Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breastfeeding Professor and Mothering in the Workplace

The big news this week making its way across Internet avenues is about a professor that breastfed her child during her class lecture. Adrienne Pine (image left), the associate professor of Anthropology at Washington, D.C.'s American University, brought her baby to work and momentarily nursed her when she got hungry. This happened in front of 40 students and a Teaching Assistant. Pine had not intended to have her daughter in class that day but the baby had developed a fever and could not be left at day care. Unable to find alternative care for her child in such short notice and unwilling to cancel the first day of her 'Sex, Gender and Culture' class, she opted to bring her child to lecture instead of staying at home. As a result, there has been a firestorm of responses, both in support and outrage of Pine’s decision.

Having read the initial ‘rants’ about the controversy in Pine’s campus newspaper and her response to the attacks, I have to thank Pine for inadvertently and unwillingly becoming the subject of a much-needed discussion around mothering. Owning to wonderful colleagues and mothers, such as Teresa Williams and Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, they have informed and validated for me the importance of accommodations for mothers in the workplace as well as ways in which mothering serves as crucial framework for so many aspects of our lives.

My understanding of the issues as a professor, and my own experiences as a mother of two young children, brings me to the center of this debate. I will not focus on Pine’s specific situation, which, I actually empathize with as both a committed scholar and breastfeeding mother (image right). Bringing a child to class is not ideal under the current social climate, but she made the choice as best she could, given her situation as a professor and single mom. Ultimately for me, this issue is not or should not be a debate on whether it is socially or professionally acceptable to breastfeed a child in class or any other space. It is much more than that.

The issue at hand is that academia, like so many industries in our society, are still seen through, using bell hooks' terms, the lens of a heterosexual, white supremist, capitalist, patriarchy. That is, women are expected to operate biologically or otherwise, in accordance to the standards set above. There is no consideration for or understanding of the challenges that come in pregnancy, birth, and mothering. Because of this lack of education and total disregard and disrespect of mothers and children, we have our current condition. It is one where two weeks off to recuperate and care for a newborn is the norm. Most mothers face the choice of caring for a child long-term or returning to work prematurely. In doing so, the psychological and emotional toll brought on in terms of guilt and/or regret can be monumental. For those that try to balance both, many are confronted with unfriendly or hostile environments that does not support mothering and the work place. Mothers often feel isolated and fear scrutiny and subjects of target for dismissal, denial of tenure... Pine’s case is actually a nightmare for many working moms.

This, like so many concerns in our society, will not change overnight. Asking change rarely makes a difference. Demanding, mobilizing, organizing for change, coming together as a large population to expose the issues…may make a difference. So many critical of Pine’s actions come from a place with little understanding, experience, and no compassion for working mothers and mothering in general. I do not want to lose hope, but I do want to say, our society is far from recognizing the demands of mothering while sustaining a career for women. Without education, representation and advocacy, our lot will not be the last generation to experience gender oppression and discrimination in the U.S.

In solidarity with mothers worldwide -- above is a photo of me nursing my child in public. The blanket was to shield my child from the sun and not for "modesty."

2 comments: said...

This was a great read, Prof. KL! KUDOS to Prof Pine...and to YOU, my lounge monkeying academic! I had to go straight back to work in my private practice after 2 weeks b/c the locum tenens (temp doctor) was too costly. As working mom, physician and small business owner, maternity leave was a dream. Because I had a chronic condition and was taking meds that would pass through my breastmilk to my infant son, I never had the pleasure/burden/primordial joy of breastfeeding my baby. But I support Drs. Pine and Valverde! Viva working moms...and Viva all that the bring to the workplace: breastmilk and ALL!!! KUDOS and in solidarity...
Sincerely, :)

quetuofive said...

Well said professor, I could never understand how some could indulge in
"various internet behavior" and at the same be offended by a suckling child. Bravo, keep up the good work professor and work place nursing mommies everywhere!