Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

“No more boy’s club: why letting MPs breastfeed in the Commons is the only way forward”

iStock_33585602_LARGE.jpg

Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. This week, Stylist.co.uk writer, Moya Crockett, applauds the news that female MPs may soon be allowed to breastfeed during Commons debates – and argues that the move is crucial if we want more women to succeed in politics.


Feminist Moya Crockett says:

x

Good news: women may soon be allowed to breastfeed during debates in the chamber of the House of Commons. An independent review, commissioned to tackle sexism in Parliament, has recommended that the current ban against breastfeeding be scrapped, in a “symbolic” move to showcase the Commons as a “role-model parent friendly institution”.

The Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, will chair a committee looking at how to implement the suggestions, according to the Telegraph. He said that the report “will prove to be both important and enduring”, adding: “We do tend to preserve, by laziness, rather antiquated practices and prejudices.”

Labour MP Jess Phillips, who has two children, has pointed out that breastfeeding in the Commons isn’t simply a matter of making a feminist point – it’s a legitimate health issue. During a debate about parliament’s un-family friendly nature in October 2015, she said: “I can tell you from years and years of experience, putting off breastfeeding your baby makes you feel like you are going to die.” 

x

Labour MP Jess Phillips has campaigned for breastfeeding to be allowed in the Commons

She wasn’t being melodramatic. If new mothers don’t express milk frequently, either through feeding or by using a pump, their breasts are likely to become engorged: swollen, hard, and painful. A fever can develop, limbs become achy, and in extreme cases, milk ducts can actually swell shut. If you struggle to focus at work when you’ve got a bit of a hangover, imagine trying to take part in a complex parliamentary debate while your breasts feel like they might actually explode.

But beyond medical necessities, allowing breastfeeding during debates will be crucial in enabling more women to advance in politics. As it stands, Westminster’s macho, old-fashioned culture makes it an incredibly inhospitable environment for working mothers – from the breastfeeding ban, to the frequent late night votes and the fact that MPs cannot vote in debates if they are on maternity leave.

And research carried out in 2013 showed that it’s much harder for mothers than fathers to make it into parliament. Almost half of female MPs were childless, compared to just 28% of men. Meanwhile, having young children was a barrier all of its own: the average female MP didn’t enter parliament until her eldest child was 16, compared to 12 for male MPs. Today, the majority of British women at the top of their political game don't have children, from Theresa May (who has said that she would have liked to be a motherand her cabinet of Tory women, to the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon.

x

Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds took her daughter to the European Parliament in June

Few politicians – with the exception of the ill-fated Andrea Leadsom – would dream of saying that being a mother automatically makes you a better politician. But by upholding archaic rules like the breastfeeding ban, Westminster has actually been sending the opposite message: that being a mother, particularly the mother of young children, is incompatible with a political career.

And it isn’t, of course. Look at Anneliese Dodds, Labour MEP for the South-East of England, who in June made a blistering speech about tax dodging at the European Parliament – where politicians are allowed to breastfeed during debates – with her four-month-old daughter Isabella casually slung over her shoulder. Look at Argentinian politician Victoria Donda Pérez, whose photo went viral last year after she breastfed her baby in parliament, or Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli, who frequently brings her toddler Vittoria along to votes.

x

Nothing to see here: Victoria Donda Perez breastfeeding in the Argentinian parliament

For these women, family-friendly legislation has enabled them to juggle a political career with caring for young children. That Westminster is finally heading in the same direction is something to celebrate.


Send your feminist dilemmas to Ask a Feminist editor harriet.hall@stylist.co.uk and she'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.


Images: iStock, Getty, Facebook, Twitter

Related

rexfeatures_5753206p.jpg

Two female MPs denounce the vilification of women in politics

Thatcher.JPG

“Britain's next PM will be a woman, but this is no victory for women”

bedroom birth one.jpg

Woman slams Facebook for removing her childbirth photo

rexfeatures_3785108m.jpg

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's refreshingly low-key baby annoucement

GettyImages-528413890.jpg

Courage, not fear: why we’ve fallen in love with Ruth Davidson

bojo cameron.jpg

“Let female politicians put an end to this Brexit chaos”

theresa may prime minister.jpg

Why has it taken this long for another woman to rise to the top?

ThinkstockPhotos-475362740.jpg

US breastfeeding row erupts over politician's nipple comments

rexfeatures_4626461e.jpg

Female politicians should be trained to handle trolls, says MP

Comments

More

“The Daily Mail is proof that no woman can escape objectification”

It doesn’t matter if you're the Prime Minister: sexism will continue to plague you.

by Moya Crockett
28 Mar 2017

How to win every sexist argument: an 11-point guide

“What’s wrong with catcalling? Can’t you take a compliment?”

by Laura Bates
08 Mar 2017

Harriet Harman: “Don't turn back the clock on gender equality”

“For years we've battled against male chauvinist attitudes”

by The Stylist web team
06 Mar 2017

“The phoney outrage at Emma Watson’s breasts is laughably transparent"

“Emma Watson’s breasts don’t make her empowered– or a hypocrite”

by Harriet Hall
03 Mar 2017

“Access to civil partnership is a feminist issue”

Katie Russell explains why the institution of marriage does not serve women

by The Stylist web team
22 Feb 2017

“Disgusting and overrated: we should all be the women Trump despises”

by Anna Brech
27 Jan 2017

“Women are scared to run alone, but running groups are not the answer”

New research suggests that a third of women have faced harassment while exercising outside.

by Moya Crockett
12 Jan 2017

“Let’s make 2017 the year that we take action against sexual violence”

Issues about consent, healthy relationships and online pornography should be mandatory in schools

by Laura Bates
03 Jan 2017

“It is vital that MPs vote to end violence against women this Friday”

Why we must ratify the Istanbul Convention

by The Stylist web team
15 Dec 2016

Laura Bates takes heart from the positives of 2016

“Even through this onslaught of horror, we must celebrate the feminist victories”

by The Stylist web team
14 Dec 2016