For those of you who don’t know, suffrage is a quaint little term that has nothing to do with suffering. Women’s suffrage is a right most (not all) women enjoy around the world. It’s a right we US women take for granted. We don’t even think about it come November. Those of us gals who vote go to the polls, cast our votes, and don’t give it a second thought that 100 years ago we wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Yup, 100 years ago, in 1907, some whiny bitches dared to ask for the suffrage men enjoyed, the right to vote and take part in the legislative process. I only call them whiny bitches because I’m sure that’s what they were called back then, and I appreciate historical accuracy. See, now in all the textbooks and classrooms they’re considered heroines and pioneers. In 1920 they managed to finally succeed in their struggle. However, 100 years ago, when they hit the streets with their placards and unladylike picketing, causing unnecessary commotion on the streets with their parades and their desires for “special” treatment, back then they were bitches. And really, how dare they? After all, men were doing a “good enough” job of representing women’s needs and wants without all this …this… needless granting of power to the weaker sex. And come on, how ridiculous to give women the right to vote when everybody knows that a country is only powerful when it does things by force, and since women lack the capacity to show force in the same way men do, it’s only natural that society leave matters of government to the menfolk.
In the context of modern Western society, these hateful ideas, which were spouted by both men and women, are clearly ludicrous. But those were the arguments put forth in the anti-suffragist movement, among others.
What does this have to do with breastfeeding? Lately there has been a spate of breastfeeding discrimination cases which have given me pause (not to mention the completely ridiculous livejournal, mySpace, and Facebook breastfeeding picture-deletion/banning issues which have also popped up). Well, it just so happens that there’s this bill called the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which is not yet a law and won’t be one unless it gets voted on in the House and Senate. It has been proposed as an amendment to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which is itself an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Breastfeeding Promotion Act would include lactation as a protected right. What does this mean? It means a woman who works won’t be forced to choose between her job and continuing with breastfeeding, if her employer decides not to provide a room for her to pump in during her breaks. It means employers would have tax-break incentives to provide their employees with a lactation rooms, so lactating women don’t have to be relegated to a filthy bathroom to pump or breastfeed their children. It also means that as lactational issues become more normalized in the workplace and in public (I believe breastfeeding in public without harassment would also be protected under this bill, by proxy), the goal of getting the biological norm of breastfeeding to merge with the societal norm becomes more likely.
Why did I mention the term “bitch?” Because one of these breastfeeding discrimination cases in the news today has generated a lot of vitriol: The case of the Harvard medical student who wasn’t granted twenty lousy minutes per test day to pump. There are a lot of details to this story which make it very difficult for people to sympathize with her position, namely that she’s being granted a lot of extra time for some disabilities she’s been diagnosed with (dyslexia and ADHD). Here’s my take on it: if she weren’t granted any extra time for her disabilities, would it be reasonable for the testing board to grant her an extra twenty minutes for pumping? The answer is YES. Definitely. Of course. It is absolutely 100% reasonable to be given twenty minutes to pump per test day (and even that is a bare minimum), because pumping is something she would have to do in addition to whatever else she would have to do on her break (eat, go to the bathroom, stretch, close her eyes, make a phone call, etc.). Most of the other test takers are not lactating, and therefore do not have their breasts painfully (and distractingly) filling up with milk. They don’t need the extra time to relieve themselves of engorgement and simultaneously provide enough stimulation to their breasts to continue with lactation. Sure, she could squeeze the pumping in with all the other things she has to get done before the next section of the test is to begin, but why should she have to? Pumping is unpleasant enough. Truth be told, it is an ordeal, one that other (non-lactating) test-takers don’t have to undergo. Her other option (which imo is not an option at all) is to stop lactation entirely, to sacrifice it (and the health of her child) for the sake of completing her degree. Why should she have to do that?! Here’s the answer: She shouldn’t! She is being called a bitch, among other things, because she dares to “have her cake and eat it too.” She dares to strive for a healthy child, a healthy body (breastfeeding prevents disease in the mother, too), and a healthy career, and wouldn’t you know it? Asking for a reasonable accommodation to make all those things a reality constitutes bitchery. (I am not factoring in the accommodations made for dyslexia and ADHD because, as far as I’m concerned, those have nothing whatsoever to do with lactation.) Anyway, all this bitching wouldn’t have to be done at all, it would be a moot point, actually, if the Breastfeeding Promotion Act were passed.
So, this Breastfeeding Promotion Act, how do we “bitches” get it turned into federal law? That’s coming. Stay tuned.