It emerged this week that Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald J. Trump called a female lawyer "disgusting" because she said she needed to take a break from a deposition in order to pump breastmilk for her baby.
While many of his public statements run contrary to conventional political wisdom, Trump is accurately representing the voice of American business on this one. Many CEOs, managers, co-workers, and human resources professionals all over the country are following the same playbook when it comes to new mothers who need to pump breastmilk while on the job. A sample of stories from the hundreds of women I interviewed for my new book, Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom's Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work.
From a manager: "Why do you call it 'expressing' breastmilk? There's nothing express about what you do in there."
From a Human Resources manager: "When are you going to be done breastfeeding your baby? Because we really need that room back for other purposes."
From fellow waitstaff at a restaurant, where a waitress sacrificed much-needed tables and tips to pump in a bathroom: "Moooooooooooo." (Every time she walked by.)
From a co-worker: "You just had a twelve-week vacation! (referring to her maternity leave) Now you're going to take an hour a day for personal time? Who's going to pick up the slack? I know who: me."
From a law partner: "You are not participating in this trial. I will not have the jurors hearing those sounds coming from the courthouse bathroom."
And from the U.S. government, an entity that seems to feel comfortable in the company of Oman and Papua New Guinea as one of only three countries in the world with no paid maternity leave.
More than a million American women go back to work every year while still breastfeeding their babies. Some are protected when pumping at work by federal law, others by individual state laws, still others by company policy, and some not at all. Regardless of protection, women face Trump-style harassment, judgment, and some serious side-eye when they attempt to recover - at lightning speed - from childbirth, do their jobs, and make the breastmilk that is both the biologically normal food for their babies and the thing that all of society is telling them they absolutely must do. And due to lack of accommodations, they're often doing this job - making food for their newborns - while sitting on a public toilet.
Sure, some businesses try to support working breastfeeders. IBM recently announced that it would pay to ship breastmilk home for any business-tripping, pumping employees. And I interviewed many women who, thanks to an individual good manager, had the support and the space they needed to pump at work.
But the business norm - as evidenced by the unapologetic behavior of a man many Americans seem to want to lead the country - is that women who pump at work are at best a nuisance, and at worst "disgusting." The not-so-subtle message is that women who have babies should not bother any of the rest of society with the annoying realities of how those small humans are kept alive from day to day.
It makes good business sense, after all, if you look at it from a male perspective. Breastmilk is a liquid that needs to come out of a new mother's body a few times during the work day, but women make up a paltry 47% of the American workforce.
Other employees - including male employees - also need to remove a liquid from their bodies during the day, and employers somehow find a way provide them with private, locking spaces and completely sanctioned break time in which to pee. No one seems "disgusted" by the knowledge that their co-workers are urinating in a little room, just a few feet away.
One has to wonder if Trump took any bathroom breaks in that deposition. How disgusting.