American Professor Objects to Hostile Workplace and “Anti-Woman” Attitude After Students Object to Her Breast-Feeding In Class

The Washington Post has reported on a controversy at American University involving Professor Adrienne Pine who drew complaints from her students in her class “Sex, Gender & Culture” after she breastfed her baby in class. The university has criticized Pine but the controversy has produced a national debate on the propriety of a professor bringing a baby to class and breastfeeding in front of students as she lectures.

In defense of Pine, this was the first class and the baby was sick. She did not want to cancel class and did not have child care options.

Pine allowed the baby to crawl on the floor in the class and was observed removing a paper clip that she found on the floor from her mouth. The baby also had to be shooed away from an electrical socket. She then breastfed the baby in front of the students.

When students complained and the student newspaper sent a reporter, Pine reportedly was angry and described the query and tone as “anti-women.” She proceeded to go public with an online essay titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing my Breasts on the Internet.” Ironically, in publishing the essay, Pine insisted that she was “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy.” She said that she considered even the inquiry about the incident to have created “a hostile environment.” Pine insisted that these objections from students missed the point of a feminist class:

In her essay, on, Pine summed up her view: “So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

The university criticized Pine for not taking leave in such a situation to take care of a sick child or arrange for child care. It further criticized the online essay as unprofessional.

I have often allowed students to bring their kids to class when they find themselves in a bind. (I actually enjoy having the kids in class). I tend to agree with the university over the need to take a leave on such a day rather than bring a sick child to class. I am particularly concerned with the response of Pine to the student journalists and the suggestion that such inquiries constitute a “hostile workplace” and “anti-woman” attitude. Not only are these journalists looking into a campus controversy but they are exploring objections from students. Colleges are places for such debates and, as indicated by the response of the university, there are legitimate questions raised by the controversy.

The EEOC defines a hostile work place as

“A hostile work environment is created when an employee is continually harassed, and has documented employment decisions that are biased according to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or socio-economic class.”

As general as that definition may be, it clearly does not encompass a campus controversy over a professor bringing a sick baby to class.

What do you think?

Pine is an anthropology associate professor whose academic bio describes her as “a militant medical anthropologist who . . . has worked both outside and inside the academy to effect a more just world.”

Source: Washington Post

75 thoughts on “American Professor Objects to Hostile Workplace and “Anti-Woman” Attitude After Students Object to Her Breast-Feeding In Class”

  1. The title of her class gives some reasons as to why she did not seem this inappropriate….. However, she is a professional and should treat the classroom as such…. If she was student…. I think wouldn’t have much to say….

  2. nick:

    you a lactatin man?

    Lord, I was born a lactatin’ man,
    Tryin’ to make a pint and doin’ the best I can.
    And when it’s time for pumpin’,
    I hope you’ll understand,
    That I was born a lactatin’ man.

    My father was a lactater down in Georgia,
    And he wound up on the wrong end of a pump.
    And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
    Rollin’ down highway 41.

    Lord, I was born a lactatin’ man,
    Tryin’ to make a pint and doin’ the best I can.
    And when it’s time for pumpin’,
    I hope you’ll understand,
    That I was born a lactatin’ man.

    I’m on my way to New Orleans this mornin’,
    Leaving out of Nashville, Tennessee,
    They’re always having a good time down on the bayou, Lord
    Them Delta women think the world of me and you can understand.

    Lord, I was born a lactatin’ man,
    Tryin’ to make a pint and doin’ the best I can.
    And when it’s time for pumpin’,
    I hope you’ll understand,
    That I was born a lactatin’ man.

  3. I’m not the “overly antiseptic” type. I do know what could be on the floor of a classroom–push pins, staples, coins…all manner of things that a baby could choke on. Accidents can happen in a matter of seconds. I’ve know people whose children died or suffered brain damage because of things they ingested/choked on. One baby choked to death on a grape; one child suffered severe brain damage when a balloon blocked his windpipe.

    I was told by doctors that a child should not return to school until after the child had been fever free for a least twenty-four hours. I don’t believe in taking chances with a child’s health. Call me crazy and over cautious. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I was a working mother too. I understand all the challenges that entails.

  4. what is the big deal, she can lecture while holding the baby.

    I saw babies being breast fed when I was 6, by 19 the novelty should have worn off.

    Mammals, its what we do.

