why david koch is wrong about public 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!