Jill Lepore revisits the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, who in his time was “the most accomplished and famous American who had ever lived.”
Jill Lepore | Introduction to The Autobiography and Other Writings by Benjamin Franklin | Everyman’s Library | September 2015 | 18 minutes (4,968 words)
Below is Jill Lepore’s introductory essay to the new Everyman’s Library edition of The Autobiography and Other Writings, by Benjamin Franklin, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky. Read more…
This week, we’re sharing stories from Ian Frisch, Niela Orr, Alison Fensterstock, Jill Lepore, and Austin Carr.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Sabine Heinlein, Leslie Jamison, Ijeoma Oluo, Eric Newcomer with Brad Stone, and Jill Lepore.
As my daughter Emilia turns 7 months old on January 27, which happens to be World Breast Pumping Day, I can say I’ve finally gotten the hang of pumping breast milk. On my maternity leave, I was lucky to be able to exclusively breastfeed her for the first six months. As I prepared for the transition back to work full time, I pumped periodically to get familiar with the bulky, noisy machine I’d soon spend a lot of time with, as well as to build a modest freezer stash of milk for all the future occasions I’d be away from the baby. (Spoiler: there haven’t been many.)
I wouldn’t say I enjoy pumping in the same way I enjoy nursing (well, when Emilia wants to nurse, which — in her recently distractible state — has been less frequent). But it can be very satisfying to collect ounces of milk, the only substance my baby really needs in her first year to live and thrive, from my own body. Serena Williams, after all, called breastfeeding a superpower; I too feel invincible, even if just for those moments, being able to provide nourishment for this tiny human I’ve made.
But, like so many women before me have said, pumping is also awkward and onerous. I look at this image of ultra-runner Sophie Power from last fall, who stopped halfway through the 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc race to pump and breastfeed her son, and think, wow, here is someone partaking in an incredibly demanding activity, pushing the limits of the human body, but — just like any other mother — she can’t get around the physical need to pump.
Because no matter who you are, the logistics of pumping can be challenging, if not impossible. Even if you can afford the newest wearable models that promise more freedom, like the $500 Willow and Elvie pumps, pumping is still a commitment and huge part of your day-to-day life.
It was interesting, then, to follow the larger conversation around Rachel McAdams’ high-fashion breast pump photo. Last month, while doing a Girls Girls Girls magazine cover shoot, the actress was photographed wearing a Versace jacket and Bulgari diamond necklace — while pumping from both breasts. While the photo was praised by some for its attempt to #NormalizeBreastfeeding and show that even celebrities need to take pumping breaks, some say it missed the mark and wasn’t truly subversive, while many mothers expressed that the image did not represent them — and what a pumping session really looks like.
As I settle into new motherhood, and as each day brings new challenges — why won’t she nurse? where can I pump? why has my milk supply dipped? — I continue to read as much as I can: to learn how mothers juggle the task with everything else in their lives, and to remind myself that I’m not alone. Here’s a reading list of stories, new and old, that explore the complicated act of breast pumping.
1. Baby Food (Jill Lepore, January 2009, The New Yorker)
In this piece from 10 years ago, Lepore discusses the history of breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, and the rise of the breast pump.
In 1904, one Chicago pediatrician argued that “the nursing function is destined gradually to disappear.” Gilded Age American women were so refined, so civilized, so delicate. How could they suckle like a barnyard animal? (By the turn of the century, the cow’s udder, or, more often, its head, had replaced the female human breast as the icon of milk.) Behind this question lay another: how could a white woman nurse a baby the way a black woman did? (Generations of black women, slave and free alike, not only nursed their own infants but also served as wet nurses to white babies.) Racial theorists ran microscopic tests of human milk: the whiter the mother, chemists claimed, the less nutritious her milk. On downy white breasts, rosy-red nipples had become all but vestigial. It was hardly surprising, then, that well-heeled women told their doctors that they had insufficient milk. By the nineteen-tens, a study of a thousand Boston women reported that ninety per cent of the poor mothers breast-fed, while only seventeen per cent of the wealthy mothers did. (Just about the opposite of the situation today.) Doctors, pointing out that evolution doesn’t happen so fast, tried to persuade these Brahmins to breast-feed, but by then it was too late.
