A Lecture in Boobs

Yesterday I saw a post by Nuby on their Facebook page about a woman who had found herself in a media storm after breast-feeding her baby in a lecture. A lecture she was giving. In the university she works in.

I hadn’t come across the story as I try my best to avoid newspapers, particularly The Daily Mail which is where the link was from, but I often get my news from the Nuby Facebook links and quite enjoy joining in with the comments. I refrained from commenting on this one as the people already “debating” the issue were getting themselves quite worked up.

The story, for those of you who missed it, involves a professor in America taking her sick baby to a class she was delivering and breastfeeding her whilst teaching. Some of the students talked to the campus newspaper and the professor found herself being harrassed in the pursuit of a story.

From the comments on Nuby’s Facebook you’d think that she’d been told that her breasts were poisonous and that nursing was immoral. Somehow people seem to have got so caught up in the breastfeeding aspect of this story, which frankly seems to have been blown out of proportion in order to boost circulation, that they’re missing the point.

The point, so far as I can see, is that she took her baby to work without the prior consent of her employers and, in doing so, impaired her ability to perform her duties effectively. This has nothing to do with breastfeeding; it has to do with behaving unprofessionally.

The students in her class are paying a LOT of money to be there. They’re paying that money and have chosen that elective because they want to be taught that subject by that professor. It has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a woman, that she’s a mother or that she breastfeeds.

But they’re not paying that money so that they can watch a baby crawl around, put itself in danger, cry and fuss, and be nursed by its mother. That’s not what they’re going to college for. It’s not what universities are there for.

The fact that the elective is about feminism is not relevant. If you want to make this about feminism then make it about the fact that women are limited in their career opportunities as a result of the childcare they have access to. Talk about the cost of nurseries, whether large employers should offer creches, the culture in which time off with a poorly baby can affect your career prospects.

Yes, people have commented on the fact that she breastfed her baby. Yes, that’s what’s made this story circulate. But does that really mean that her students are, as one commenter claimed, too immature to be at university? Or does it suggest that they were shocked by behaviour that was not appropriate in that situation?

The fact that the University have stated that they do not support her actions has also been criticised by some who see it as further proof that women are being prohibited from breastfeeding wherever they choose. That isn’t the case. They’re simply maintaining professional standards and, no doubt, upholding the contract they have with the professor. I would imagine she was in breach of her contract of employment, and I would also guess that as a result the university’s insurance was compromised.

I don’t know what attitudes to breastfeeding are like in the area the professor lives and works in, but I believe that assigning disproportionate significance to the boobs in this story is the real affront to feminism.

In some ways anything that gets people talking about important issues is a good thing. If people are talking about attitudes to breastfeeding it gives them the opportunity to consider their own views and, hopefully, to encourage development across a wider section of society.

The thing that worried me most about the comments on Nuby’s Facebook page was that some people were criticising not only other people’s views but Nuby’s motivations in posting the link in the first place. When encouraging healthy debate is considered “controversial” it seems difficult to imagine The Daily Mail’s views on issues such as breastfeeding ever being stamped out.

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About Stitches and Stretchmarks

Honest and frank Mum of one.
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2 Responses to A Lecture in Boobs

  1. Helen says:

    I totally agree. The story here is not about which method she chose to feed her baby, but the fact that the baby was there at all, in a place of work.

    I commented on the Nuby link that, although I breastfeed myself, I found her actions irresponsible and wrong. Not because she breastfed (i’ve done so in probably every conceivable public place possible!) but I feel the workplace is not an appropriate place for a baby, sick or otherwise, to be! I would feel the same even if the baby was bottlefed.

    I do question the lecturer’s true motives in this as well. It does feel like perhaps it’s a stunt, or a way to compromise her employer and maybe seek some sort of lawsuit against them. Maybe it’s cynical of me, and i’m probably reading too much into it, but I just feel there’s more to this than meets the eye because I don’t understand how a supposedly intelligent, well educated, and mature woman cannot see the bigger picture and only seems to think that the students and University had a problem because she was breastfeeding. I don’t know her personal circumstances, but I’d imagine that financially she should be in a better position than say a checkout operator for example, who may not have the luxury of a decent salary and paid leave should their baby be sick. So I don’t understand why she decided her only viable option was to take the baby to work?!

    The responses on the Nuby post sadden me too. As usual there seems to be two distinct camps; those who breastfeed and automatically see articles like this as an affront to their rights, and those who bottlefeed and believe the “breastfeeding brigade” (I hate that term) are out to criticise them at every turn and are shoving breastfeeding down their throats (this belief is incorrect, in most cases, may I add)! I think it’s such a shame that women feel like that, and that they can’t put emotions aside, when they read an article first, so that they aren’t blinkered, and actually read the article without bias. I think if they could do that they’d realise that this argument has nothing to do with breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding, and everything to do with childcare provision, and where, perhaps, we believe a working mum’s priorities should lie!

    • Perhaps you’ve got a point about it being a stunt. She did, after all, write about it in fairly inflammatory terms and with little respect for her students.

      Had it been designed to provoke discussion *for* the class or the one coming up the following week, even if the students didn’t know that, maybe it would be forgivable.

      It just seems odd that she could consider the options available to her (stay home; cancel the class; reschedule the class; have the class covered) and decide taking a poorly child to work (among a group of students she hasn’t worked with before, who aren’t known to the child, and are probably carrying lots of germs as groups of new students tend to) was the most appropriate.

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