A Breast Pump Designed for Your Boss

In “Designing Women,” I’m writing at Comment on how the tools intended for women often serve the interests of someone else. I’m very much indebted to Designing Motherhood, which I draw on in the piece.

A doctor’s office and tools are more often designed for the convenience of the doctor, not the patient. A breast pump is another intimate tool that appears to be designed for the needs of a hidden end user—not the mother but her boss. A breast pump attenuates the claim a child makes on its mother. A breast pump does not cry. It does not interrupt. It is (allegedly) hands free. It comes with an off switch. A child demands; a breast pump is available on demand.

It is easier for an employer to point to all these seeming efficiencies and offer the mother less: pump later, pump less often, pump in a dark storage closet or hidden in your car or the toilet. In a survey of mothers working outside the home (sponsored in 2020 by companies that sell breast pumps, lactation pods, and milk-bank services), a quarter of women said that they didn’t have a dedicated space to pump at work.

If the baby were at work, it would be obvious that the child’s hunger cannot be put off forever. Alone with a pump, the mother suffers from unjust demands silently, as her breasts engorge and plugged ducts fester into mastitis. If the baby were visible, it would be obvious you can’t lock a vulnerable person in a closet. But the mother, no less valuable, is more easily mistreated.

Read the whole thing at Comment.

And I hosted a follow-up conversation about the piece at Other Feminisms.