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.