2. Why Women Really Quit Breastfeeding (Jenna Sauers, July 2018, Harper’s Bazaar)
Under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. companies are required to provide break time and a clean, private place to pump milk. Sauers offers an overview of pumping legislation in the U.S. and the challenges of pumping in a variety of work places, from co-working spaces with open floor plans to hospitals and college campuses.
But even as doctors and nurses promote breastfeeding to patients, their own working conditions sometimes make pumping difficult.
Sarah, a registered nurse at Northside Hospital in Atlanta who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she is currently struggling to pump at work. She and her colleagues, several of whom are also pumping, work 12-hour shifts. Sarah gets to work early so that the last thing she does before clocking in is pump; that way she can go as long as possible before taking a break. When her shift begins at 7 a.m., that means rising at 3:45 a.m.
“Typically, the way our patient flow goes, I probably won’t get another opportunity to pump until about 9 or 10 a.m.,” she says. “From there, it varies. A lot of days, we don’t even have the staffing to relieve people for lunch. I have to tread lightly asking for a pump break when most people aren’t even getting lunch breaks.”
3. ‘A Pumping Conspiracy’: Why Workers Smuggled Breast Pumps Into Prison (Natalie Kitroeff, December 2018, The New York Times)
Kitroeff reports on the staff nurses at Deerfield state prison in Capron, Virginia, who weren’t allowed to bring breast pumps into the facility. Some tried to pump in an unpleasant men’s restroom; others resorted to expressing milk in the backseat of their car in the parking lot. But one nurse, Susan Van Son, had had enough — and she smuggled her breast pump in, piece by piece.
In July 2016, another Deerfield nurse, LaQuita Dundlow, 32, returned to work after giving birth to her second daughter. Like Ms. Olds, Ms. Dundlow said managers told her to pump in the men’s restroom. She couldn’t produce milk in the fetid space. “The smell, it messed with me,” she said.
So Ms. Dundlow hung baby blankets from the windows of her Ford Expedition. Three times a day, she came out to express. Occasionally, she said, she had to explain the situation to a security guard who tapped on her window, wanting to know what was going on inside.
Sometimes, she didn’t have time to take the quarter-mile walk from one end of the prison to her S.U.V. On those occasions, painfully engorged, she would take a sterile cup normally used to collect urine samples, go to the bathroom and express milk by squeezing her breasts. Then she would hand the cup to her husband, who was also employed at the prison, as a correctional officer. He would take it to a cooler in their car.
4. Stop Shaming Working Moms Into Pumping (Jessica Machado, December 2015, Elle)
As Jen Gann writes in The Cut, figuring out how and when to pump is a privileged problem to have.
After returning to work after a 12-week maternity leave, Machado quickly realized that pumping was an activity around which she would structure her entire life. “I had become not a breastfeeder, but a pair of breasts owned by a machine,” she writes, describing her shame over not being able to keep up with her son’s demand. She explores why working mothers in America are pressured to pump.
I live in Brooklyn, just south of Park Slope, where the mommy wars have been won by upper-middle-class leftists in comfortable fair-trade sandals. Though I am neither in the right income bracket nor organic threads to think of myself as a Park Slope mom, there is a bar of motherhood that is set by those around me that can’t help but seep into my subconscious. Women wear their babies in slings as a badge of attachment parenting; they buy vegetables from the co-op to puree in top-of-the-line food processors; many have nannies to assist them in the juggling of domestic priorities. When working mothers have problems breastfeeding in my area, they reach out to lactation consultants, who charge $125 to $400 a visit to show them tips like adjusting the pump’s speeds and making sure the pump’s parts fit properly. These moms can also combat dwindling supply by renting a hospital-grade pump, which is not covered by insurance but costs upwards of $70 a month––a pretty high price tag for people like me who are already struggling with the added expenses of daycare and baby necessities.
And my breastfeeding peer pressures and pumping obstacles are minimal compared to most. I’m not a cashier or a server or a police officer or a professional driver or basically anyone whose job is to serve people when they need to be tended to, who can’t just drop everything to keep up with a pumping schedule. I am not an employee who has to share my pumping space with a conference room or a break room or a broom closet. I’ve never had to pump in the car or a public restroom. I’ve never had a coworker or stranger walk in on me, half-naked, while cones were on my breasts sucking like vacuums. I am not a mom on WIC assistance who is punished for formula-feeding by getting benefits for half as long as those who breastfeed.
