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August 26, 2013

LYONS: Look out for breast-feeding controversy

At the outset of a new school year, the news media offer helpful tips for college students: “Choosing the right major,” “6 tips for surviving dorm life,” “5 things you should never say to your professor,” stuff like that. Rarely do they offer practical advice for students who find themselves enrolled in a course taught by a faculty member who’s a total crackpot.

Or to put it more succinctly: another year, another collegiate breast-feeding controversy. Possibly you remember the brief sensation about this time last year, when Prof. Adrienne Pine suckled her infant daughter in front of a classroom filled with students attending her “Sex, Gender and Culture” class at American University. The embattled anthropologist explained that she’d brought the feverish baby to work with her rather than cancel the first class of the semester. When the child began crying, Pine put her to her breast and went on with her lecture. Some of her freshman students were taken aback.

Now comes Prof. Karla A. Erickson’s path-breaking article renouncing breast-feeding altogether, which the Grinnell College sociologist confesses made her feel like a cow. (An insult I shall refrain from passing on to my own cows, diligent mothers every one.) Perhaps not coincidentally, Erickson too teaches classes on “Gender and Society” at the Iowa college. Her bottle-feeding manifesto appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, where it attracted hundreds of incredulous responses.

After the birth of her first child, she explains, Erickson’s life as a mammal struck her as terribly unfair. Not only did nursing her infant son impose restraints on her own “spatial mobility and time,” but the “part no one ever talks about is that breast-feeding also consolidates pre-existing biological tendencies that privilege the breast-feeding parent.”

Yes, you read that right. Nursing her child was a joyous experience to Erickson. “Every time I got to breast feed him I was holding my son, singing, whispering, touching, and loving on my sweet little boy ... I had never known what it was like to be that close to another human.”

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