About that professor who breastfed in class...

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  • Jessica Valenti is a feminist blogger and author of 'Why Have Kids?'
  • She thinks breastfeeding in public isn't the problem -- it's the policies that need to change
About that professor who breastfed in class...
Jessica Valenti
Why Have Kids

Editor’s note: Jessica Valenti is the author of “Why Have Kids?” She is also the founder of Feministing.com and a national speaker. She is on Twitter

The morning Adrienne Pine was supposed to teach her first day of class, the assistant professor of anthropology at American University was dismayed to find her young daughter had woken up with a fever. Pine couldn’t bring her to day care (to protect the other kids, centers don’t allow sick children) and she felt she couldn’t cancel class. So Pine brought her daughter to class and, at some point, breastfed her as she lectured

What Pine thought of as a reasonable solution to a working parents’ dilemma turned into a campus controversy when the teacher was contacted by a reporter at the school newspaper. Pine has since written that her decision to bring her daughter to class -- and subsequently feed her -- was not to make a political point and certainly not to grab the attention of student reporters. It was simply the best option she had given her child’s condition. 

Pine is hardly alone: American parents have few options when their kids become sick and even fewer when it comes to the ability to work and breastfeed. We don’t have mandated paid sick days and there aren’t many workplaces in the United States that have provisions and protections for breastfeeding mothers. But most interestingly, as a culture we’re still obsessed with the “scandalous” notion that some mothers breastfeed their children in public. 

I agree with feminist writer Jill Filipovic that the only mistake Pine made was bringing a sick -- and potentially contagious -- child to class. “I understand that Prof. Pine didn’t want to cancel the first day of class, but bringing a sick baby into that room was not respectful,” she wrote

“Sick babies also tend to need more care and attention, which no one other than professor Pine -- who was supposed to be lecturing -- was there to provide,” Filipovic said.

But perhaps the blame doesn’t lie with Pine but with a university system that looks down on professors who cancel class, especially when those professors are mothers. Groups like MomsRising.org have shown that mothers are discriminated against in the workplace more than women without children, not only in terms of pay, but in hiring practices as well. 

The real issue isn’t whether a professor bared her breast in class -- her students are adults and should be able to handle seeing the simple act of a mother feeding her child. If Pine felt she had so few options when her daughter became ill, imagine what happens to mothers who work in the service industry or who don’t get sick days at all. Breasts aren’t what’s outrageous here -- it’s the policies.

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