The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Bothersome babies and breast feeding

Posted by Cate on March 11, 2009

When I read news reports like this one about Shayne Sutton being told off for leaving a council meeting to express milk for her three month old baby I honestly wonder what year we are in.

Interestingly, the matter was raised by a female pollie, Families and Community Services chairwoman Geraldine Knapp, highlighting my suspicion that women in power are often more critical of other women.

Families and Community Services chairwoman Geraldine Knapp was the first to raise the issue, accusing Cr Sutton of “arrogance and contempt” for the chamber by absenting herself.

It seems rather like a gendered attack to me. When I go to meeting at my workplace, meeting are most often interrupted by people moving their cars (to avoid a parking ticket) , a cigarette break or to attend to a mobile phone.  I wonder if this is the same at council meetings, and if such interruptions are passed without comment?

The comments of Deputy Mayor Graham Quirk
“I might point out that there are other people in this chamber, other mothers who have very young children as well but are able and willing and are doing so … they’re performing their roles,”

seems to liken children and their mothers are some kind of homogeneous entity where there’s a norm of quiet, subserviant babies who all require the same kind of care at all times. I have never had children but I assume that expressing milk can’t necessarily be done at set times on the clock in between meetings.

Family friendly workplace looks good on paper, but making it work in a real active sense requires a level of flexibility and support which the council seems to be devoid of. I can’t help wondering what the response would have been if she starting breast feeding during the meeting?

Further, the reality is that many women do not have access to paid maternity leave and even those who do suffer negative consequences in regard to career advancement and superannuation. This would be even more that case for an elected female politican who’s need to be in the public eye would not be helped by a lengthy absence.


10 Responses to “Bothersome babies and breast feeding”

  1. Laiste said

    Imagine the uproar if she’d breastfed in the council meeting! I simply don’t understand how women can be so venomous towards each other, especially in circumstances like this. We can’t win for losing.

  2. mscate said

    Well said!

  3. Steven said

    Obviously I’ve never expressed milk before – but what happens if she’d just waited till a scheduled break/finish? (I don’t know how long the meeting was going for, or what the normal practice with other interruptions at _their_ particular council, do long meetings have a recess?)

    I don’t see why they’d carry on, but I don’t know if I should say “X, Y, Z hapens at my workplace meetings all the time” and expect that everywhere else is the same. Perhaps in their chambers it _is_ out of order to leave for 15 minutes unless it is an emergency – IMO without more information it seems unfair to assume it is discrimination.

  4. caitlinate said

    Obviously Sutton felt that it was necessary for her to leave the meeting. If she’d needed to go to the bathroom or, i don’t know, move her car would she have been attacked in the same manner or had her reasons de-legitimised in such a way? It is a lose-lose situation for her (as Laiste pointed out). If the criticism was merely that she left the meeting then the argument that it was non gendered might be fair. The fact that Quirk felt it necessary to wholly gender the criticism through comparison with other women who are present of perhaps have a similar family situation it what causes me to view it as discriminatory.

    Steven. Without more information it seems equally unfair to assume it ISN’T discrimination. I have no idea what the protocol is either and I’ve also never had to express milk before. These both being reasons why I don’t believe I have the right to make judgments about her decisions, how necessary they were or how discriminatory the situation was. These are also both reasons why I don’t see how you can either.

    And you know what. The language you use is just another rhetorical cover for discrimination. I’ve never had to express milk, but… I’m not sexist, but… I’m not racist, but…

  5. Laiste said

    I have had to express milk before. I can guarentee you that there comes a time when your breasts get so painfully full of milk that you either need to find a baby right that second or express or face the major embarassment of a wet shirt, not to mention the pain of rock hard, milk full breasts. Sorry but breast milk simply doesn’t wait for scheduled breaks.

  6. Gaylene said

    More information needed about the meeting I think.
    My experience of expressing was that it isn’t something quite so urgent that it had to be done to an exact schedule (although in the first few weeks after birth it is a good idea to do frequently and to schedule to establish your supply). I found that I could be flexible to express between meeting times, during quieter moments at work etc. My work was supportive of the time I was taking out for expressing and so I was considerate in return by not choosing to express during important meetings. If this was something like a four hour meeting then it seems reasonable to leave to express (she was certainly very quick), but if it was a shorter meeting then perhaps she could have expressed before or after.

  7. Steven said

    Caitlinate: ‘rhetorical cover for discrimination’, that is ridiculous, it is not – though should I infer that you’re calling me sexist, racist, and anti-breastfeeding? It was a statement of fact along with a question asking for more information. Laiste and Gaylene have posted the information on expressing milk that I was wondering about. Gaylene’s experience was particularly interesting since she had to deal with the specific problem at hand – important meetings both long and short. In the case of short meetings, you might need to plan ahead by expressing earlier (as Gaylene said) than when you are full and ready to leak (a concern Laiste mentioned), or in long meetings doing it as required.

    I fail to see where I passed any judgement – I thought I’d sufficiently laboured the point that I didn’t see enough information in the article to come to any reasonable conclusion.

    In saying that it was discrimination, you make a claim (otherwise it seems to require that the default position is that actions are discriminatory until shown otherwise) – the burden of proof is upon the person making the claim, not the person who it is being claimed against.

  8. caitlinate said

    I wasn’t calling you racist or anti-breastfeeding. However you do, often, display signs of sexism. Why you’re trolling around a feminist blog when you so clearly disagree with some of the basic sentiments is beyond me. My claim about your language wasn’t implying that you were racist, it was attempting to unveil to you the manner in which your language oppresses those you are talking about. Please, go have a fit about it.

    Thank you for explaining the comments that preceded yours. I couldn’t understand what they had written so it was useful to have a male reiterate female experiences of breastfeeding to me.

    In saying it was discrimination I took the word of the woman the article was written about. If she felt that her behaviour was reasonable and that the reactions of the others were out of proportion then I’m going to listen to her, rather than telling her to shut the fuck up whilst I found out what her oppressors thought. You know, the way you do.

  9. […] are afraid of being fired posted at Hoyden About Town and mscate discusses breastfeeding at work in Bothersome babies and breast feeding at The Dawn Chorus. At Musings of an inappropriate woman Rachel Hills posts about a Mia Freedman […]

  10. Liz said

    How much better if we had proper Maternity/Paternity leave provisions, proper workplace creches and facilities for Mothers so they don’t have to feed babies or express brest milk in toilet facilities which are inappropriate venues.How much simpler for the woman in question to breastfeed her baby without fuss quietly in the Meeting,perhaps with the support of a creche worker to bring her the baby and take it back to the creche when it had fed.Funny how formality and rules are sometimes flexible for some things but not others.Not funny how intolerant and unsupportive women can be towards each other.We’ve all met the bitchy boss, the woman in the office who can undermine the confidence of others and bully in a subtle and often hard to prove way.This incident appears to be of the same order but more public.
    Expressing breast milk can be done during breaks but not always, it depends on how much milk is being produced,how much the baby is taking,how old the baby is, how experienced the Mother is and many other factors but in the end is very individual and not for us to judge what works for another.
    Nothing is more deserving of our support than the nurturing of young life in an appropriate and natural way.These incidents and the attitude of many seem very strange and ‘unnatural’ at times.What is more appropriate than feeding a baby with the milk it is meant to have at the right temperature,strength and formula in a situation where it can be close to it’s Mother in a nurturing relationship.
    This topic is very dear to my heart and as an older woman I make a point of always encouraging breast-feeding Mothers when I see them out and about, they need all the positive comments they can get!

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