Breastfeeding in the Senate

And Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who on Monday became the first senator to give birth while in office, has been pressing to change a Senate prohibition on bringing children onto the floor, which could impede a breast-feeding mother’s voting.

I think only a brain-dead idiot would bring her infant onto the Senate floor for the purposes of breastfeeding during a vote. An infant gains absolutely nothing whatsoever from being dragged into a chaotic, high-charged, noisy environment full of adults with who knows what bacteriological profiles. If it’s such an important vote, then use a pump, go vote, and come back.

The nice feelings I had towards Duckworth for giving birth at an advanced age have evaporated. Any measure involving children should proceed, first and foremost, from asking how it will benefit children. And this effort of hers is clearly not about that.

15 thoughts on “Breastfeeding in the Senate”

  1. You’ll definitely hate these ads which have women running for office breastfeeding.

    Kelda Roys is running for Governor of Wisconsin:

    Krishanti Vignarajah is running for Governor of Maryland:

    Both races are still in the primary stage. Both states’ Republican incumbents are running for reelection and weirdly, both women are my age.

    Perhaps Tammy Duckworth’s motion is partially a ploy for a pump room to be set up convenient to the floor and for her to get to. Remember she also doesn’t have her original legs. I do not know how much that slows her down.


    1. I think it’s horrible, yes. This is not an accessory, it’s a human being. A human being who will never again be as vulnerable as at this time in life. If mommy is so eager to consume the baby at this age, what won’t she do when the kid is older?

      Of course, babies sell, and it’s a potent tool of political mobilization. Wave an infant around, and you get votes. But it takes a certain kind of human being to go there.


    2. Ugh. Both ads are problematic. I can handle the Vignarajah ad though. She still ultimately seems like a professional and doesn’t veer too sharply from the traditional political ad (itself a problematic genre). But the Roys ad is absolutely ridiculous. She is just wearing some silly pink sweater breathlessly proclaiming her femininity in words, deeds, and gesture. She looks like she’s running for President of the PTA and barely competent for that job.


      1. I only had the stomach for the Roys ad, and even that I only got about half through. And yeah, it’s a bit of a caricature. Where I’m from, people would be mocking this to death right now. I’m glad that folks are kinder around here.


  2. I also don’t see how someone can truly get serious work done while simultaneously tending to an infant. And, even if the senate is often ridiculous, it’s still a place that requires concentration, thinking, organization, etc. It’s not a sewing circle for God’s sake.

    I highly support subsidized day care, pump rooms, or other reasonable accommodations for new mothers. But she’s just asking to bring her child to work. That’s not really tenable in any career. I know there have been a few emergencies where some faculty brought their children in for a meeting or to a single class session. But this is hardly the norm. Who can teach or attend to departmental matters with an infant in tow? Why can’t Duckworth leave her child at a high quality daycare or with a trusted childcare provider? How did we get from “mothers with full time jobs need reasonable accommodations” to “mothers should bring their children to work”? I just don’t understand the reasoning or the need here.


    1. “Why can’t Duckworth leave her child at a high quality daycare”

      She wouldn’t get as much attention (or free publicity)? Politicians are politicans first and foremost and it’s best not to have any illusions about any of them having better natures. Yes, they are ALL like that.

      (that doesn’t mean they can’t be useful or helpful, just never forget what they are)


    2. You and I are old-time feminists, it seems. 🙂 Yes, I agree completely.

      “Why can’t Duckworth leave her child at a high quality daycare or with a trusted childcare provider?”

      • Or with the kid’s Dad. Why can’t he do some child-rearing for his own child? To me, that’s feminism. Equal parenting from both parents, equally. In equality.


      1. Oh I agree that the father should be part of this equation. I was assuming the father has a full time job too.

        And to answer Cliff’s point, this could be a great moment to advocate for daycare subsidies. I think it would generate as much publicity to highlight the importance of affordable, high-quality daycare. Instead she’s asking for some bizarre accommodation that threatens to turn government into more of a circus. I think the last thing we need right now is to make the senate an ACTUAL daycare.


        1. “And to answer Cliff’s point, this could be a great moment to advocate for daycare subsidies. I think it would generate as much publicity to highlight the importance of affordable, high-quality daycare. Instead she’s asking for some bizarre accommodation that threatens to turn government into more of a circus.”

          • Absolutely. So true. That’s the kind of thing I would respect and support her for. But as you say, it’s all about contributing to the circus environment.


    3. I really think this is two things: an example of Overton Window pushing (“A senator is pushing to bring her baby to the floor so why can’t I have a REAL pump room at my job, instead of the bathroom or a closet that gets repurposed on a whim?”) and that senators have to be physically on the floor for votes or blah blah the sky might fall down because she missed a vote for any reason. [That’s why John McCain dragged himself from post brain surgical recovery for a vote.]

      Duckworth obviously has a nanny and a husband and resources, this really isn’t about that.

      Every politician uses their family as a prop. EVERYONE.


      It’s very striking to me that we’re all increasingly expected to let our work intrude into our personal lives but people still freak out if your personal life intrudes into your work. Not that I approve of any of this.

      Answering emails on the beach with your family? Totally professional. Bringing your kid into the office when it’s not bring your child to work day? Unprofessional. And this is all for jobs where the sky will not fall down and hasn’t fallen down if you’re not tethered to a phone/wifi 24-7.


      1. Well, if someone is going to continue to serve as an elected official, s/he should make certain to be present for major or important votes. Many of these votes are being decided by the very slimmest of margins. If Duckworth can’t do make it to the senate floor for important votes, she should have a run off election for her senate spot. Bringing her child to the senate floor all but guarantees that she will be distracted and not properly serving as an elected official. I don’t think it’s a great mothering decision either but I will leave Duckworth’s parenting choices up to her and her family. As a reliably Democrat voter however, I think I have the right to count on focused senators who will advocate for causes that are important to the left. And missing important votes or being distracted by a crying, nursing, or otherwise needy infant while at work hampers her ability to function as an effective public servant.

        I do think Shakti brings up a good point that many seem fine with work life bleeding into personal time but not the reverse. I favor strong boundaries around each realm. But I can’t control how others handle their personal time. I do have some role in making sure that who I vote for acts as a professional. (Not that I live in Duckworth’s state but I do feel invested in the makeup of the senate.)


  3. Like

    1. I’m for any measure that makes it easier for female politicians to do their jobs well. The bathroom issue is ridiculous (and perhaps intentional) and I’m happy to hear that it was rectified. I have no doubt that there are many structural barriers in the senate and other seats of male-dominated power. I’m all for dismantling such structural difficulties. I want female representation across government.

      But bringing infants onto the senate floor threatens to make women worse at their jobs. I think having a distracted women harriedly tending to her infant while simultaneously trying to make a responsible vote threatens women’s advancement. It honestly feeds into every stereotype against female employees: unable to surrender the allure of home life, a biological instead of an intellectual being, etc. etc.

      The more think I about, the more I become convinced that Duckworth’s request is an astoundingly bad one.


      1. “I’m all for dismantling such structural difficulties. I want female representation across government.”

        • Of course, absolutely. The problem with Duckworth’s proposal is that it tries to speak both to the feminist advances of women AND the ultra-conservative attachment parenting that requires women to be glued to their kids permanently until about 8-9 years of age. The idea that you can combine both lifestyles, that of a working, professional woman and that of a mother who can’t let the kids out of her sight for 10 minutes is an illusion. The sooner we abandon it, the better. Even being very rich and successful does not make it possible to do both things simultaneously.


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