5. The Unseen Consequences of Pumping Breast Milk (Olivia Campbell, November 2014, Pacific Standard
“There’s an assumption that bottle-feeding breast milk to a child is equivalent to breastfeeding, but that may not be the case.” Campbell looks at studies that suggest exclusive pumping may not be as beneficial for mothers and babies, citing issues like milk contamination, an increase in coughing and wheezing in infants, and potential health impacts for mothers (including the risk of postpartum depression, reproductive cancers, and more).
Thorley has written extensively on the potential perils of “normalizing” the separation of breast milk from breasts. She says that bottle-feeding of breast milk has a place in specific circumstances, such as when a baby is unable to adequately stimulate the mother’s milk supply, or in cases like Boss’, where a baby is unable to nurse directly. And while she agrees bottled breast milk is better than infant formula, “breastfeeding is about more than the milk.” Babies don’t just breastfeed for nutrition; they nurse for comfort, closeness, soothing, and security.
6. The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am (Angela Garbes, August 2015, The Stranger)
Breast milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients that a baby needs in its first six months of life. It’s also dynamic: adapting to the baby’s needs. And like a fine red wine, writes Garbes, the flavors in a mother’s breast milk are subtle, reflecting its terroir: her body. Garbes takes a closer look at the complex makeup — and value — of this precious liquid.
I love the idea that even before her first encounter with solid food, her taste buds had already begun telling her that she is part of a city filled with the cuisines of many nations, a household that supports local farmers, and a Filipino family with an abiding love of pork and fermented shrimp paste.
We can’t expect the value of breast-feeding to just trickle down to mothers in the trenches, pumping away in cramped offices and broom closets, working multiple jobs, forking over significant portions of income to day care, and, yes, tired and close to the breaking point, cursing their own desire to continue feeding their children their milk. We have to make an effort to reach all mothers, not just those actively seeking support and information.
7. A Certain Kind of Mammal (Meaghan O’Connell, April 2018, Longreads)
In this excerpt from her book And Now We Have Everything, Meaghan O’Connell describes the all-consuming activity of nursing her son.
I had tried the breast pump a few times, recreationally, but not yet so as to explicitly buy time away with my own milk. The pump looked just like I’d imagined, like something you’d use to masturbate a farm animal. The bulk of the machine was a little yellow box the size of a toaster oven that gasped and sighed with a rhythmic, mechanical sucking noise that was initially disturbing, like it was trying to tell me something but couldn’t quite find the language. There were two snaking rubber tubes that ran from the box to the air-horn-looking boob funnels and from there into baby bottles that collected the milk. The horns were where the magic happened, where your tits went. Sucked into the machine, my nipples looked like long, pink taffy, stretched and then milked.
The first time I saw milk stream out of my body and into this contraption, I felt woozy and then oddly turned on. It’s not often in life we gain a brand-new secretion.
Jill Lepore looks at the problem of defining intellectual property when it comes to what young girls should play with: “The feud between Barbie and Bratz occupies the narrow space between thin lines: between fashion and porn, between originals and copies, and between toys for girls and rights for women.”
Today is Day 85 of the Trump Administration, and like a sailor condemned to four years at sea we carry on, stooped and weary from the weight of this albatross around our necks—Donald Trump’s taxes.
We know they exist—but what does their existence even mean any more? We’ve seen a few pages here and there, sent as proof of life to the New York Times and waved around by Rachel Maddow. In a bid to bring attention to President Trump’s noteworthy silence on his financial position, a tax march will take place on April 15 worldwide in response to a single tweet by a Vermont law professor.
Taxes are at once no one’s business and everyone’s business. We all pay them: how we pay them, what they are used for, what we want them to be used for, and what the government would rather do with them instead, is the Great American Story.
