Sexual Harassment of Nursing Moms

Monica Van De Pitte joined Lake Oswego based wireless provider Velocitel in 2012.  Her son was one at the time, and she was still nursing him, so they told her to pump milk in a supply closet.  Oregon law requires companies provide unpaid break time for pumping, in a locking private room.  Some companies provide rooms dedicated to nursing mothers with a sink and fridge.  I drew plans for such a room at a medical office building when I was still working as an interior designer.  All of my clients were wonderful with accommodating nursing mothers.  The University of Oregon was more than helpful when I was nursing my son and going to school.  So it shocked me to hear about Monica’s story.

Co-workers at Velocitel harassed her daily and she found a picture of a cow taped to the supply closet door.  One man, dubbed the “walking HR violation,” mooed at her and encouraged others to do so as well.  He pretended to honk women’s breasts.  Another nursing mom advised Monica to keep her breast pump and supplies hidden because other coworkers thought it was “gross.”  Monica approached the man and asked him to stop his offending behavior but he just laughed.  When she complained to management, they told her to examine why sexual conversations upset her.  So she sued their asses and recently settled for an undisclosed amount.

It is shocking that women still have to deal with this crap.  It infuriates me that there are companies that do not take sexual harassment seriously.  It seems that only through lawsuits and bad publicity will people start to change their behavior.  To prevent this behavior from beginning, we need to make nursing as public as possible so that people see it as the natural thing it is.

I also don’t understand the stigma mothers face.  On one hand it’s a state that is exalted to the point where fundamentalist religious leaders encourage motherhood as a woman’s highest calling.  Turkey’s prime minister, Davutoglu, recently addressed the women’s group in the AKP, claiming high suicide rates in Western countries were due to gender equality and motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.  Then you have jerks at home who sexually shame mothers or shame stay at home moms as holding back the feminist movement.  Both viewpoints are incredibly harmful and both can be perpetrated by either gender.

By putting motherhood on a pedestal like Davutoglu does, it takes the responsibility of child rearing off men.  When women take the sole responsibility of child rearing like this, not only are we held back in gender equality, but our children miss out on involved and loving fathers.  The second viewpoint robs the kids as well.  Less women will choose to breastfeed, or bear children at all, and the stigma also cuts men out of the child rearing.

Children need positive role models of both sexes.  It’s past time we got over this Madonna/Whore complex (or in this case Madonna/Cow complex) and started treating moms as people.  We’re just people.  And we shouldn’t have to raise the next generation on our own.

Sources:

David McCormack, “Breast-feeding mother who was ‘mooed’ at and taunted with a picture of a cow at work for using her breast pump wins lawsuit,” December 7, 2014, Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2864971/Mother-two-mooed-pumping-breast-milk-work-wins-harassment-suit.html#ixzz3LtYHnGlP

“Gender Equality Triggers Suicides, Turkish PM Suggests,” December 4, 2014, Hurriyet Daily News, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/gender-equality-triggers-suicides-turkish-pm-infers.aspx?pageID=238&nID=75231&NewsCatID=338

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