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A Professor Knows Breast

An American University anthropologist goes rogue.

8:45 AM, Sep 13, 2012 • By CHARLOTTE ALLEN
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Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University (AU) in Washington, decided to bring her cold-stricken baby daughter, too sick for the daycare center, along with her to teach her opening class for the fall semester in "Sex, Gender, and Culture." Some 40 undergraduates enrolled in the class watched on August 28 as Pine first lectured with the feverish infant girl, Lee, strapped to her back, then let her crawl around the classroom floor in her blue onesie. A student called out, "Professor, your son has a paperclip in his mouth." Pine rushed to extract the clip "without correcting my students' gendered assumptions," as she later put it. Little Lee also crawled dangerously close to an electrical outlet but was rescued by her mother. A conversation ensued between Pine and her teaching assistant that resulted in the assistant's rocking the increasingly fussy baby for a while. Finally Pine took hold of the baby and began to breastfeed her, all the while going on about the "origins and consequences of patriarchy" and "[h]ow economic systems, social structures, and values construct and redefine biological distinctions between women and men" (that's from AU's official course description of Pine's class).

That bizarre spectacle wasn't the end of it, however. As word of Pine's conduct traversed the gossip grapevine on the AU campus, the student newspaper, the Eagle, dispatched a reporter, Heather Mongilio, to contact Pine, first by email and then in person after Pine's next class. Incensed by Mongilio’s daring to quiz her about the incident, Pine on September 5 published a 3,800-word diatribe titled "Exposéing [sic] My Breasts on the Internet: The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus" in the leftist online newsletter Counterpunch. The target of Pine's polemic was the Eagle and its band of 18-22-year-old reporters and editors. Arguing that Mongilio had been "hounding" her, exacerbating the cold that she had meanwhile caught from her baby daughter, Pine decided that the Eagle was waging a GOP-style war on women against mammary glands, especially her own. "The naïveté of [Mongilio's] questions was not promising, nor did there seem to [be] anything newsworthy in the story other than the thrill of joining together the words 'university professor' and 'breast,'" Pine wrote. She complained that a female Eagle news editor had addressed her in an email as "Ms." instead, of, say, "Dr." or "Prof." Pine quipped: "[A]pparently my breasts got in the way of her letter-writing."

The Eagle has “a solidly anti-woman slant," Pine added, pointing to a column written in 2010 by the since-graduated Eagle columnist Alex Knepper. Knepper, probably the house conservative at the time, had argued that "date rape" was an "incoherent" concept invoked by college women who overindulged in "jungle juice," accompanied a guy to his dorm room, and engaged in sex that they regretted the next morning. Pine declared that the Eagle was a "sexist third-rate university newspaper" determined to create a "hostile work environment" for Pine. "Hostile work environment" is a legal term of art. If proved, it can be the basis for making a case of sex discrimination based upon workplace harassment and intimidation—all of which might be useful to Pine should she sue AU for denying her tenure sometime in the future. Pine claimed that an Eagle story about her would condemn her to becoming a "victim…online for all eternity."

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