Three separate studies have confirmed that “mothers who breastfeed are widely viewed as less competent than otherwise identical females,” as published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Additionally, one of the studies found that “breastfeeding is a handicap for women hoping to be hired for a job.” I wasn’t entirely shocked by that last statement since an anti-mother bias still exists in the workplace – that is until I read that a woman set to give her child a bath was perceived more favorably than a woman about to breastfeed, implying that “it isn’t parenthood per se that makes (women) less desirable as an employee,” but breastfeeding specifically.
Psychologist Jessi L. Smith of Montana State University who led the study says that both men and women view breastfeeding mothers as less capable. “Importantly, we did not find evidence that gender of the participant influenced perceptions of the breastfeeding mother,” she says. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to an avid Babble reader that women are pitted against each other when it comes to breastfeeding and breastfeeding support. As you know, Michele Bachmann – who says she breastfed her children – recently slammed Michelle Obama’s support of tax write-offs for breast pumps. Even mothers who agree “breast is best” can’t come to a consensus about how it should be handled in the workplace.
The good news for breastfeeding mothers is that during an “impression formation study” that used Brooke Shields as a subject, students who were told she breastfed described her as “significantly more warm and friendly” than those who were told she bottle-fed, but thought of her as “significantly less competent in general, and less competent in math specifically.” I guess the old “breastfeeding is for hippies” paradigm is still firmly planted in the collective consciousness. (As is, evidently, the “hippies are bad at math” stereotype.)
The aforementioned study showing a woman about to bathe her child was not viewed negatively also indicated that a woman wearing a strapless bra was labeled as less competent, “suggesting that the bias faced by breastfeeding women is similar to the one experienced by a woman for whom the breast is sexually objectified,” Tom Jacobs of Miller-McCune writes. But here’s the kicker: study participants concluded that they would rather hire the woman in the strapless bra than the breastfeeding mother. In America, boobs are for sex, not supper.
The researchers determined – as lactivists have – that the only way for this bias to diminish is for more mothers to come out and breastfeed in public. “More visible breastfeeding mothers should prompt people to wrestle with and debate the issues,” they say, adding, “With time, greater numbers of women who breastfeed translates to less prejudice.”