Breastfeeding is a Feminist Issue
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|Mon, 09-17-2012 - 7:14pm|
BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC
Breastfeeding in public is an issue of social equality of the sexes and equal rites for all people. When we talk about breastfeeding in public as if the breastfeeding mother and infant must be allowed to breastfeed in public, it begs the question of whose public it is anyway. Doesn’t the public space belong to the breastfeeding mother as much as to everyone else? When we talk about breastfeeding in public as if a woman’s right to breastfeed in public is dependent on the approval of those around her, we are doing the same thing we did to our black citizens when we told them they could only eat at “approved” lunch counters.
When instructor Adrienne Pine breastfed her baby in front of her class on the first day of the semester at American University, coverage of the issue focused on the indignation of a few of her students rather than on the rights of Ms Pine and her child. As long as we treat breastfeeding mothers and infants like second class citizens, breastfeeding will be a feminist issue.
BREASTFEEDING AND WORK
Breastfeeding at work is even more illustrative as a feminist issue. If feeding one’s baby the milk of one’s species is a basic human right, then professional women have more of this human right than their blue-color sisters. A professional woman with an office can negotiate bringing her baby to work or can pump in her office. A blue-collar breastfeeding mom cannot even ask about break time to pump, much less have a place provided to do so, without fear of the reprisal of losing her job.
Only thirteen states protect a woman’s right to pump at work, and only five of these have an enforcement clause. And, while the Affordable Care Act’s provision for workplace pumping is laudable, it has limitations and workers may still face the burden of asking for breaks. Breastfeeding women who work remain second class citizens as long as their rights have to be negotiated.
BREASTFEEDING AND FEMINISM
In recent months, we have seen article after article extolling breastfeeding and attachment parenting as anti-feminist, but the apologists have it wrong. Breastfeeding is the feminist issue of our time because women who breastfeed do not have equal rights, either in public or at work.
I increasingly hear young women say that they are afraid to nurse in public, when it was a non-issue for those of us who breastfed back in the day. In the last ten years, the media has whipped us up into a frenzy about breastfeeding in public, and emboldened the minority of people who give a damn about it. The vast majority of people support and are in favor of breastfeeding and of breastfeeding in public.
The minority license to trump the legitimate rights of the majority, and particularly of breastfeeding mothers and infants, makes breastfeeding a feminist issue. Breastfeeding is the feminist issue of our time, and perhaps the fourth wave of feminism, because it is in the breastfeeding arena today that women must continually justify their legitimate behavior and defend their rights.