Breastfeeding, Kochie and double standards

David Koch and Melissa Doyle pictured in 2006.
David Koch and Melissa Doyle pictured in 2006.

 Channel Seven host David Koch has urged women to be ‘more discreet’ when breastfeeding their babies, following the uproar over a Queensland woman, Liana Webster, being asked to move away from the pool and cover up when she breastfed her child at Bribie Island aquatic centre.

Unsurprisingly, Kochie's remarks didn't go down so well either. He tried to backtrack by saying that he supports breastfeeding but perhaps it shouldn’t be done "in such a high traffic area" and  "you've gotta be a bit classy about it." (Incidentally, Ms Webster says there were only seven or eight people in the vicinity at the time.)

Cover up, find a room, don’t expose yourself – these are just some of the messages received by women attempting to feed their children in public spaces, despite laws in every state and territory giving women rights to breastfeed anywhere.

The idea that there are a certain class of breastfeeders who sit around cafes with their breasts swinging in the wind, flaunting their right to expose themselves in public is a myth. Never seen it.
Instead, I have observed thousands of women get on with the business of giving nutrition to their babies, often while wielding a fork or a magazine or wrangling a toddler with a spare hand. In fact,  I once observed an adept woman walk through Broadway shopping centre with a baby attached to her nipple, while displaying less breast tissue than your average lingerie ad.

Which is where the double standards start. In July 2011, David Koch and Melissa Doyle celebrated 65 years of the bikini on Sunrise – you can watch the video here.  The pre-roll to the segment showed a montage of heaving-bosomed Bond girls and other famous bikini wearers, along with footage of weatherman Grant Denyer wearing Borat’s famous monokini, ass cheeks to the camera.

If we’re talking classy and discreet, that ain’t it. Yet as a society we seem to be more comfortable showing flesh in a comical or sexual context than with the purpose nature intended.

The absurdity of this way of thinking was highlighted by writer Jessica Martin-Weber in a blog post about her recent experience in Las Vegas, where she was presenting at a mommy blogger conference.

Following my first talk in the morning of Friday, January 4, 2013, I met up with my friend, Sue, who was helping take care of my 8 month old daughter, who I call Sugarbaby, while I spoke.  We decided to have lunch in the Flamingo’s Tropical Breeze Cafe so I could feed my baby and myself before speaking at another session after the break.  Wearing a simple button up shirt and a [nursing tank] ... I fed my hungry baby shortly after we were seated while we skimmed the menu.  She was hungry and had missed me so she got down to business pretty quickly and stayed focused.  Our server brought us our drinks and a random cup of coffee neither of us ordered and took our food order.  As we sat joking about the random cup of coffee and waiting for our food (I think he thought I looked like I could use some caffeine), a lovely woman in a suit approached us.  She smiled and asked us how we were then very politely requested that I use a cover, nodding in the general direction of my baby at my breast.

She looked around and I kept looking at her, still chuckling at the irony of this situation.  She knows that just before walking into her cafe I walked past a platform where that very evening, like every night, a woman exposing far more than I was while feeding my baby, dances with moves intending to sexually entice.  She knows that the sidewalks in front of the hotel are littered with photo cards of naked women with tiny stars on their nipples.  She knows that this very hotel advertises a burlesque show featuring breasts (bare), butts, and spread eagle moves on a video that loops endlessly in each guest elevator.

Martin-Weber refused to put a blanket over her daughter’s head and instead tweeted about the encounter. The cafe’s manager then contacted the blogger for a personal apology and promised to educate his staff on the right for women to breastfeed  - without a cover - anywhere they wish.

Martin-Weber who runs a blog called The Leaky Boob, was able to laugh off the cafe staffer's request. But many new mothers feel confused and upset when confronted about their breastfeeding - which is not helpful for Australia's dismal breastfeeding rates.

Improving the numbers of Australian babies receiving breastmilk is a key measure for the federal health department. At six months of age, only half of Australian babies are still receiving breastmilk. The government breastfeeding strategy 2010-2015 acknowledges that protecting the rights of breastfeeding women is key to achieving this goal:

Breastfeeding protection is about enabling mothers to breastfeed their babies and young children anywhere a mother and child have a right to be, with confidence and without harassment.

Telling women to feed their babies in a smelly nappy-change area or to inhibit feeding with a cloth cover (babies usually yank it off in 5 seconds anyway) is discrimination. Motherhood is isolating enough without being forced out of public spaces because of the way you feed your child.

As the co-host of Australia’s most popular morning television program, David Koch has a responsibility to normalise unrestricted breastfeeding.

A peaceful protest has been planned outside the Sunrise TV offices tomorrow at 7am. For more details visit the Sunrise nurse-in Facebook page.

This story Breastfeeding, Kochie and double standards first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.