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 my kid 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.
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.
(cross-posted from my other blog.)