Saturday, September 02, 2006

More on the Politics of Breastfeeding

I am beginning to be grateful that newspapers are starting to talk more and more about breastfeeding issues. Upon finishing this latest piece in the NYT, I was reminded of one of the oddest conversations that I ever had. When I interviewed for the job here, an interesting fellow drove me to and fro the train station. On the way back, he decided to introduce as a topic for conversation: breastfeeding. It seemed, at the time, a real non sequitor. We had been discussing the Columbine shootings--which had just occurred and the perils of the internet. He then made it known to me that he would never let his (fictional) wife breastfeed in public. The idea is he couldn't stomach the way in which perverts would sexualize the act.

I never forgot that conversation because I thought it was bizarre. I am the first to admit that I am slow on the uptake, particularly when it comes to understanding how most people think in my country. I had never once thought of breastfeeding as an act that should not be done in public, for fear that prurient onlookers would get ideas. But, after finishing the NYT piece, I can't help but be amazed, once again, at how "dirty" breastfeeding is made out to be.

Now the point of the article is to create awareness that women who are still breastfeeding need accomodation at work to pump. And, surprise, surprise, women who have corporate jobs or are higher up on the professional ladder tend to have an easier time pumping at work, while the working class mommies are penalized or mocked.

If you read the reader's comments, many folks either tell stories of awkward and embarrassing encounters between male colleagues and moms trying to pump in private. Or, you have angered and annoyed readers suggesting that this sort of public display of pumping--which if occurring is probably the result of a workplace not accomodating the mother--is akin to public defecation.

This is just another example of what I find so bewildering about the American mind. While we are awash in the pro-life, pro-family rhetoric of the holier-than-thou right wing of the Republican party, mothers trying to do right by their babies by breastfeeding for at least 6 months or more are being harrassed at work.

I miss Freud. I can't believe I do. But, we have got to exorcise these repressed sexual demons. Breastfeeding is seen as an indecent public act? Pumping milk is an unreasonable worker demand? And lo and behold, the class war between breastfeeding mommies is all you need to postpone--indefinitely--any real push to change the workplace.

I suppose the reason that our pro-life group isn't outraged by this behavior towards breastfeeding mommies is that they think such womem should be shut ins. It's their fault for selfishly choosing work rather than staying at home, where they belong, to nurse their babies. Oh, how I weary of these fantastical fantasies of the religious right.