The women who allow hosts like Kochie to happen

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When I was a wee suckling infant, it was from the bottle that I fed. My mother had difficulty breastfeeding, and so was forced to give us a substandard start in life by attaching us to a bottle. At 5'9 and with the constitution of an ox, I’ve clearly suffered from the horrendous effects of being artificially nourished and expect any day now to be put out to pasture.

I jest. The health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, not to mention the emotional bonds created between mother and child. And both of these pale in comparison to the weight of conflicting messages women receive about the act itself. Had I been born 30 years later, my mother would have no doubt suffered guilt over her inability to master an act which is widely seen as being the moral responsibility of the mother to perform. 

Yet in the wake of David Koch’s comments regarding ‘classy’ breastfeeding and respectable discretion, she would have also joined the hordes of women who suffer the paternalistic finger wagging of people who continue to equate breasts with sexuality. Unfortunately, so much of this thoughtless buffoonery (for it is buffoonery to suggest mothers have a moral obligation to feed their babies in private so as to prevent discomfort in the repressed masses, just as much as it is intellectually exhausting that this boring conversation is occurring at all) spawns from a media solely concerned with appealing to the lowest common denominator. 

David Koch and Melissa Doyle on the <i>Sunrise</i> set.

David Koch and Melissa Doyle on the Sunrise set.

I’m largely uninterested in what anyone (particularly a privileged white male) thinks about breastfeeding in public. Women have the right to feed their babies wherever they want, and the recurrent debates on the matter are repetitive to the point of irritation. The problem is that we have a broadcast media populated by bumbling blokes and their enabling sidekicks, and we have elevated their social status to a point where anything they have to say about anything is acknowledged as if it came from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. The problem isn’t with the audience - it’s with the hosts. 

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David Koch is clearly not a stupid man. His blokey EveryMan (TM) shtick sits comfortably with the kinds of values we allow to not just appear in mainstream Australian broadcast media, but to dominate it entirely. Our idea of acceptable Australian masculinity is reinforced by the kinds of male voices we allow to set the mainstream social agenda - think Kyle Sandilands, Sam Newman, Chris Smith, anyone on The Footy Show, all of 2GB, Sam Newman again. There’s very little room for intelligence and thoughtful compassion, with most broadcast strategies deferring to an entirely outdated construction of masculinity whose cornerstones are Mateship, Blokiness and Not Understanding Chicks. Society allows our (extremely well paid) male hosts to behave like undisciplined little boys, and consequently it also excuses and punishes their transgressions as such - with excuses and helpless shrugs. What can you do? Their humour is ‘edgy’! It’s not for anyone easily offended. Boys will be boys. Here come the PC Police! We’re sorry if you were offended.

For anyone who’s worked in even remotely close proximity with broadcast media, it’s no secret what the correlating expectations are for female hosts. Thought of as the ‘handbrakes’, their role is to titter along adoringly as their male sidekicks push the envelopes of taste and sensibility - but put a stop to things before they go too far. This admonishment is unlikely to be issued in the form of any real opposition or dissent - very rarely will you hear a female co-host severely take a male co-host to task for his antiquated views on race, sexuality or gender. Instead, you’ll hear some variation  of mock-yet-amused horror along the lines of, ‘You can’t say that!’ or the simple shocked iteration of whatever ridiculously abbreviated nickname the man in question has decided to turn into his bread and butter: Rabbit, Kochie, Fitzy, Luttsy, Lawsy, Becko, Johnsy. Our compulsion to assign abbreviated drongo names to professional men speaks not just to our refusal to herald actual professionalism from the men in question, but our parochial fear of intellectualism and its presumed status as Kryptonite for the masses. And for every Kyle Sandilands who Goes Too Far, there is a Jackie O prepared to play her part in enabling him. The cycle of ineptitude continues.

Unfortunately, our mainstream broadcast media also reflects a social structure in which women are expected to prop up and legitimise the childish antics of Australia’s alpha male elite. And although Koch doesn’t directly reflect the qualities attributed to those particular men (inarticulate, blokey, full of retrosexist views and not afraid to share them), he does occupy a curious position at the head of the Sunrise hierarchy and its (mostly) female audience. His nickname seems designed to make him approachable. He has daughters, and was named 2007’s Father Of The Year. He cares about ladies, even if he doesn’t really understand them! Consider the inexorably awful Kochie’s Angels, a regular segment which gives three women a patronising platform with which to discuss the kinds of niche issues that might affect 50% of the population. This sort of diminishment of women is embarrassing enough - that Seven Network fat cats think they need to be parsed through the bumbling comprehension of a bloke who doesn’t speak 'Girl' is laughable. (Note: Sunrise’s opponent The Today Show has a similarly obnoxious segment called Girls on the Grill. It’s unclear as to whether Ten’s Breakfast boasted the same, because science has yet to find anyone who watched it.) Is it any wonder that Kochie, spawned from an environment that doesn’t routinely acknowledge let alone celebrate women’s agency and individual rights, would muse on the distinctions between ‘classy’ breastfeeding and that which makes the public squirm, with no thought as to the visual double standards on display in such Channel Seven staples as Home & Away or Cougar Town?

