It’s said that every mother is a working mother.
I am a mostly-stay-at-home mom: I work two mornings a week outside the home. I like the work, the change of pace, and–to be honest–the paycheck. My husband stays home with the kids the mornings I work. (The myriad ways us switching roles these two mornings a week has benefited our marriage is a story for another post.) My schedule gives me the flexibility to homeschool my children, breastfeed my baby, and take care of things at home.
Over the past month, for a variety of reasons, my office hours have been closer to full-time than the usual two-halves-make-a-whole workday I typically put in over the course of a week. My kids are spending a lot of time at Grandma’s. I’m using my lunch break to run breastfeed the baby. But I think I’m doing good work at my office.
In the midst of this work-life craziness, my husband emailed me this article from the Wall Street Journal, complete with provocative title: Nursing moms seen as less competent. The article discussed a Montana State study about attitudes towards breastfeeding. College psychology students were asked to assess a woman’s talents in several areas, and they were incidentally informed as to whether she was a mother, or even a breastfeeding mother. “The students rated the “breastfeeding” woman lowest…on overall competence, workplace capabilities, math ability—and also whether they’d hire her, if they were in a position to do so.”
Critics said the study didn’t have much bearing on how breastfeeding mothers would be perceived in the workplace, because what this study truly measured was the attitude of college students. And college students aren’t the ones doing the hiring. (Yet.)
The critics have a small point, but they are missing the larger one: the study found that college students perceive breastfeeding women to be less competent than other women!
I found this study disheartening–not because of what it said about women’s job prospects, but because of what it said about the image of women in general, specifically the nursing mothers. In the workplace, women are doing great. Discrimination has plummeted, the pay gap is gone, and women are redefining what success in the workplace looks like. We are working vastly fewer hours than employed men, and we are doing it so we can spend more time with our families. Many of us have even stepped out of the workforce entirely to stay home full-time.
And yet these women–who are seeking success on their own terms–are perceived as being less competent by some silly college students just because they breastfeed. (Haven’t they seen the stats? Breastfeeding women are statistically more affluent, better educated, healthier and have better support systems than those that forgo nursing.)
So, from one breastfeeding mom to women everywhere: Continue to redefine success on your terms. As for those college students? We must teach our own children better. To respect other people–and their choices. To honor mothers–and not just their own. Don’t worry about your image. Do the right thing, and teach the next generation to do it.
What do you think? Post thoughts to comments.