Here's some nauseating news that's less surprising than it should be: A recent study found that a woman who is breastfeeding may be judged as less competent. But it's not just breastfeeding that negatively affects people's perceptions of a woman's ability. Women were ranked lower in perceived competence when evaluators thought they were pregnant, too. And a woman doesn't even have to wait to reproduce to experience this kind of bias. It can happen every month, when she has her period. According to a 2002 study, "a woman who is (perceived as) menstruating is viewed as less competent and is liked less than a woman who is not thought to be menstruating."
While pregnancy, motherhood, and even menstruation have been well studied and are known to negatively affect how competent a woman is thought to be, this study is among the first to look at how breastfeeding changes people's attitudes toward women. The authors wanted to see whether breastfeeding would create the same kind of bias as other signs of female reproductive function (pregnancy, menstruation). They were also interested in whether this had anything to do with the breast as a sexual object.
Here's what they learned, and how they learned it:
The study, "Spoiled Milk: An Experimental Examination of Bias Against Mothers Who Breastfeed", was done last year at the University of Montana, and actually involved three separate studies. All involved college students, none of whom had children of their own.
Study 1: Participants were asked to read a resume about Brooke Shields. The resume contained information about her book: 'Out Came The Sun' which described her life as a new mom. In one group, the packed said "she writes about her new role as a mother including her experiences with breastfeeding, bathing and overall care of a new- born." In the other group, the word "breastfeeding" was replaced with "bottle-feeding". Brooke Shields was then rated on a number of traits relating to competence, intelligence and warmth. The bottle-feeding version of Brooke scored higher in all areas except warmth.
Study 2: Participants were shown an advertisement for a cream. In one group, the cream was said to be for "nursing mothers to soothe chaffed nipples after nursing," In the second, for "joggers to soothe chaffed nipples after exercise.". The third group were told the cream was for "women to refresh nipples before intimacy." The woman pictured and the ad were otherwise identical. When asked to rate the competence of the woman in the picture, the woman who was using the cream for post-exercise relief was rated highest, while the breastfeeding mother was rated lowest. The mother who was using the cream for sexual purposes was ranked in the middle.
What does all this bias mean? What can you do about it?
For the 3rd study and a "call to arms," visit Babble.
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