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Contentions

Sex, Gender and Culture on Campus

Meanwhile, on the lighter side, back in Academe . . .

The Eagle, American University’s student newspaper, was about to create a “hostile work environment” for Assistant Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine by running a story about her breastfeeding her baby during the opening lecture of her intro “Sex, Gender, and Culture” class. It seems the baby woke up sick that day and couldn’t be sent to daycare. So, rather than cancel the class, Ms. Pine brought her daughter to the lecture room, where she crawled around on the floor, tried to eat a paper clip, made a beeline for an electrical outlet, and ultimately needed to be breastfed.

A student — perhaps sadly inhibited about public nipple displays, or possibly arrogantly assuming that his or her $50,000-a-year tuition might have earned a professor’s undivided attention — alerted The Eagle, which promptly dispatched a reporter to get Ms. Pine’s side of the story. Was it appropriate to nurse in class? Was anyone made uncomfortable? Had she crossed a line? Ms. Pine — with visions of tenure dancing in her head — couldn’t have a story about her breasts circulating in an endless loop on the Internet. She tried womanfully to convince The Eagle that this was a non-story: “I 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,’” she reports in “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” published on CounterPunch, the news site once edited by the late Alexander Cockburn, RIP.

When it looked like The Eagle was going ahead with the story, Ms. Pine simply had no choice but to get out ahead of it and write that CounterPunch piece — all 3,800 words of it. There were, after all, principles at stake here. “I was being targeted as a working woman in a way that would permanently tie my reputation to my perceived biological condition.” And “[t]o 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.” (Um, maybe a bottle?)

Well, there never was a story in The Eagle. But, thanks to Ms. Pine’s Counterpunch piece, the story did make it onto:

The Washington Post

ABC

Huffington Post

The Washington City Paper

Salon

Slate

Tenure, anyone?


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