A professor's decision to nurse her baby while lecturing her students has re-ignited the "lactivism" debate. Were her actions understandable or unprofessional?
On the first day of her "Sex, Gender Culture" class, American University Assistant Professor Adrienne Pine found herself in a conundrum when her baby awoke with a fever. Unable to drop the infant off at daycare, Pine brought her to class and began to lecture, keeping an eye on the baby as she crawled on the floor; at one point, a teaching assistant held and rocked the baby. But then the baby grew "restless." Pine chose to breastfeed the baby while continuing to lecture, until her offspring fell asleep. Though Pine saw the situation as a non-issue, AU's student newspaper tried to interview her on the "incident" — and the controversy has grown exponentially from there. Facing public scrutiny, Pine has published a defense, declaring “whether it is private or public has no bearing on whether I would choose to feed a hungry child.” But critics have argued that her actions were inappropriate and unprofessional. Did Pine cross a line, or did the college-aged students overreact to a non-incident?
Pine was making the best out of a bad situation: This is yet another disheartening example of how society "expects women, especially highly educated and ambitious women, to breast-feed, but forbids them to do so while pursuing their ambitions," says Amanda Marcotte at Slate. Pine was in a bind that should "draw sympathy from those who aren't inclined to immediately think the worst of women." She could stay home with her sick baby and risk her chances at tenure, or bring her sick baby to class. The controversy over her decision only proves "the underlying anxieties about sex and gender" in American society.
"An American University professor breast-fed during class. So what?"
Pine's decision was unprofessional: "I want to be on Pine's side," says Lela Davidson at Today, but this isn't really about breastfeeding — it's about professionalism. Pine's mistake wasn't breast-feeding in public; it was breast-feeding "while she was performing a public function of her job." Even if she didn't want to miss her first day of teaching, Pine could have sat with her baby while her teaching assistant taught the class, or waited until after class to breast-feed her. It's an unfortunate situation, but "sometimes we all have to make very difficult choices between our families and our jobs."
"Is it OK for a college professor to breast-feed during lecture?"
Breast-feeding in class was okay — but Pine's reaction wasn't: "It is a professor's job to enlighten, teach, and explain," says Petula Dvorak at the Washington Post, and Pine missed her chance to do any of those things. The student journalist who inquired about Pine's actions was "calm, respectful, and thorough," but Pine's defensive response "ridiculed, belittled, mocked, and lashed out at the student and the paper" in a way that discouraged an open conversation about mothers in the workplace. Pine's frustration was understandable, but her aggressive response was "definitely not professorial." She squandered an opportunity for a teachable moment.
"Breast-feeding while teaching isn't what makes this woman a boob"
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