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 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.
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.