One step forward, three steps back. Yesterday, we talked about the truly inspiring promotion of Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the first female fighter pilot to command an Air Force fighter wing. Her commander understood the significance of the moment, saying, “Because of what she has done, a lot of people will be able to follow behind her.” It was a big day for one branch of the United States Armed Forces.
But while the Air Force was celebrating a tremendous woman, the entire military and more than a couple civilians, were condemning another group of soldiers and soldiers’ wives. In the past week, there’s been a huge debate surrounding photographs of mothers breastfeeding while in uniform.
It all started with a breastfeeding support group that was formed on a single military base. The group decided to have tasteful professional pictures taken of some moms nursing to use for advertisements in the upcoming National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. But apparently, some believe that the women who fight for our country shouldn’t be breastfeeding while wearing fatigues. While the reasons behind the outrage surrounding these pictures range from mildly sexist to completely insane, there was one vein of protest that made me particularly angry. Here’s an example of the line of thinking from the comments section of the blog Breastfeeding In Combat Boots.
“I feel very strongly that respect for both the uniform and for women would be compromised should women breast-feed in uniform in public. Women have fought the battle for equal rights and must be cognizant of the fact that they are still in the stage of proving themselves as equals in society and should always remain professional while in uniform. Professional women do not breast-feed in public, and female soldiers, who are professionals, should not either.”
Right in this moment, I seriously wish that I was still nursing my daughter and still working in a normal business office. I’m not one for sharing my picture online all the time, but I would so quickly snap up a nursing picture to prove my point. What exactly about a “professional woman” means that they shouldn’t breastfeed their children? And how asinine to pretend that the fight for equal rights has led us to a place where its inappropriate for a strong, competent woman to feed her child in public in the most natural way possible.
Women proved themselves in this society so that we could be both mothers and professionals. We worked hard to show that those seemingly separate personas could exist within one person. The idea that striving for equality means that a professional woman shouldn’t be seen breastfeeding is utterly ridiculous. Should a man in a business suit refuse to feed their child from a bottle?
FMLA laws only allow a woman to be off work for 12 weeks, and those are all unpaid. the World Health Organization recommends that mothers breastfeed for the first year of their child’s life. That would mean that there are still 40 weeks where a mother needs to be both back on the job and still nursing her child. 40 weeks at the very least. The idea that nursing after she goes back to work somehow makes a woman less professional is both ridiculous and damaging to women in general. That perception actually hurts the goals of equal rights and its been proven to cost women money in additional pay disparity when they choose to breastfeed.
We should be supporting women in military, and that means supporting their choice to nurse their children, no matter what uniform they have on.
(Photo: Breastfeeding In Combat Boots)