The Bitch is Back (Not a Post About Homeschooling. Or Maybe It Is.)

I must make a Public Statement about Women Who Breastfeed While Teaching. Because I am a woman who used to teach, and I breastfed, and though I never breastfed PK during class I did on occasion bring him while I was teaching. And I think I may have breastfed him during at least one faculty meeting.

So the main argument seems to boil down to whether or not one thinks that this professor’s students–those poor young things!!–were somehow ill-served by the fact that she brought her kid to class/breastfed it in class. (Some folks who are willing to allow–so generous!–that women with kids might have to occasionally bring the child to work Must Draw The Line at giving it the boob In Front Of Other People.) Because the students Deserved Her Full Attention or because they Might Have Been Offended. Somehow by bringing her kid to class/feeding it during lecture she wasn’t giving them What They Were Paying for.

I finally realized why this pisses me off so much while reading this post and the ensuing comments. Below is what I wrote in the comment thread, which will serve just as well here.

All the pearl-clutching over what the Students Deserve is crap. I think the [linked post] nails it by quoting this bit: “It wasn’t the students’ crisis, and they should not have been involuntarily made part of the solution.” God fucking forbid anyone, anywhere should ever have to “involuntarily” do anything.

Newsflash: doing things “involuntarily” is AT THE HEART OF our cultural discomfort with breastfeeding and with motherhood. It is AT THE HEART OF why feminism is necessary. We have made a god out of the idea that the most important human right is never, ever being “forced” to do anything–and the fact is that motherhood (and by extension, womanhood) is a problem, in such a society, precisely because it violates that shibboleth. Women *as women* have bodies that do things, involuntary things, that men’s bodies do not do. When women, in the course of their daily lives, remind us of that fact–by having children present, by drawing attention to the fact that they are lactating by breastfeeding (or leaking through one’s shirt), by showing “too much” cleavage, by dressing in ways that “draw attention” to our bodies, by being “too fat,” or “too thin,” by bleeding through our pants, by wearing “too much” makeup or perfume, by being “ungroomed” or “not taking care of ourselves”–we are an embarrassment, we are “unprofessional”, we are “asking for it.”

Fuck that shit.

Since my audience at this point is homeschoolers for the most part, I will add that I think that this central issue–the ways in which women (which is to say, children) force us as a society to confront the fact that we do not, in fact, have perfect control over every aspect of our lives–is absolutely central to education. It is central to why we underfund it, it is central to why we want children to Be Responsible for Their Own Educations, it is central to the argument that parents should be able to (are required to) “choose” how to educate their children, it is central to people’s concerns over whether homeschooled kids are properly “socialized,” it is central to the idea that teachers Should Be Held Accountable For Their Students’ Performance, it is central to the argument that The Real Problem Is Bad Parents, it is central to the argument that Some Children Will Always Fail And That Isn’t The Teacher’s Fault, it is central to the argument over whether teacher’s unions are The Problem or The Solution.

In every single instance we are arguing over control. Children are a problem in a world that insists on autonomy and self-determination, because children compromise one’s autonomy and change one’s life path.

I submit that a society in which children are a problem is a society that is deeply inhumane.

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8 responses to “The Bitch is Back (Not a Post About Homeschooling. Or Maybe It Is.)

  • tiredprof

    Nice to see a flash of the old [title of former blog redacted] And you’re absolutely right. I’m on sabbatical after 25+ of teaching undergrads and I am not missing the crap you describe above at all.

  • tedra

    Hey, @tiredprof! Sorry about the edit–trying to control google linkage to the extent it’s possible. Hope you’re enjoying your sabbatical…

  • mfenn0762

    Have to admit I cheered when I saw the title of your post in my reader this morning. Definitely not cheering over the latest
    pearl-clutching” going on, though. It just never ends.

  • Aaron Potter (@TwoBodyProblem)

    It’s surprising a prof breastfeeding a baby in class warrants a Washington Post article. I agree with you regarding the pearl-clutching. If the prof messed up her schedule and was eating lunch instead of breastfeeding during lecture, there’s no way this would have been newsworthy.

  • tedra

    Unless she was eating lunch with her BOOBIES.

  • Hendo

    Ahhhhh so glad to see The Bitch is back!!!

  • Perpetua

    The responses to this “story” have been pretty horrifying to me, especially on so-called feminist sites. If I had been capable of laughing at any part of this, I would have spit coffee through my nose at the way commenters reacted over at one site dedicated to feminist mothering. A feminist mothering site! And the comments were written by people who obviously never had a child, and had zero sympathy for or interest in the plight of working mothers. They could not grasp the concept of a baby-friendly, family-friendly workplace *at all*. It has been pretty shocking to me. I don’t expect better of the internets at large, but feminist sites, yes I admit I hold them to a higher standard. Holy sweet mother o god, people. All the negative comments boiled down to one (or more) of the following: BAD MOMMY (did you hear about the *paperclip*!!!); it’s super easy to find someone to leave your sick child with on a moment’s notice; bringing a sick child to class is tantamount to a human right’s violation, even though professors and students come to class sick all. the. time; it is always, always, always the woman’s fault. It clearly has nothing to do with society or institutional bias or cultural narrowness and lack of decent benefits. (I mention the latter because my former employer had a benefit called ‘back up care’ that would have permitted the prof to have a screened and vetted child care worker come to her house to watch the child, and very few employers have benefits like this.) Basically, these comments have revealed to me yet again why we desperately need a feminist movement, and how feminism is failing mothers.

    I agree strongly with the last sentence of your post. Inhumane indeed. The lack of compassion, indeed the venom, shown this mother is astonishing. (Though why I am astonished I have no idea, considering this is exactly how we talk about and to the poor.)

  • Beate

    So glad to have found you again!

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