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

More

“Why Liar is proof that TV's depiction of rape is damaging to women”

The proliferation of rape in TV and film is a real problem for the representation of women

by Harriet Hall
17 Oct 2017

“We should all be angry that Laura Kuenssberg needs a bodyguard”

The BBC's political editor needs protection because of misogyny, pure and simple

by Ellie Mae O’Hagan
25 Sep 2017

“Proposals for women-only carriages are ignorant and retrogressive”

"Why not create a women-only nation state and solve the problem altogether?"

by Harriet Hall
24 Aug 2017

Why Taylor Swift’s sexual assault verdict is a victory for womankind

The pop star has completely changed the narrative

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Aug 2017

“The Boots morning after pill scandal shows the bias of contraception”

Why are women burdened with the responsibility of procuring and taking contraception?

by Jasmine Andersson
26 Jul 2017

“How pathetic sexists tried to tear down the first female Doctor Who”

Misogynists are terrified of Jodie Whittaker and everything she represents

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017

“Love Island is proof that 'nice' is feminism's secret weapon”

Harriet Minter says it’s time we dispel the myth that being a feminist means taking no prisoners.

14 Jul 2017

“Rob Kardashian’s social media rampage isn’t funny. It’s revenge porn”

The Kardashian brother posted nude photos of his ex all over Instagram. This is abuse, not entertainment

by Moya Crockett
06 Jul 2017

“Why women are all beauty pageant contestants to Donald Trump”

“I bet she treats you well”

by Anna Pollitt
28 Jun 2017

“How sexists missed the point of this pivotal Handmaid’s Tale scene”

Offred was just getting her tits out for the lads, apparently

by Kayleigh Dray
26 Jun 2017