1. “Tax Time” (Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, November 2012)
Lepore takes the long view on taxes with a history of how the U.S. decided to levy an income tax. It’s easy to dismiss taxes, she argues, and much harder to defend them. But that’s not a problem our ancestors shared—despite opposition to King George’s levy on goods like tea, the founding fathers had no problem squeezing the rich with large indirect taxes for market exchanges such as imports. More than a century later, the constitutional amendment that made income tax the law of the land wasn’t even an issue in Congress. But taxes have since become a bone of endless contention, especially as they concern how much rich and poor should pay. Lepore weaves a deft story to tell us exactly why.
Taxes dominate domestic politics. They didn’t always. Since the nineteen-seventies, almost all of that talk has been about cuts, which ought to be surprising, because more than ninety per cent of Americans receive social or economic security benefits from the federal government. Americans, though, find it easier to see what they pay than what they get—not because they aren’t paying attention but because the case for taxation is so seldom made.
2. “Too Rich to Live?” (Laura Saunders and Mary Pilon, The Wall Street Journal, July 2010)
One of the most hotly contested forms of taxation is the estate tax, when a dead person’s estate is transferred to another person. Though the idea is thousands of years old and the American permutation has been around in some form or another for a century, the tax was gradually phased out starting in 2001. But when it came back in 2011—the product of impermanent legislation—the rich who stood to lose the most from the transfer of their substantial assets bucked.
It didn’t matter; the tax became permanent in 2013. But when Saunders and Pilon interviewed dying people and their potential heirs on the eve of the tax’s return, they found a strange phenomenon—people who make life-or-death decisions about their health and end-of-life care based on the potential of saving their heirs money on taxes.
In 2009, more than a few dying people struggled to live into 2010 in hopes of preserving assets for their heirs. Clara Laub, a widow who helped her husband build a Fresno, Calif., grape farm from 20 acres into more than 900 acres worth several million dollars, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in October, 2009. Her daughter Debbie Jacobsen, who helps run the farm, says her mother struggled to live past December and died on New Year’s morning: “She made my son promise to tell her the date and time every day, even if we wouldn’t,” Mrs. Jacobsen says.
In New York the lapsing tax spawned a major family conflict, according to one attorney. As a wealthy patriarch lay dying at the end of the year, it became clear that under the terms of the will his children would receive more if he died in 2010, while his wife (not the children’s mother) stood to benefit if he died in 2009. The wife then filed a “do not resuscitate” order and the children challenged it. The patriarch lived a few days into 2010, but his estate, like Mrs. Laub’s, remains unsettled given the legislative uncertainty.
3. “The Throwaways” (Melissa Chadburn, The Rumpus, January 2012)
Taxes are a matter of life and death not just to the wealthy, but to the people who need tax-funded social services to survive. Chadburn, who endured horrific abuse and a traumatic stint in foster care, considers what taxes mean to the people she calls “the throwaways,” those who depend on the small sums of money that anti-taxation advocates fight not to have to pay. As disparities between poor and rich grow, she argues, taxation can be seen as a revolutionary lifesaving act, a statement about the very worth of the people it helps.
Strangely, it was for dreams like these—the simplest dreams of rest, of feeling, of safety—that I first began to look at taxes. Taxes are the tool that makes these dreams of ours possible. Shelter for everyone, food for everyone, taxes ensure public safety. And what about love? Love is given and received. Love is not a solitary act. Love requires people to commune with one another.
My previous associations with taxes were shame and guilt and trickery. Then I looked at my history with money and public funding in general. Some people have argued that we are a nation of self-interested people. People who only care about themselves. Their own well-being.
I disagree. I think we are better than that but have been assaulted by the overwhelming personification of Greed….It’s our first lesson in pain.
4. “Tax Hero” (Planet Money, NPR, March 2017)
Despite the stakes of taxation, the act of filing taxes can be unbearably mundane. But there’s a darker side to doing taxes—the poor pay a disproportionate amount to tax preparation firms that gouge them on relatively simple filings. Enter Joseph Bankman, a Stanford tax law professor who thought he’d figured out a simpler way. But as Planet Money reveals, simpler isn’t always better for those who benefit from the current, complex system. His fight for painless filing became a legislative battle—and his opponents were a strange coalition of their own.
