Was It the Baby or the Breast?
Pine did what she thought was best in the situation and then continued with her day. It wasn’t until she received an e-mail the next day from a news assistant at the student newspaper that she realized it was an issue. The e-mail specifically focused on the act of breastfeeding, not on the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of having a sick child in the classroom.
The University, on the other hand, told the Washington Post that the issue was the child’s illness:
For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom.
Pine described a scenario a few days later where she was cornered by the reporter from the student newspaper immediately after class and was hardly able to speak because she had “caught and improved upon my baby’s cold.” So she not only brought a sick baby to work, but also went to work herself when she was sick.
From the University’s perspective, it is inappropriate to expose the campus community to illness and therefore Pine shouldn’t have taken her sick baby to class and she probably shouldn’t have been in class herself after catching the baby’s illness. Yet somehow the environment at the university is such that Pine felt cancelling the class would be disruptive to her students and “could also negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk.” If that is true, it appears that the discrimination against nursing mothers is not the only potential problem at the university. The dichotomy between their written policy regarding illness and the real consequences of following that policy are indicative of a problem that needs to be addressed.
Students’ Objection to Breastfeeding is Indicative of a Societal Problem
The students reaction to breastfeeding in the classroom likely stems from their lack of exposure to breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is so often hidden away and done only in the privacy of the family home or at best under a nursing cover in a public space. In order for breastfeeding to seem normal and natural, it needs to be visible. It needs to be something that everyone has seen and everyone is familiar with. It shouldn’t be something that people see as awkward or inappropriate.
If more mothers were to breastfeed in public, especially around teenagers and young adults, it would help to normalize breastfeeding and make it easier for nursing mothers to continue to live their lives and take care of their babies needs. But it would have other benefits too. As I wrote previously in We Need Mothers To Breastfeed in Front of Teenagers, it would provide young people with important exposure to breastfeeding in the years prior to becoming parents. It would help them to see that breasts are not just sexual, it could give them the confidence to breastfeed and it could give them concrete visual examples to draw on as they hold their own baby up to their breast for the first time. It would give them more places to seek support, make them feel less alone, and give them more confidence.
Although Pine never intended to be a lactivist or to create a teachable moment, the reality is that every time she brings her baby to the breast in a public space, she is doing just that. Despite trying to distance herself from lactivism, the anger she showed towards the situation she found herself in clearly demonstrates why lactivism is an essential part of the feminist movement.
Photo credit: Mothering Touch on flickr
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