When it comes to gender politics, the antiquities of Australian broadcast media leave a lot to be desired. So while I’m entirely unsurprised that one of our highest paid media personalities has shared a moralising opinion on something that really has nothing to do with him, I’m also not the least bit interested in wading down the distracting rabbit hole that everyone else seems to have fallen into. The problem here isn’t that David ‘Kochie’ Koch thinks there are right and wrong ways for women to breastfeed - it’s that Australia’s larger media climate has failed to move away from the tired stereotypes of blokedom and ineffectual female representation. One is given all the power, and the other merely the illusion of it. Let's not be distracted from that reality just because there are breasts in the picture.

169 comments

  • Brilliant piece Clem - there are men in the media who act like mature people - Invariably they are younger than fifty - I'm thinking of those I like to watch and hear on The Drum and, Ben Knight who anchored the 7.30 Report for Leigh Sales during summer break. But the whole concept of a morning tv program with a male host and a bunch of sleek women as his boosters cum handbrakes keeps us firmly ensconced in the patriarchy.

    Commenter
    megs
    Date and time
    January 22, 2013, 8:42AM
    • Agreed. A great piece of writing. Tight, sometimes humourous, but always bringing us back to her central argument. Well done.

      Commenter
      davidbru
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 11:22AM
    • The real problem is how to stop the enablers of this behaviour by these boorish and boring men. And unfortunately, these 'gals' handbrakes, sidekicks, basically perform many functions in keeping these guys on air. Imagine David Koch hosting this show on his own? No-one would watch, and his outdated views on life in general would become more obvious.
      You have to work on the basic premise that guys like Koch can't, and resolutely won't change their views. So its up to the women who are paid to make them look good. And, at the end of the day, there are several hundred thousands reasons why Mel Doyle and her enablers of these men keep their mouths shut, and true views hidden. Its a job, folks. And a well-paid one at that.

      Commenter
      davidbru
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 11:53AM
    • If Ms Doyle agreed with Mr Koch is that wrong? I assumed she was entitled to opinion that disagreed with the Author? Or maybe she is concerned out the massive over-reaction that seems to be occurring in social media on this issue and didn not mwant to feed it? Has comment been sought from Ms Doyle?

      Commenter
      Carstendog
      Location
      Here
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 12:02PM
    • why do people look to tv media to lead the way? To critique a specific knuckle-dragging format is to give it lagitimacy, oxygen

      Commenter
      Confused
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 12:03PM
    • @Carstendog Doyle wasn't present but all of the other females on the show, including those "angels" disagreed with Koch's opinion.

      Thank you Clementine Ford for an intelligent and thoughtful response to the issue. This is fight my mother and those before her fought, it shouldn't be an issue now.

      Commenter
      Dasher
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 1:02PM
    • @Confused

      Because TV is easier than reading. Most people are unlikely to be reading Clem's article and these comments, unfortunately.

      Commenter
      Thinker
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 1:05PM
    • My mother was an alterno in the early 80s. As a child, I watched her breastfeed in public places. I saw some people's calm acceptance and respect, and I also saw some people's embarrassment, awkwardness and frustration. This experience taught me some things about people and about breastfeeding in public.

      I don't think that every single person who disagrees with breastfeeding is a closed-minded, arrogant, sexist asshole. I think some people are genuinely and honestly uncomfortable with women's nudity in this context.
      This seems hypocritical if you think of the intense saturation of near-nudity in our culture; near-nudity that is blatant and sexualised and used to sell everything from cars to dental floss.

      But these kinds of depictions of female sexuality and near-undress have been normalised in our culture, to the point where people have ways of understanding them and contextualising them. And let's not forget, all this nudity and sexualisation is airbrushed, edited and backlit to within an inch of humanity, so that it doesn't depict any reality about nudity. Media nudity is the least intimate or real or honest thing ever, and doesn’t help people come to terms with real, exposed nudity in their own space.
      So to use the saturation of media depictions of nudity and sexuality to admonish people for being uncomfortable around real, surprising, honest, un-airbrushed naked breasts in breastfeeding in public, is a misstep.
      We need to create a dialogue which addresses the reasons why people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding (rather than blaming them!!) Let's start a conversation about the positives of breastfeeding, and work on education of the next generation too. Change takes time!!

      Commenter
      missteak
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 2:48PM
    • The problem with being "firmly ensconced in the patriarchy" is that it is voluntary. The audiences of these repressive regimes Sunrise, Sandilands, Vogue / Cleo etc is largely female.

      The patriarchy isn't watching and doesn't care. This is physician heal thyself territory.

      Commenter
      Kris
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 3:32PM
  • This is exactly the reason I had to stop listening to Triple M. Their usual breakfast presenters were a bad enough mix of football boofheads and blokey "comedians" but then they had to go and hire Matty Johns.

    Matty Johns.

    Seriously, ladies. If you were wondering how much esteem the Triple M management holds you in, we have the answer right here.

    Commenter
    Red Pony
    Date and time
    January 22, 2013, 8:51AM

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