It has been long debated, whether or not breastfeeding in public is acceptable. Many people have argued that breastfeeding is an intimate act that should only be done in private, regardless of the circumstances. Others believe that a woman feeding her child is a natural act and she should have the freedom to do that whenever she feels it is needed. Although this method of a mother feeding her child, has been used, literally since the beginning of time, it still is the causation of many intense discussions. Fast-forward to recent weeks, and the great breast debate has once again reared its ugly head.
On August 28th, Adrienne Pine, an anthropology professor at American University in Washington, D.C., found herself in a predicament that is all too familiar to many mothers. Especially single mothers. It was the first day of classes at American University and Pine’s young daughter woke up with a fever. Unable to take her to daycare, due to a “no sick children” policy, and unable to find a babysitter, Pine decided to bring her daughter to her class on sex, gender and culture. During the first part of her lecture, Pine’s daughter, Lee, was quite cooperative; however, about an hour into the lecture, baby Lee began to get restless. In an effort to calm the child down, Professor Pine, without stopping her lecture, began to breastfeed her child in front of her students.
Upon being fed, baby Lee quickly calmed down and Pines thought all was well—that is until the next day when she was informed of some students’ complaints. She also received interview requests from the school’s newspaper, The Eagle, following the incident. In addition to granting the student publication an interview, Pine also penned an essay on Counterpunch.org. In her essay, she stated although it was not ideal for her to bring her daughter to class, she thought it was her best option considering her circumstances. She stated that, American University is known to be a family friendly environment, so she believed the institution would be sympathetic to her situation. She also penned in her essay, that she believed it to be sexist that The Eagle was even targeting her on this issue. She in-turn asked for the publication not to run her story.
The reaction to this story on the internet is quite audacious to say the least. Some authors who have written about the topic—many of whom are female—have stated that Pine was unprofessional and should not have breastfed the child while teaching. Some commented that the students pay money to learn in an environment that is not “hostile,” while others argue that the professor should have had her teacher’s assistant take over the class while she excused herself to feed her child in private.
Other comments about the subject suggest that Pine is being treated very unfairly. Some moms argue that the media should understand that the professor was in a predicament and should be applauded for even coming to work under such circumstances. Many believe that society is trying to sexualize the very natural act of breastfeeding and that needs to cease. Adding that, mothers should feel safe and comfortable if they need to breastfeed their child in public.
Breastfeeding in public has been as debatable a topic as spanking and sex education for children. Some think it should be acceptable for a mother to do, because when a baby is hungry, he/she needs to be fed. While others view the act as indecent, sexual and simply inappropriate for the public setting. Many have come up with a number of alternative solutions Pine could have taken to appease her child, but as the cliché goes, hindsight is always 20/20. When put on the spot, many of us just do what we feel will provide the easiest and quickest solution, without considering whether or not it’s the most politically correct solution.
I am not mother, therefore I don’t understand the complications of breastfeeding while being a busy working mom. However, is it sexist to argue that maybe the professor should have stepped out of the classroom to breastfeed her child? By no means do I want to demean Pine’s actions. I am for women’s rights and empowerment and I empathize with the difficulties of raising a child. I also, unlike some others, believe that it was perfectly fine for Professor Pine to bring her daughter to work under the circumstances. But, was she a bit unrealistic to think breastfeeding her child while teaching her class was not going to garner a little attention— at least that of her employer? I understand that women may need to breastfeed in public and as long as they are covered and I’m all for it. If Pine were a high school English teacher or a businesswoman though, and she breastfed her child while teaching, or meeting important clients, I’m sure it would go against some employee handbook code of conduct.
What do you think? Should we be empathizing with Professor Pine and her situation, or were her actions inappropriate?