5. “Mossack Fonseca: Inside the Firm That Helps the Super-Rich Hide Their Money” (Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 2016)
While your average Joe struggles to pay the tax preparers, there’s a shadowy world of ultra-wealthy corporations and individuals who’ll do anything they can to not pay taxes at all. Last year, the lid on one of these complex tax-avoidance schemes blew open when 11.5 million documents—now known as the Panama Papers—were leaked, revealing inside information on over 200,000 offshore shell corporations that exist to help the one percent sidestep their tax obligations.
The Guardian won a Pulitzer for their groundbreaking investigation of the Panama Papers (Here’s a breakdown of how they got the scoop—and an in-depth podcast that tells the entire sordid story behind their award-winning investigation.) One of their most fascinating stories was about Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that helped the rich find tax-friendly parking places for their cash. Harding tells the story of a company that’s part financial services provider, part peddler of international intrigue—one that’s marketed directly to Americans with money to hide.
Mossack Fonseca’s leaked emails reveal the extraordinary measures that some of its well-heeled clients took to keep their financial affairs secret. Especially the Europeans and Americans, who have latterly found themselves under scrutiny from their own governments.
One theme that emerges is anxiety. Wealthy individuals with “undeclared” offshore bank accounts are afraid they might get rumbled.
Another theme is victimhood. The super-rich, it appears, feel they are being unfairly picked on—persecuted even.
6. “Donald Trump Tax Records Show He Could Have Avoided Taxes for Nearly Two Decades, The Times Found” (David Barstow, Susanne Craig, Russ Buettner, and Megan Twohey, The New York Times, October 2016)
What happens when a tax evader is not an average citizen but the President of the United States? Of course, the answer is “we don’t know yet,” because we have no idea what’s in Donald Trump’s personal tax returns. Despite Rachel Maddow’s overhyped scoop on a few pages from Trump’s 2005 return, nobody’s been able to get ahold of what could be the most sought-after documents in modern history. And thus, we don’t know what wealth the President has to brag about—or hide.
After receiving several pages from Trump’s 1995 returns from an anonymous source, Barstow, Craig, Buettner, and Twohey hypothesized that back when he was a mere real estate mogul, the president used a $916 million business loss to cancel out his tax debt for decades. Is it true? Until Trump comes forward with his tax returns, there’s no way to know. But journalists won’t stop piecing the story together—and if the tax march is any indication, citizens won’t stop insisting that he tell the truth about his financial situation.
But the most important revelation from the 1995 tax documents is just how much Mr. Trump may have benefited from a tax provision that is particularly prized by America’s dynastic families, which, like the Trumps, hold their wealth inside byzantine networks of partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations.
The provision, known as net operating loss, or N.O.L., allows a dizzying array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of men like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income from, say, book royalties or branding deals.
I’m thrilled to present this week’s Reading List in collaboration with Samantha Abrams, an archivist and great friend. I’d planned to curate something about the importance and changing role of archiving—an oft-misunderstood or overlooked science—but I didn’t have enough in my longform arsenal. Cue Sam. I reached out to her via Twitter, asking her if she’d be willing to pass along pertinent articles, essays and interviews she’d encountered as she studied for her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Library and Information Studies. Sam understood immediately what I was looking for: nothing overly technical, but not condescending or simplified, either.
I spent over a year as an archivist’s assistant, working with the records collectors in a particular branch at the National Institutes of Health. My focus: digitizing records from the late 1980s and early ’90s. My favorite moments: reading someone’s journal from the 1970s and collecting documents for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. I felt like a detective. Archiving isn’t my calling, but I loved my mentors and their serious, inspired work.
On the other hand: You know the look someone gets in their eye when someone really, really loves something? Sam gets that look in her eye, because she loves her work. She has interned at the Library of Congress. She’s the first and only archivist for Culver’s. She’s kind of a genius.
Sam sees outreach as a part of her role as an archivist. Archivists are no longer stuffed into cubicles, scanning and sorting—although that can be part of their job description!—but out saving the World Wide Web, using their best judgement to decide what’s important to preserve and what isn’t. And that requires engagement with the wider world. Here, Sam is genuinely excited to share her expertise with the Longreads community, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I hope (we hope!) that you learn something new and surprising. Read more…
Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.
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