The problem with breastfeeding in class is not the breastfeeding

You have to give American University assistant anthropology professor Adrienne Pine credit for attempting to divert everyone from the real issue. Instead of accepting blame for her unprofessional behavior, Pine has decided to pretend that this is a referendum on public breastfeeding.

The story is straightforward. According to the Washington Post:

Adrienne Pine was in a jam. The assistant anthropology professor at American University was about to begin teaching “Sex, Gender & Culture,” but her baby daughter woke up in the morning with a fever. The single mother worried that she had no good child-care options.

So Pine brought her sick baby to class. The baby, in a blue onesie, crawled on the floor of the lecture hall during part of the 75-minute class two weeks ago, according to the professor’s account… When the baby grew restless, Pine breast-fed her while continuing her lecture in front of 40 students.

Now Pine finds herself at the center of a debate over whether she did the right thing that day and what the ground rules are for working parents who face such child-care dilemmas.

Pine behaved inappropriately. As just about every other professional woman in the world knows, the solution is NOT to bring the child to the office/operating room/construction site. The solution is to have childcare back up. Women doctors, lawyers, and general contractors have managed to figure it out. There’s no reason why we should not hold Pine to the same standard.

Pine, of course, refuses to accept responsibility for her unprofessional behavior. Instead she claims persecution.

Pine’s piece in the political newsletter Counterpunch is self indulgent, even by the standards of academia, with the overheated title: The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus; Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet

Obfuscatory language? Check.
Sexuality? Check.
Neologisms? (Exposéing is not a word.) Check.
Completely missing the point? Check.

No, Professor Pine, the point is not your breasts, no matter how much you wish it were. The point is that infants do not belong on the job.

A week ago Tuesday my baby woke up with a fever. It was the first day of my intro “Sex, Gender Culture” class with 40 students and a new TA. Cancelling did not seem like an option. A friend who was visiting from Chile said to me over breakfast, “Just take her to class. You’re a working parent. Your students won’t care. It’ll be a teachable moment.”

No, it’s not a teachable moment. It is banal reality of parenting. Children get sick. Therefore, professional women must have emergency childcare plans for children who get sick. There isn’t a professional woman alive who does not know this and does not plan for it. There are even emergency childcare programs that exist specifically for this purpose. I’m not sure why, Professor Pine, you think you are an exception to this standard of professional responsibility.

As much as you’d like to portray this as a gloriously transgressive act, it is as simple and as mundane as failing to live up to your professional responsibilities. At the current rate of tuition, students (or their parents) are paying approximately $5000 to take your class. They are expecting your full attention and to be able to give their full attention to you. That’s not what they got:

I sped through the lecture and syllabus review with Lee, dressed in her comfiest blue onesie, alternately strapped to my back and crawling on the floor by my feet. The flow of my lecture was interrupted once by “Professor, your son has a paper-clip in his mouth” (I promptly extracted it without correcting my students’ gendered assumptions) and again when she crawled a little too close to an electrical outlet…

Still missing the point, Professor Pine. The point is that students had to watch your baby to make sure that she did not harm herself, not your “daring” move in dressing her in blue.

Would a judge hearing a criminal trial would be able to focus on her professional responsibilities if her baby were crawling around the courtroom? Doesn’t she owe the plaintiff, the defendant, the jury and the lawyers her full attention?

Would a surgeon removing a cancerous tumor be able to focus on her professional responsibilities if her baby were crawling around the operating room? Doesn’t she owe the patient her full attention?

Their children get sick, too, Professor Pine, and somehow they manage to fulfill their professional responsibilities without bringing their children into the workplace.

Let me make this very clear: the fact that you breastfed your child in class is not the problem, as much as you wish it were. The problem is that you brought your child to class in the first place, instead of having emergency childcare backup plans and putting them into effect.

Oh, and one more thing. Your behavior toward a student journalist (both in person and in print) is reprehensible.

I wasn’t able to get my point across. Heather continued hounding me, as my voice became increasingly hoarse and pained. I, unfortunately, was in professor mode, too polite to tell her to go to hell…

Why should she “go to hell” for doing her job?

Stop trying to portray yourself as a martyr for the cause, Professor Pine. The situation is very simple and it has nothing to do with your breasts.

You didn’t meet your professional responsibilities and you owe your students an apology as a result. Don’t claim discrimination, don’t blame your students for their “gendered” expectations, and don’t defame the student journalists who were simply reporting on the story.

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