  5. We are not ready to say that gender designated pronouns don’t make a difference. Or????

    Here’s a breast in your eye. But lean very close or I won’t reach you. Am I breast fixated today. Yeah, got an OK on my breat check yesterday.

  6. BettyKath,

    Lotta was before me, but I second his/her praise. However he may be right in that it was a mother’s reaction, and not fully thought out teaching MO. Can’t really judge her
    reaction. No data.

    Why this he/she/it with Lotta? Because I am not sure. Many have thought that I must be a woman because as one said, idealist was a girl thing. Oh well. Can’t we find non sexual gender pronouns besides the neuter it?

  7. Cultural recognition of the benefits of exposure to a wide bacteria flora is observed in India.

    Anointing the child’d cheeks with caressing their cheeks with your nose or lips is a sign acknowledging the value of exposing them to “your” flora.

    So why do we cheek kiss? Just to show our love? Perhaps it was something more.

    Fear of bacteria is an example of faulty medical knowledge. Hygiene is fine. Dirty water kills children. But craving a bacteria-free environment is futile and damaging the child’s defenses.

    In India they´know why. Spreads germs? That is the idea.
    Inoculation of those on your skin with others is of value to your immune system and theirs.

  8. Bettykath, excellent! We were thinking along the same lines. Great minds an all that. 😉 I was thinking that she should have opened the class with her breastfeeding, engaged the class and informed them that breastfeeding is still a hot-button topic in our culture and is a great jumping-off point for her class- “Sex, Gender & Culture”. Suddenly it’s a relevant teaching device and a non-story regarding, in the main, anything but teaching methods.

    Also, her prickly response may have been ideological or a bit of embarrassment over the issue.

  9. ElaineM,

    ” 11 Elaine M.
    1, September 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

    I would never take a baby with a fever to work…never let my baby crawl around the floor of my classroom. I think this professor lacks common sense.”

    You do realize that talented women can handle many threads simultaneously, and even common women can.

    You perhaps don’t know that this was excellent positive challenge to the baby’s immune system. Babes have been crawling on sand in the village square since man began.

    Science has proven, and human customs have proven that that exposure is necessary to develop the child’s immune system. No symbiont bacteria, poorer body functions. Fewer antibodies, lower activity and preparedness of the immune system.

    None of us are completely right. Not I either, so don’t feel affronted if I offer this viewpoint. Check it out instead. You just might change your mind about babies crawling around on a multi-person bacterial flora covered floors.

  10. PS Did Noam Chomsky have to get his views approved before expressing them in non-Harvard fora? Hope you get the point. Acadmic freedom does not end at the campus border, nor does freedom of speech and right to seek redress, etc etc.

  11. Demonstrate? Damn right she did. And I approve.

    Nothing like taking a bit of reality to the classroom to teach a point effectively.
    She put her kid and her breast where her lectures (her mouth) are. Right in their faces.

    A shame that these wimps, paying high prices for education to be spoonfed, were not on a few of her field trips in Honduras. Every MFKR who doesn’t understand what a sexist working environment is, should be givea a woman’s body to wear for six months.

    The definition was ridiulous. How long does it take to know you are in a sexist place? About one lecture with a graphic example which provokes the rotten suckers.

    The administration was as expected, afraid to back up a radical teacher. Non proffs to blog on her situation? What she does in her employment is their affair. What she blogs is her affair, including protesting her situation.

    I don’t ask my doctor what he/she listens to for music or their political etc views are privately. Go phuck off they might answer if they were not professional, and used to handling crazy patients. In this case: students.

  12. One time I had to work when my son was 7 months old and had a little cold and I didn’t have child-care for him and I managed somehow, and he didn’t swallow a paperclip that day and he didn’t get electrocuted that day and he DID get dirty that day and I don’t remember how, and he and I survived, and no newspaper reported it. I called EVERYONE, even Geraldo, couldn’t get a nibble! Damn!

  13. The class is “Sex, Gender & Culture”. Seems like a good teachable moment. Perhaps a class topic might be a discussion of what happened when baby was in class, e.g. how did you feel about it? why? what would you have done if it were your circumstance? how does this relate to our culture re: women and babies? etc. etc.

