Monday, May 29, 2006

What it will take... perhaps more breastfeeding?

A number of women's groups are protesting Elizabeth Vargas's stepping down as co-anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight." I wish them good luck, but I think they may be taking the wrong approach. For one thing, it may be that Vargas actually prefers to step down. But how can we know? Pregnancy, both pre- and post-, is still such an unmentionable in this country-- except when we want to offer unsolicited and unwanted advice to a pregnant woman-- that one wonders how so many women manage to work while pregnant or breastfeeding as well as they do. And then there's the question of how many of us would be willing to run the post-pregnancy gauntlet of millions of critical eyes calculating how many more pounds we still need to lose?

Whether or not ABC is family- or woman-friendly is not enough of a factor, or at least not the only factor, in Vargas or any other woman choosing or being asked to leave a high-visibility job, due to pregnancy or the demands of motherhood.

So, what will it take to change the status quo? In my opinion, more breastfeeding in public would be an excellent start. The day that we can expect to see a female news anchor breastfeeding a baby while reading the news, or running an executive board meeting, etc., is the day we can expect to see women keeping their high-visibility jobs when they become mothers.

I can just imagine the hoots and hollers and jeers, and the uneasy looks about the possibility of obscenity charges (y'know that whole Janet Jackson episode just won't go away anytime soon), and I have to say that compared to the not-so-distant experiments of news readers either being nude or else reading the news while stripping... well, feeding an infant is hardly on a par with that depraved behavior. Yet, breastfeeding women are often expected to pump their breast milk-- or even feed their infant!-- in the restroom. Ewww! How gross! I don't know when you last ate a meal in a restroom, but can you really recommend it as a proper dining experience or environment for an impressionable infant who might learn to associate those sounds and smells with having breakfast or lunch? ...just so that the American psyche's obsession with the naked breast as sex object can be accommodated without inconveniencing anyone over the age of 18 by making them re-examine their values? Really?

[True, a breastfeeding infant is also a reminder of a possible consequence of unprotected sex, but in that case, wouldn't you then expect that this administration would actually get behind the idea of lactating mothers in high-visibility positions?]

We may not be able to do much from the top down for women like Vargas, who may or may not even want such attention. However, from the ground up, we can, if we are in such a position, breastfeed our own infants in public, encourage our friends, coworkers, family members, even strangers, to do the same. It's way past time for a little national desensitization program that would benefit, not just working mothers and their infants, but in the long run, all of us.

image: aunaturelbaby.com [clothes for nursing mothers]

7 Comments:

Blogger Karen M said...

from RebeccaGlover.com:

L.A.T.CH.O. - Learned Attachment Techniques CHanges Outcomes
Breastfeeding Natural? YES! – Comes Naturally? NO!

For a mother breastfeeding is a learned behaviour, but for her baby, breastfeeding is instinctive. Natures way for mothers to learn, is by subconsciously observing other mothers holding, positioning, and attaching their babies successfully.

Unfortunately almost every human culture has interfered with this natural process and today many women don’t have the opportunity to learn to breastfeed naturally. Mothers certainly don’t understand how to work with their baby’s innate behaviours, unless someone explains it to them.

Today, health professionals and lay counsellors in this field, play an absolutely crucial role in replacing the loss of the natural process, by teaching mothers attachment techniques that support innate infant behaviour and the “mechanics” of breastfeeding.


This is another very good reason for more public breastfeeding: women need it for help and support!

1:59 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

NPR had a story about this and one of the other reasons cited for Vargas deciding to leave was that she was meant to be paired with Bob Woodruff because their chemistry was so good. When Woodruff got injured in Iraq and ABC found out that he was going to be several months in recovery, they had to figure out something else.

Besides which, she is going back to her old 20/20 position.

3:15 PM  
Blogger Karen M said...

I'm not sure, either, that it is discriminatory. In fact, Charlie Gibson seemed set to get the job, and then they decided to go younger, also saying that he wouldn't agree to a shorter contract.

Still, Vargas's going back to 20/20 is seen by many as a "demotion" and a number of women's groups are unhappy about that, and the message it sends to younger women trying to figure out how to have both a family and a career. It may be what she actually prefers, though. We just can't really know.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

Okay, see, I have a problem with women's groups that seem to believe that they have the right to tell other women what to do. From my viewpoint, the feminist movement is about having a choice, not following an agenda someone else has set out for them. We don't really know what's going on in Vargas' mind.

But, it seems to me that she is making some choices here. She got pregnant, decided to step down from her anchor position and go back to 20/20. Since we don't know all the details behind it, I am choosing to think she made these choices as what was best for her and her family.

I think it's a much better message to send younger women that they do have a choice in their lives and that no matter what they do, the choice is a personal choice suited only for them. At least, that's the role model I'd prefer to be.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Karen M said...

badinage said... (copied from another thread)
Karen,

Help! I was trying to post on the Vargas story and ended up here. Anyway, I think sadly that NOW jumping on Vargas' choice (and I believe she has plenty of firepower to make a choice) shows how traditional feminist organizations have somewhat lost their way.

If they weren't NOW, I'd call some of their attitudes paternalistic! It's as if they can't believe Vargas has the ability to think for herself, or that anyone who wasn't a Phyllis Schafly-style idiot would take a break from their job for childrearing.

They're also complaining about "Commander and Chief" being canned. For pete's sake, it's rotten ratings, not a male conspiracy (and Gina Davis' lips were really distracting anyway. Hard to believe a politician would use that much collagen.)

To me, modern feminism is, as one poster noted, about making choices. I've worked with the NOW folks plenty on stories and admire their committment, but they do have a tendency to dictate. No matter the gender of the dictator, I don't like it.

Badinage:

I agree. I don't think it's a conspiracy, though I do think there is structural bias.

That's why I think we really should encourage more public breastfeeding. Just the fact that it is so shocking to people, even my very pro-breastfeeding boyfriend, shows how much we need it. If no one cared about seeing a mother breastfeeding in public, especially at work, then we wouldn't have to worry about whether women gave up jobs when they don't want to. I work in an academic setting that is fairly family friendly, flexible, etc, but still, the logisitics for breastfeeding grad students or faculty leave a lot to be desired.

I posted a comment about in on Salon, too, where the consensus seems to be similar (except for the misogynistic commments).

I actually liked Commander in Chief, but they kept changing the night, which is never good for ratings, and I really don't think this country is ready yet for a female president, much as I hate to admit it.

6:52 PM  
Blogger Thursday Next said...

Karen:
I completely agree with you on this country not being ready yet for a female president.

Picture a room full of customer service reps, 3 of whom are women. One says, "I don't think we'll have made 'it' until we have a woman president."

Another says, "I don't think we'll have made 'it' even then."

The sole male in the room looks at the women with a very puzzled look on his face and asks what they mean by 'it.'

One brave soul (you can probably guess who) watches as the other 2 women sneak away from the conversation and tries to explain what 'it' is. Summed up in one word, "Equality."

"I don't understand. I treat women with respect and think they should have .... blah blah blah."

Yeah, he didn't get that while there are men in the world who truly believe women should have equal chances at life choices, not all men believe it and that it is those men who need to be addressed and revolted against.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Sing it sister!!!

7:47 AM  

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