Thursday, September 13, 2012

Discrimination v. Common Sense?

That seems to be the way the debate is framed over the American University professor who brought her baby to class and breastfed her. You can read the WaPo article or I can give you the highlights: single mom wakes up the morning of the first day of class to discover her baby has a slight fever, which means daycare is out, so what should she do? Cancel class and take a sick day, or bring her baby with her to the 75 minute lecture that kicks off her feminist anthropology class? She chose the latter.

So now we have one group brandishing feminist pitchforks and yelling, "it's her right, this is why women hit obstacles in their professional lives!" (discrimination) and the other side sticking their noses in the air and huffing, "it's unprofessional" (which they frame as common sense).

Maybe AU could've solved the issue by posting signs like these in the classrooms?

I'm not a, uh, lactivist (that's the term, right...) I don't think. I probably don't want to breastfeed in front of the whole world. But I still think I side with the pitchforking feminists. Here's why: despite my post the other day on how the pro-life movement isn't defined by our feelings on government-mandated charity, I do think there are policies and attitudes that move us towards a more pro-life culture that do not touch directly on abortion. That's not to say that you have to embrace these ideas in order to call yourself pro-life, but more that it might help to consider creative ways to transform culture towards being more pro-woman and pro-child.

I think this is one of those cases.

Rosie wore a button-down just for breastfeeding purposes, obviously.

The medical establishment finally has gotten something right and recognizes that breast is best (something God knew from the beginning, but since doctors think they're God they sometimes get confused about natural law) - and the Church encourages this. The Church also recognizes the incredible value of women in the workplace (see especially section 4 of that letter): that women ought to be encouraged to use their God-given talents to enrich the world. But sometimes, being a mother and having a job conflict. In these cases, it might be a good idea to have some flexibility so that women feel supported in their decisions. This doesn't mean that all women can breastfeed at work, necessarily; for some jobs in particular it would be disastrous (parish organist comes to THAT would be multitasking!). But it does mean that if a situation like this arose, the University could shrug it's shoulders and say "it happens." She took her child to work, once, for extenuating circumstances, and while the child was there, it needed to eat. Shouldn't that just be the end of the story?

There's some speculation that this lady did it for show. Sure, that's possible. But the principle can be discussed nonetheless. If we really believe that women should be part of the workplace, and we really believe that children should be breastfed, then maybe we need to craft policies that recognize this reality (there was a good post on this a few years ago at the ever-wonderful Blacktating). Women can't be separated from who they are biologically; we can't say we want women's brains, but not the rest of their bodies. This is the feminism that is stupid: respect women because we can act like men! No, respect women holistically by restructuring some aspects of society to value what does not have a price tag. If we say we want women to be able to have families and work, simultaneously, then we need to recognize that the workplace will have to change. Because we can't make our boobs detachable.

My inspiration is Italian Parliament member Licia Ronzulli, proudly wearing her baby while attending a session of Parliament to vote. 


  1. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I worked at a *very small* Catholic independent school and taught grades K-4 (I had 10 kids total). My oldest was born in Feb. and I went back to work in April and took her with me to work everyday (and breastfed right in the classroom) for the last 2 months of school. It wasn't ideal, but it worked, and I wasn't about to leave her in daycare, and my sub while I was no mat. leave couldn't finish out the school year.

    This is a great website about bringing babies to work.

    My only issue with the professor bringing her baby is if the child was too sick for daycare, seems he would have been better off at home. Plus, taking a mobile, crawling baby to work is quite different than one who is smaller and sleeps a lot. But, generally I'm a huge fan of moms being able to bring babies with them to work and more baby-friendly workplaces.

    1. Yeah I agree - I don't think the prof's solution would be ideal for the whole year. Mobile children are a bit more difficult than sleeping new borns! But for a one time fix? I don't think it's the issue people are making it.

      That's awesome that you could bring the babe to work. The hubs and I have talked about bringing our babe to his work, because it isn't a very formal workplace and we could just bring her pack n play...but even we would be nervous about someone getting offended, and we work at a parish!


Comments make me feel like I'm not just talking to myself or the government (because I know the government secretly reads my blog). Help me feel less crazy - comment away!