    Babies get fevers all the time. Knowing which homeopathic remedy to use depending on the type of fever is a good idea. (There are three remedies, ABC, that cover nearly all infant/toddler ailments) Letting babies crawl on a dirty floor isn’t the end of the world. I used to crawl on the floor as a baby and tried to share the dog’s food and water. I probably succeeded a time or two. It wasn’t unheard of for myself or my siblings to play in the dirt and some of it ended up in our mouths because fingers covered with dirt or mud just seemed to go there.

    Couple of possibilities for why it happened: Professor was unprepared and hadn’t thought out what she was going to do if baby was sick and couldn’t go to usual child care. It’s also possible that she was trying to make a point. In either case, it seems best to learn something about our own attitudes of toddlers in the workplace and breastfeeding in public from the incident.

  14. OT:

    Journalist Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red, has written extensively about US law enforcement and its relationships with political dissidents said, “There’s a huge disconnect between what the FBI and local police are being told and trained for, and what the reality is. There are presentations about ominous, nihilistic, black-clad, bomb-throwing, turn-of-the-century caricatures—the reality is that many anarchists are just organizing gathering spaces, free libraries, free neighborhood kitchens.”

    Plante was called to a grand jury on August 2, 2012 that was formed to investigate Northwest anarchists. At the grand jury she read a statement that detailed her non-cooperation and then proceeded to go inside the court house and refused to answer the state’s questions. She has been called to grand jury again on September 13, 2012.

    Plante said, “It is likely that the government will put me in jail for [refusing]. I hate the very idea of prison. But I know, if I am sent there, I will not be alone. I can only speak for myself, but I have every faith that the others subpoenaed to these hearings will likewise refuse. And I know that hundreds of people have called the US Attorney demanding that they end this tribunal. Hundreds of organizations, representing thousands of people, signed onto a statement expressing solidarity with those of us under attack and demanding an end to this sort of repression.”

    Those who condemn the grand jury of Ms. Plante are encouraged to go up to Seattle on Thursday and makes themselves shown. Plante’s grand jury hearing is at the Federal Courthouse at 700 Stwart St. in Seattle. We encourage you to arrive early to make a point. click here for a map If you are not able to go to Seattle and you believe in Plante’s cause – please click here and you will see a link to fax your letter to United States Attorney Durkin.

  15. Elsie DL:

    “Whatever happened to ‘normal’ people in this country?


    They are out leading normal lives. They are also in mild bewilderment at the cranks who get all the press.

  16. I haven’t read any of the comments by the blog readers. Breastfeeding is great for babies, so I encourage women to do so. Breastfeeding while teaching a group of students? What in the world was this lady thinking? What’s next: the first female president of the US nursing her baby while making her acceptance speech? Some things just don’t make sense. Whatever happened to ‘normal’ people in this country?

  17. I think the real issue is what kind of accommodation we want to make to breast feeding in the work place and other pubic places.

    But a side issue is bringing a sick child to the work place.

    Much has been said regarding a sick child in the classroom and the child’s health.

    There is also the issue of the students health and exposing them to a possibly infectious child.

    I think a pretty good argument can be made that a sick child belongs at home or in the doctor’s office and that the parent should minimize time in public place including the office. Bringing a sick child to work seems thoughtless and inconsiderate in a number of ways.

    But it seems to me the real issue is how we treat mothers, children and breast feeding in the work place. It seems pretty clear that some are uncomfortable with public breast feeding.

    Should that kind of discomfort in the work place be treated analogous to sexual harassment with one person given a veto over the actions of others? Should one persons discomfort with public breast feeding prevent women from breast feeding at work?

    Or should we give broad support and protection to women in the work place so that they can care for their children?

    And if we provide support to women in the work place, should that support take the form of safe, clean, easily accessible locations for breast feeding.

    Or should women be able to breast feed at their work stations. Does the kind of work make a difference. Do steel mills and coal mines have the same obligations that retail outlets and offices have?

    I don’t think these questions have clear, obvious answers. And I don’t think difficulty in answering these questions has anything at all to do with being anti woman.

    Finally, however we come down on the issue of breast feeding in the work place, I can’t help but wonder if there is a political dimension to this incident. It is really hard for me to believe that a professor could find no alternative to bringing a sick child to class.

    If there is a political component to this incident then I think we are all entitled to more open, wide ranging and thoughtful discussion than in effect saying: ‘I am doing it and if you criticize me you are anti woman.’

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