Discreet. The word that has brought opprobrium down on the bald head of Channel 7 Sunrise host David Koch, after he used it to describe his preferred demeanour for women breast-feeding their babies in public spaces.
Koch, affectionately known as “Kochie,” was commenting on the decision of staff at the Bribie Island Aquatic Centre to request that a nursing mother remove herself from the public gaze, as she sat at the edge of the pool watching her two older children whilst feeding her baby. The comments can be seen here. Briefly, Koch agrees there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding in public as long as it is done “discreetly” and in a “classy” manner. Koch reiterated his views yesterday. He has another piece today in The Punch in which he again confirms his views, titled “I’m not anti breast-feeding just pro politeness.”
He also tweeted: david koch @kochie_online
But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect breast-feeding in public is done discreetly. I think that’s just a common courtesy to others
That most middle class admonition, to be discreet, means: having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech; prudent, especially capable of preserving prudent silence; unpretentious, modest, unobtrusive, and unnoticeable.
That most aspirational instruction, to be classy, means: having or showing class; elegant, stylish; having or reflecting high standards of personal behavior; admirably skilful and graceful.
Then there’s that other most middle class admonition: be polite
And that much-loved phrase: common courtesy
Dog whistling, the lot of it, with less than zero relevance to breast-feeding in public.
Women should, according to Koch, acquire all these characteristics prior to feeding their infants in a public place. As he feels the need to incessantly repeat himself on this over a period now of some three days, he obviously considers that many women are seriously lacking in these highly valued middle class virtues, and in their ignorance, are offending and distressing the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie, who everyone knows are absolutely entitled to live in a world where nobody does anything that might offend them. Their world, their rules?
Neither Koch nor anybody else who has endorsed his views has explained exactly what it is about women feeding babies that is indiscreet, lacking in class, impolite, or offensive to another’s sensibilities. Neither have they explained how it is “discourteous” of a woman to expose the amount of breast needed to feed a child. This is not actually a great deal. An everyday lingerie advertisement will reveal far more.
Then there is the article at The Punch by Anthony Sharwood, who offers this:
But I can tell you from experience that there are some women who breastfeed anywhere they can as a sort of public exhibition of motherhood
So much of parenthood these days has become an act of display, from superprams as sophisticated as F1 cars to those who go down the overtly organic, super-healthy track.
Public breastfeeding has become, for some Mums, the last frontier of showy parenthood. What started as a private, intimate thing has become its exact opposite. I breastfeed therefore I am liberated. Yeah righto, we get it.
I take it that Mr Sharwood also would prefer us to be prudently silent, unpretentious, modest, unobtrusive, and unnoticeable. He also objects to breasts flopping all over his dinner table because feeding breasts are not sexy.
The reason why Koch’s observations matter is explained in an excellent piece in The Conversation:
Embarrassment and concerns about breastfeeding in public are primary reasons women stop breastfeeding early. And comments like Kochie’s that endorse restricting a breastfeeding woman’s access to certain areas of public space further remove breastfeeding from public display. This increases breastfeeding mothers’ social discomfort and makes it difficult for them to do what we otherwise expect them to.
The article also explains why denying women the right to breast feed in public is illegal, no matter what the manner in which they choose to do it.
An excellent piece on the human rights aspect of the action taken by the Bribie Island Aquatic Centre & Koch’s subsequent endorsement was posted by Kate Galloway here
There’s been something of a furore about the issue on Twitter. On my feed there have been objections to the concerns women have expressed about Koch and the Aquatic Centre. These have come overwhelmingly from men. Rather than analyse the mindset that would relegate women and babies to the toilets to feed, instead women’s anger about the situation has been targeted for discussion. Our anger has been described by some men as “rage,” “outrage,” “fighting,” and “faux rage,” and we’ve been described as “angry feminists.” We’ve been told to “get upset about something really important.” Someone tweeted that he was “exhausted” by our “outrage,” another that we were “ranting.” All pejorative descriptions of female anger because women don’t get angry like men, do we? We get out of control.
Some men need to learn that expressing emotion, even anger, does not equate to losing control.
Are you getting a feeling for the repressive use of language in this discussion? And don’t for a moment imagine Koch’s language is any less pejorative and repressive than that of the Twitter blokes.
Male tweeps have advised us that we’re not going about this in the right way, that our protest strategy will fail, that we have not thought through the two “nurse-ins” that were organized outside Channel 7 and Bribie Aquatic Centre.
Of all the belittling, scornful, repressive and dismissive comments tweeted on my feed to me and to other women today, only one I have seen has come from another woman.
I’m astonished that there are still men who think it their business to tell women what we ought to get upset about, and how we ought to express our concerns.
I’m astonished that there are still men who believe in an ideal of womanhood that requires us to refrain from expressing emotion in what they consider an unseemly fashion.
David Koch thinks we should be discreet, that is, and I will type this out again, so important do I consider it, we should have or show discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech; be prudent, especially capable of preserving prudent silence; be unpretentious, modest, unobtrusive, and unnoticeable. He also thinks we should have or show class; be elegant, stylish; have or reflect high standards of personal behavior; be admirably skilful and graceful. What would Jane Austen, that most acute chronicler of manners, have to say?
If this brouhaha has brought anything into stark relief, it is that the patriarchy is alive and well, and still dedicated to moulding women to its requirements. This is done not with force in this instance, but with language. It is done with efforts to control and shame us, expressed in language that is prescriptive, proscriptive, and judgmental. The tweeps, Koch and Sharwood share the same goal: to regulate female behaviour in public spaces using language that conveys disapproval and contempt, and is designed to shame.
If we must be discreet and courteous about breast-feeding, that implies there is something inherently offensive about it. As nobody has yet been able to articulate exactly what this offence is, I can only conclude it is an emotional, irrational squeamishness that is triggered in some people when they see a baby at the breast.
Opponents of this most natural function will have to come up with a much better explanation than personal squeamishness if they are to have a leg to stand on in this matter. While many have defended Koch’s right to hold an opinion on this, I doubt his position can be described as an “opinion.” It is informed by nothing. It is an uncomfortable feeling he has. It is an emotional reaction. That is not opinion.
We are all responsible for our emotional reactions, we cannot demand that others protect us from them by ceasing to act in ways that provoke discomfort in us. In other words, if Koch or anyone else doesn’t like to witness a mother feeding her baby, perhaps they might like to put a blanket over their heads until she’s done. Or go sit in the toilets.
While many of the male tweeps involved thought Koch’s position was an idiocy, they failed to grasp that their reaction to our anger comes from the same place as that idiocy. Indeed, Koch’s idiocy was entirely lost in their emotional reactions to our anger, which became the focus for them.
Is all this an example of misogyny? I’m inclined to think not. It is the product of a misogynist patriarchy, so entrenched in some males they can’t even see what they’re doing, and get scared and angry when anyone calls them on it. I think it’s ignorance, rather than malice. I think it’s irrational fear.
Whatever it is, it most certainly isn’t opinion, which requires a good deal more than emotion. Koch’s unexamined emotions, and those of the male tweeps, shouldn’t be dignified with the title “opinion”, and they most certainly should not be respected as such.