Breastfeeding: An Empoyee Right?
Here is an interesting story of which I am struggling to form an opinion: a female police officer, Officer Sashay Brown in Washington D.C. was recently denied desk duty that she requested in order to continue breast feeding her new baby. She had just come off maternity leave which exhausted her sick leave. Medical Services Branch Director, William Sarvis refused to bend a new department policy that was meant to force officers who had made dubious claims of health issues back to the street.
The article does not state whether she had vacation time left or whether she was allowed to apply it in this case. As it wasn’t mentioned, I have to assume that it was also gone. It states that this was her second child, but not whether it was the second time she took maternity leave with this department. Nor does it indicate whether or not Brown had any discipline or work performance issues before this situation.
“Because of my condition, I am unable to wear my [bulletproof] vest,” Brown wrote in her June 12 request to be detailed back to her station on limited duty. “Wearing my vest is extremely painful and could clog my ducts and slow down the production of my milk supply.” She was then checked out by a department doctor, who advised that Brown be given a limited-duty desk job.
In a June 24 memo to Brown, Sarvis wrote, “I have reviewed your case and determined that you will not receive authorization to participate in the limited duty work program.”
Sarvis said that until department doctors determine Brown is fit for full duty, she’d either have to take sick leave, or unpaid leave if she didn’t have sick days left.
Note that they weren’t firing her. She was given unpaid leave and a job to come back to.
As a once lactating mother, my first reaction was negative. But immediately on the heels of first impression came another, larger wave of suspicion. I am done with knee jerk reactions to news of this nature. I support a woman’s right to feed her baby. Breast milk has been proven to be critical in terms of antibodies, fat & nutrition- perfectly suited to a human baby’s health needs. I support breast feeding in public places.
But here we come to the crux of the matter. The work place & women. Having been recently battling young ‘feminists’ on their tantrum blogs, this has been lately on my mind. Just how much sexism really exists in the workplace anymore? Having spent 20 years in the work force- in the U.S. Army, a police force, and 15 years in the corporate private sector, I can honestly say that I have not experienced sexism, per say. Harassment & violence- once. Discrimination? No. I have always been hired & paid the exact equivalent, or more, than my male counterparts. My job has never been defined by my sex. I have had equal opportunity to follow my career as I saw fit. Yes, there is the occasional butt-head who didn’t like me- but that could also be chalked up to my sometimes abrasive personality (*ahem*). I’ve had lots of women not like me too. Is that sexism?
The question that comes to mind concerning this police officer is, “Is breastfeeding an employee right?” And on a larger scale, “Do workplaces need to make accommodations for a woman’s child bearing desires?” The Family Leave Act and others like it have already forced businesses to give unpaid leave (6-12 weeks depending on the job and/or state) to both the father and the mother when a child is born. Most work places offer various levels of paid time off as well for child birth. The work normally done by these parents is divided among the other workers. Should they also accomodate breastfeeding?
Can a woman be said to have a ‘medical condition’ because she wants to breastfeed? Is she unfit to do her duty as a police officer? Should the police department allow an officer a year in desk duty while other police officers must cover her more dangerous street duties? Do women have a ‘right’ to this special treatment?
No. She doesn’t. There are so many jobs a person can do in this country. Every job offers benefits different from the others. Isn’t it the job of any adult to plan their own lives? Women included? As a woman, I always knew I would have children. That is why I chose to be a management consultant. A sole proprietor. I knew I wanted maximum flexibility. Sure, my contracts are between 3-12 months at a time, but I have always had a job when I wanted one. Because I did my homework and kept my skills sharp. And I got the flexibility I wanted for child-birth and anything else my family needed. Did this police officer not understand the terms of employment beforehand? Did she not inquire about leave, sick time, maternity benefits? Why didn’t she plan her life to include the things she needed and wanted? Should other officers be forced to do more dangerous street time because she wants to nurse?
The fact is, feminists today would call these types of decisions, ‘sexism’, when they are not. Businesses are about money. All they care about is who can do that best for them. Women cost more money than men. Women are less dependable than men as they tend to take long maternity leaves for babies or completely drop out after costly training for the job. Women complain because there are not more women CEOs. But my response is that any woman who is willing to drop child-bearing or child rearing altogether and put in the 50-60 hour week necessary to be a CEO will become a CEO. That is what male CEO’s do. Most of us don’t want that though. Hence, fewer female CEO’s. Not sexism.
Sometimes reality must set in. The government does not need to impose more legislation to ‘protect’ women. Women, young women especially, need to be smart and plan their lives according to their desires. The feminist message is a false one and causes young women to stumble in their life plans: “You can have it all. A power driven career, a great husband, children & nurse- all at the same time!” The feminist message also denies a woman the simple joys of being at home with their babies. This is painted as ‘weakness’, ‘giving in’, ‘sacrificing’, ‘the greatest American brain drain’ and a ‘sad dependence on a man’.
On the one side, feminists scream that they want to be in the police force, fire department & military. They are equal to men. Fine. But then they turn around and say, “Treat us like women- we are DIFFERENT than men! Don’t you see we need to give birth and lactate?” That, my friend is having your cake and eating it too.
Women need to wizen up and see things for what they are. We bear children. Most of us enjoy the process. It is extremely fulfilling and challenging to stay home with your kids- it is not a brain drain. Child rearing is one of the most critical jobs of society. It is difficult to do well. Work forces should not be forced to make up for our lack of life planning. You can’t have it all. Why should you want to? It’s exhausting.