I generally steer clear of political discussions. They don’t interest me very much, and, as a psychologist practicing in DC where I see people from both sides of the aisle, I don’t want to risk alienating anyone. But a story that ran in the Post a few days ago just begs for comment.
An American University anthropology professor, Adrienne Pine, brought her sick baby to class. While she gave her lecture, the child crawled around on the floor, putting a paper clip in her mouth and exploring the electrical outlets. After a while, she began to fuss. So Pine picked her baby up and, in full view of forty students, nursed her and kept on lecturing without, apparently, missing a beat.
More than capable of finding their own distractions apart from the ones provided by Professor Pine, the students went on Twitter to relay the story.
Sidestepping the issue, the university administration chastised the professor for putting the students’ health at risk by bringing a sick child to class. They also chided her for her vitriolic response to a student journalist (whom she accused of an “anti-woman” tone) who interviewed her in an attempt to write about the incident for the school newspaper. (The professor subsequently issued an apology to the reporter.)
Another breastfeeding flap that made the news recently occurred when a restaurant owner discretely approached a patron who was nursing her baby, breasts fully exposed, and offered to provide a privacy screen for the table. Other diners, it seems, were uncomfortable. The “lactivist” mother was incensed and took her outrage to the media.
I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of the working mother. I’ve been there myself. During my oldest child’s first two years, we went through a succession of bad baby sitters before we found the lovely, devoted woman who ended up caring for my children for a decade and always remembered their birthdays every year with a card even after we moved to Maryland. But before she came into our lives, we had our share of childcare crises.
Once I had to dash home, retrieve my baby, and order the locks changed when the sitter quit abruptly in the middle of a workday. I had told her I didn’t want her taking my daughter out on a 20˚ below zero Chicago winter afternoon. She was angry at me for ruining her plans to tote my child along for a lunch she had arranged with her boyfriend to celebrate his winning an assault case. (No, he wasn’t a lawyer.)
Another time, with a different sitter, I discovered my infant had been left to the care of my sitter’s relatives in the waiting room of the hospital maternity ward where the sitter’s daughter was giving birth.
And yet a third babysitter called me to come home from work after she had lost her temper and shaken my eighteen-month-old, hard, for not picking up her toys. I was relieved she’d had the sense to be frightened by her loss of control and resign her post. But she left me in the lurch nevertheless.
I’m also not opposed to breastfeeding. I nursed my three kids cumulatively for about seven years. How old were they when they gave up the breast? Well, let’s just say one of them weaned herself by telling me, “Mommy, it doesn’t taste good anymore.” (Granted, she was an exceptionally verbal toddler).
So please don’t tell me I’m anti-woman or anti-breastfeeding. Or, as another AU professor suggested, that the lecture hall lactation display upset students because they prefer to view faculty as “walking brains” without lives and bodies.
I just don’t buy that explanation. I’m a faculty member, and I have bodily needs. But I would never decide to silence a rumbling stomach in the middle of a class by eating a sandwich. That would be rude. Or if I were, say, diabetic and needed my insulin, I’d most certainly excuse myself to inject myself in private no matter how precarious my blood sugar level was. There are professional and personal boundaries to maintain.
As for the charge of sexism, I doubt it would go unnoticed if a male professor were suddenly to strip off his shirt and continue teaching bare-chested because he felt too hot.
Since when do we have the right to do whatever we please, wherever, for our own convenience, without regard for the effect our conduct has on others?
The professor’s and diner’s In-your-face attitude about breastfeeding has much more to do with their outsized sense of entitlement than with gender politics.
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