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why david koch is wrong about public breastfeeding

I have an admission which will place me firmly in the category of Bad Feminist: I don’t particularly enjoy seeing women in the midst of breastfeeding.

It’s unusual to see the naked female form with a baby attached out and about in public. I’m not used to seeing breasts in the shopping centre food court, at the movie cinema or gallery, or at Martin Place outside the Sunrise studios. If it’s a hot day, I’m not at all bothered by men walking around, proud and shirtless (though the word “wanker” does pop into my head). At the beach, topless sunbaking is practically par for the course (though the word “cancer’”does pop into my head). But a woman feeding her hungry, newborn child on the street? Ew.

It appears that I’m not alone. Sunrise host, David Koch, shares my skittishness. On last Friday’s programme he remarked, ‘I believe that women should be allowed to breastfeed anywhere at any time, but I think women need to access their environment to see whether they should be more discrete and modest then if they were at home’. He said it was important for new mothers to stay ‘classy’ and to not upset his delicate sensibilities.

Cue the protest. No, protest isn’t the right word; it was more of a mass feed-in. Breastfeeding advocates took to Martin Place on Monday morning to express their dismay at Koch’s comments through the act of publicly nurturing their offspring with breast milk. Police were on stand-by to crowd control up to 800 women, babies in arms.

As the protest gathered steam, Koch, not lacking in a powerful shovel to further deepen himself in his giant PR disaster hole, remarked that topless sunbathing was fine (just don’t do it in a crowded area, ladies) and was thoroughly unapologetic about his initial stance.

This is where Koch has it wrong.

Even if public breastfeeding personally makes me feel uncomfortable, at least I realise that I’m wrong for feeling that way. That is to say, public breastfeeding should be a phenomenon considered perfectly fine and uncontroversially acceptable. Even if you personally don’t want to see it. Given that Koch had the whole weekend to have a think about his views, it’s bizarre to me that he didn’t revise his stance. I’d like to hope, perhaps optimistically, that our instantaneous and visceral reaction to the behaviour of others isn’t the reaction we necessarily need to rest on.

So breastfeeding is jarring? So it’s uncomfortable? Instead of saying, ‘Ick, get that away from me!’, let’s ask ‘why is this uncomfortable?’

It’s not jarring to see a woman with her body on display, a vehicle to advertise clothing or lingerie, or lads’ mags, or popular music. It’s not jarring when an image of a woman splayed in front of us is denied her personhood – she has no conscious thoughts (or at least none that are recognised as existing), she is a brand, a coathanger, a model replica. These images are normal. They’re not repulsive or disgusting or disturbing; they’re probably how most of us are most familiar with the female form. These images are beautiful.

It’s pretty messed up that photoshop-smoothed bodies of women who aren’t people are displayed on billboards which obscure the sky and that’s totally fine. It’s even more messed up that a moment of intimacy between mother and child, a moment that is both biologically necessary and absolutely emotionally sincere, is gross. It can’t be the nudity which upsets us because we see nudity all the time. What we’re being upset by is reality. Lord forbid that an uncovered body is backed by the subjectivity of a complete woman who has relationships and makes decisions and is in charge of that body. Lord forbid that a woman bears her chest without fuck-tonnes of makeup and a lighting expert when we happen to see her. Lord forbid that a woman uses her body to feed her child instead of selling shit nobody needs.

It’s not public breastfeeding that’s gross or wrong. What’s gross and wrong is Koch’s, and my, reaction to it.

Here’s the footage that started it all:

 

Does public breastfeeding make you uncomfortable? Share your thoughts below!

Image source

12 thoughts on “why david koch is wrong about public breastfeeding

  1. If the real reason people are upset about breastfeeding is because it implies an image of a woman in control of her body (“…that an uncovered body is backed by the subjectivity of a complete woman…”), then why are numerous patriarchal societies (predominately hunter gatherer-based) tolerant of women breastfeeding in public despite recognizing a division of labor based on gender?

    • I suppose because they don’t have a choice? Also, I’m not certain how people in other patriarchal cultures feel about breastfeeding in public anyway. I suppose it must happen in some places, I don’t know what the attitudes about it are, but in a number of cultures there is the phenomenon of conflating the private sphere and the place of the woman, in which case public breastfeeding may not even come up. Idk, you seem to be asking ‘why are different patriarchal cultures different?’ which I obviously can’t answer…

      • Idk, I feel that if you’re going to posit the explanation that people feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public because it implies a woman has control of her body, that would also imply that other patriarchal societies which reject women having control of their bodies would also reject breast-feeding for that reason.

        Even if that implication isn’t true, the mere fact that there are other patriarchal societies that have/had no problem with breastfeeding in public means we can’t really be sure that in the Australian example, an aversion to breast-feeding *is* because of an aversion to the idea of women having control of their bodies.

