An anthropology professor at American University is freaking out because a student journalist asked her a question about the fact that she breast fed her baby while giving a lecture.
I know there’s a big breast feeding debate going on out there but there’s a way to have the debate. This is not one of them. This professor is so nasty and condescending and so hopelessly academic that it actually gets hilarious.
She says she doesn’t like talking about her child in public because “I try not to talk about her in a way that will make people think it’s appropriate to treat me as some sort of essential mother. I love my daughter unconditionally, but she does not define me, nor do I hope to define her.” She said she didn’t want to talk about this incident at all and railed against the school newspaper for making it a story, calling it “third rate” and belittling the female student reporter by talking about her “naivete” and describing her as “chirping” when she spoke.
So as part of railing against the fact that this chirping reporter wanted to write a story in her third rate campus newspaper, Professor Pine wrote about the incident herself at Counter Punch in a piece called “Exposeing My Breasts on the Internet.” You know, because with a title like that, she didn’t want to bring attention to herself.
So here’s the deal – the poor little tyke was running a fever so Mom wasn’t allowed to bring her to day care so she brought her to the first day of class. That’s cool.
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. Although I specifically instructed my teaching assistant, Laura, that helping me with my child was outside her job description, she insisted on holding and rocking Lee, allowing me to finish class without any major disruptions. When Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep.
The next morning there was an email in her inbox from a student journalist from the campus newspaper asking about her breastfeeding during class.
Here’s what Professor Pine wrote back:
I really wish this weren’t considered “newsworthy,” but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU. I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students. I merely had a sick baby who I couldn’t leave at daycare on the first day of class. It was unfair to leave the job of teaching the first class to my teaching assistant, so I had two choices: cancel class, which would have been disruptive to students (and which could also negatively affect my student evaluations, putting my tenure at risk), or bring the baby to class. I chose to do the latter. As it turned out, the baby got hungry, so I had to feed it during lecture. End of story.
Anyone else get weirded out when people call a baby “it.” Especially Moms.
But never mind that, she took on a bit of a snippy tone with the reporter who was trying to be sensitive about the subject.
You see, Professor Pine doesn’t want to be one of these breastfeeding crusaders. She wrote, “I have specifically tried to distance myself from lactivism, which has always seemed hopelessly bourgeois to me.” Yeah, she actually wrote that. Hopelessly bourgeois. You know what I find hopelessly bourgeois? People who say things like “hopelessly bourgeois.”
But hold on, it doesn’t end there. She’s actually just ramping up.
To be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so. But there is not. And although until last week it had never occurred, I believed myself a sufficiently belligerent person to take on anyone who challenged my right to feed a child, without having to resort to a gendered essentialism about the naturalness or sacredness of the mother-child bond.
I’m actually starting to get a kick out of this woman. Heh.
So the young female reporter went to see her the next day.
I, unfortunately, was in professor mode, too polite to tell her to go to hell. So when she asked me “do I consider the classroom a private or public space,” presumably trying to bust me for doing something “private” somewhere public, I told her it was both. AU is so expensive and exclusionary, in addition to formally being a private university, that the classroom could be argued to be private; however, the ideal of the University is to be a forum where ideas can be exchanged and debated publicly, and I hoped my classroom corresponded to that model of open inquiry. But, I added, coughing, “whether it is private or public has no bearing on whether I would choose to feed a hungry child.”
“When the incident occurred…” she began.
“I didn’t think of it as an ‘incident’,” I responded, with what I’d hoped would be visible annoyance. “But obviously one of my students told you, so I guess you think it was.”
She continued, “When the incident occurred, were you worried about what your students would think? Did they seem uncomfortable, did they say anything?”
I slapped my palm on my forehead in frustration. What I wanted to say was “Who cares? Do university students really need to be so mollycoddled that they should not see something I do on public transportation nearly every day?” But I believe my answer was more along the lines of “I’m the professor. I’m in a position of authority in the classroom. How likely is it that they will out themselves as being afraid of a partially-exposed breast on the first day of a course on feminist anthropology?”
Heather then tried to catch me on cultural insensitivity. “AU prides itself on its diversity and on having a large number of foreign students among its student body. Were you worried about what they’d think?” Exasperated, I skirted the issue of AU’s lack of class and racial diversity (in Washington DC, of all places) and tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy “incident.”
“Since it’s natural, after all, right?” She chipped in, nodding as if she got it.
I held my hands up and rolled my eyes.
She seems like a real doll, doesn’t she with the eye rolls and the forehead slapping, doesn’t she? And describing the reporter as “chirping” and “chipping” doesn’t seem very politically correct, does it?
I’m sorry this piece is going on so long but it’s just too priceless. She then goes on about the fact that her breast may have enjoyed “white privilege” before this incident and that’s why nobody complained. I’m serious. “Perhaps if my breast were brown or black there would have been less tolerance for its partial exposure.”
And then she writes an email to the student journalist demanding that she spike the story because…she’s the victim.
I feel that the focus on my protected actions in class singles me out unfairly in the workplace and as a woman. Especially if you are going to go the typical journalistic route of finding “both sides” of this “story” which I believe shouldn’t be one by seeking out students who felt uncomfortable by my actions, the result will be a hostile work environment for me not just now, but in the long term. You will put me in a very difficult and structurally vulnerable position by publishing this story.
Yeah, that’s why she wrote all about it herself at another website.