as sick leave, break times and private areas for nursing mothers to express milk so they can “maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom.”
Do you think Pine’s actions were appropriate, given the setting and circumstances? Or was her decision to breastfeed her baby during a lecture a distraction to her students?
Many of the comments centered around the issue of the breastfeeding itself, rushing to say that women should breastfeed anywhere and everywhere. “Breastfeeding is natural! How dare anyone try to shame mothers!” they cried. But my opinion is that it wasn’t about the boobs. It was about the baby. There are plenty of things that are perfectly natural to do, but are not appropriate in certain situations, such as a workplace.
For example, farting is natural. But I wouldn’t do it in a business meeting. Eating a bowl of soup is perfectly acceptable, but I wouldn’t do it while giving a presentation. It’s not that farting or eating are gross or wrong. It’s that they are distractions in that setting. It’s all about context.
So I posted this comment:
Annie Haarmann I disagree with the assertion that women should be able to breastfeed “anywhere, anytime.” First of all, it’s highly inappropriate to bring a child to any workplace, sick or not. Secondly, it’s unprofessional to tend to a child while you are supposed to be doing your job. Thirdly, it was disrespectful to the students in her class who didn’t get the full attention of their professor. I would feel the same way if someone brought a baby to my office for the day.
Which received this reply:
Rachel Duncan And therein lies the problem with our country. What else is a mother supposed to do Annie? Do you know that there are some countries who actually pay the women to stay home with their kids. Raising a child here in America does not get any where near that kind of respect.
To which I responded:
Annie Haarmann Rachel Duncan: “What else is a mother supposed to do Annie?” There are plenty of things a mother can do to avoid putting the burden/distraction of her infant on other people. Babysitters, sick days, working from home – to name a few. There are plenty of places where it is inappropriate to bring an infant. A classroom is one of them. “Raising a child here in America does not get any where near that kind of respect.” So, mothers should get respect, but don’t have to show respect to anyone else? If a coworker brought an infant into a meeting at my workplace, I would feel tremendously disrespected. If I were one of those students, I would have felt tremendously disrespected. It’s totally inappropriate to bring any distractions like that into a professional workplace. It puts a burden on everyone else who is trying to listen to a lesson, attend a meeting or do their job.
To which she replied:
Rachel Duncan I guess seeing the repercussions of sexual activity in a class about sexual activity is bad idea huh Annie. It was so distracting. Did you read her blog and what she had to say?
And I responded:
Annie Haarmann Rachel, yes. In fact, her description of the event proves my point. Here’s what she had to say: “The flow of my lecture was interrupted once by ‘Professor, your son has a paper-clip in his mouth’ (I promptly extracted it without correcting my students’ gendered assumptions) and again when she crawled a little too close to an electrical outlet.” A baby crawling around, eating paper clips is clearly not a classroom distraction.
Then another commenter wrote:
Christine Lund You obviously know nothing about breast feeding. Once they attach to you, they don’t need any attention. Please, talk about things you know about personally. And you are a woman?
So, I responded:
Annie Haarmann Christine Lund: “You obviously know nothing about breast feeding.” I know a lot about it, and I support it. “Please, talk about things you know about personally.” I am talking about something I know about personally. I have personally experienced the distraction of having a fussy infant brought into my place of work. It was a huge distraction to everyone trying to work. “And you are a woman?” Indeed. I support equal rights for women in the workplace. If a man had brought a baby to my classroom and fed him a bottle, I’d be making all of the same arguments. Challenging me on the basis of gender is condescending and insulting.
And that’s when I thought this topic would be a great way to stir up some conversation on my blog. What do you think? Do you think this is an issue of professionalism? Or am I discriminating against mothers? I’m interested to hear from my friends who are the mothers out there.