A few weeks ago, American University professor Adrienne Pine found herself in a bind on the first day of her feminist anthropology class, “Sex, Gender & Culture.” Her baby daughter woke up with a fever and could therefore not go to her normal day care center. With no other care options for her daughter, the single mom made what she thought was the responsible choice, she brought her daughter along to class rather than cancel her first lecture and disrupt the course for her students. For most of the 75-minute lecture, Pine held and rocked her daughter or allowed her to crawl at her feet. At one point, when the little girl got fussy, Pine did what any other breast-feeding mom would do - she nursed her child.
Pine didn't think much of the whole event - until word of the lecture began to spread on campus and online via Facebook and Twitter. When she was approached by a reporter for the school's student newspaper, The Eagle, about the "incident," Pine was “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy.” But when the reporter refused to let the story die, Pine decided to tell the story herself, with an online essay entitled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing my Breasts on the Internet.”
In it, Pine shares the email she wrote to the Eagle reporter after she was asked to comment on the breast-feeding "incident:"
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.
And here's what Pine had to say when the reporter showed up immediately after one of her classes to question her further about the "incident," and ask if Pine thought any of her students seemed uncomfortable about her breastfeeding:
"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?”
It should go without saying that I am supportive of a woman's right to breast-feed - or more accurately - a baby's right to eat - regardless of the circumstance. And like Pine, I can't understand why this has become such a big deal. Sick baby. Single mom. The breast-feeding didn't affect her lecture, so what's the real story here? I think the real story is one about immature college students who live in such an insulated world of lectures and worksheets that they fail to recognize what a working parent must do to juggle the needs of her family and career on any given day. For Pine's sake, I hope the story blows over quickly so that those students can get back to their frat parties and term papers.