        I tend to feel that other factors, such as the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage, which, like other Abrahamic religions, places a heavy emphasis on notions of “modesty”, have a greater influence on why the West is so averse to the idea of breastfeeding and why, even among those who support breastfeeding in public, the idea is so viscerally off-putting.

        • I’m kind of curious as to which societies you’re referring to. I think that would make your point clearer.

          I think there is something to cultural ideas surrounding modesty and religion. Though, that said, how puritanical are we really? Lads’ mags and top 40 music videos suggest not very. It’s also possible that the same kind of people who are say, for pornography are also against public breastfeeding, and likewise I think it’s telling that Koch is all for topless sunbathing.

          • “I’m kind of curious as to which societies you’re referring to” – I guess I’m referring to any society where gender inequality is significant and breasts aren’t sexualised. That might include Ghana, with huge disparities in education levels between sexes, as referred to below, it might also refer to Ancient Greece, Rome, Europe in the Middle Ages (where a pre-Victorian era version of christianity was practised), and a range of indigenous groups in Africa and South America.

            “Though, that said, how puritanical are we really?” – Sure there’s lots of “sexy” advertising and media but the showing of nipple or genitalia is still considered a huge deal – a movie where James Bond kills scores of people may be PG13, but if he got completely naked with a Bond girl it’d be up to R18.

            You make a good point re: Koch being all for topless sunbathing, although imo his tolerance of some expressions of nakedness and intolerance of others reflects the general contradictions of modern Western views on nudity (eg. raunchy magazines but no explicit nudity). I don’t want to digress too much from my main point though, which is that outrage about breastfeeding in public is contingent on a country’s particular cultural background – in this case the hangover from Victorian-era social conservatism – rather than on the objective belief that breast feeding in public is a sure sign of a woman with agency.

          • Ah, I get what you mean. I guess when I write about this issue, I’m strictly writing for an Australian context because it’s really difficult (if not impossible) to come up with a universal theory. Different cultures totally relate to the body differently and I think we are in a pretty unusual situation to experience the body very much as a commercialised entity, sometimes even a commodity. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that my interpretation was meant for all contexts surrounding breastfeeding – I think the patriarchy can be manifested in very diverse ways.

            Likewise, I don’t think people think to themselves overtly that ‘breastfeeding is gross because it depicts female agency’. I don’t think people really understand why they find it gross. Personally, I think what’s jarring isn’t nudity but the fact that it is a real body – not chiseled or photoshopped but I guess just totally sincere and unedited – but I think your suggestion is certainly part of a complicated picture involving the body, the role of commercialisation in our part of the world, as well as our Victorian-era hangover.

  2. You had me on your side until you said this “Even if public breastfeeding personally makes me feel uncomfortable, at least I realise that I’m wrong for feeling that way”

    1 – why is it wrong? You are entitled to feel whatever you feel about whatever the subject. You agreed with David until you claimed you were wrong for feeling the way you do. Stop whimping out and have the balls to stand by your feelings.

    2 – It has nothing to do with feeling uncomfortable. It’s tact and decency. I cannot stand women who flash their tits in my face regardless of what they’re wearing or doing, pregnant, not, feeding, not. I do not care what you are doing, get your fucking tits out of my face and get some decency about you!

    3 – I have actually seen women pull their top up or down, get their tit out and THEN get the baby and attach it. Geez, want people to stare much!

    4 – If a man takes of his shirt in public it’s fine, but if a woman took hers off she’d be grabbed for indecency. I’d say the laws are somewhat fucked up and sexist, but then men did write the laws to side with the male species.

    5 – I hate David but agree with this point. If a woman is not on display you have no idea she’s even breastfeeding, but some women just have to show it off and make a deal out of it. Bloody exhibitionists!

    6 – Women expect and/or demand respect, courtesy and decency from others, then it’s high time they bloody showed some back to everyone else. We don’t care if you breastfeed, just don’t make a bloody big deal out of it and show us some courtesy by not showing us all your tits.

    • “I have actually seen women pull their top up or down, get their tit out and THEN get the baby and attach it. Geez, want people to stare much!” – well maybe don’t look then?…

      • It is all and only to do with the particular societies views on what breasts are and what they are for. That is it. I breasted my daughter in Ghana, West Africa and never had any issues At home or in public. I also can go to the nearby shops from my house without a bra if I feel (which I only ever do first thing in the morning) because my breasts are not sexualised. They are a part of my body and have a function. I never felt practical about my breasts until that time of my life. I cherished the lack of attention and unconcern. In Australia I am known for my large breasts, in Ghana no-one gives a —-.

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