If you live in Australia, you've probably seen the furore whizzing around social media in the past two days.
The Courier Mail, 16 January 2013 reports:
"A mother of three has been forced to leave a public pool in tears after staff insisted she stop breastfeeding her 11-month-old baby..."A staff member came up to me and told me I wasn't allowed to feed there, that I had to refrain from feeding out in the open,'' Ms Webster said."Can you believe this is still happening? Right here in Australia, in 2013. For crying out loud!
"I said I was sure it was illegal to tell me to do that but she said it was a grey area...and had to insist I didn't feed there.''"Grey area" my ... elbow. What that staff member did? Absolutely illegal in Australia.
Australian law states:
In Australian Federal Law breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding. Direct discrimination happens when a person treats someone less favourably than another person.
Yesterday morning, David 'Kochie' Koch, a presenter on Australia's leading breakfast television programme, Channel 7's Sunrise, had this to say following an interview with the mother in question:
Koch: "I think that's fair enough, to say, hey, can you be a bit discreeter, sorta go up on the grass or something like that..."
Co-presenter Samantha Armytage: "Really? ... I think if you want to breastfeed on the side of the pool you should be allowed."
Koch: "Well, no, not in high traffic areas, I know my daughters are really discreet and things like that, would go to a quieter area, that's a high traffic area on the side of the pool in the middle of summer on a hot day..."
Later that same program, Koch went on to say:
Although he tried to backtrack and cover his words with a half-hearted attempt at safety concerns, clearly, his main point was that a breastfeeding woman should do so out of the public eye."Ladies I wonder whether she should have been more discreet. I totally agree with breastfeeding in public, but I think you've gotta be a bit classy about it, that feet on the edge of the pool, isn't discreet enough.... but I'm concerned for the safety if the baby wriggled and fell in the pool...I think there's a safety issue there... I think, theres, em, like, that's why you have mothers—or move back that's a high traffic area, I can understand how people were uncomfortable with it in such a high profile place."
Social media is aflame with emotions and opinions from all sides of the fence. Overwhelmingly, most commenters are in support of breastfeeding mothers. But there are plenty that have taken Kochie's comments and run with them. And not in a good way for breastfeeding women the world over. There is always the negative minority, clinging to their almost clichéd ignorance in comment threads (for example here and here and here).
Here's the first problem with what Kochie said:Stating that a woman needs to exercise discretion when breastfeeding confirms the misguided belief that breastfeeding is something that needs to be hidden.
Breastfeeding is breastfeeding. Nothing more, nothing less. Breastfeeding is simply a baby taking in nourishment and comfort from his or her mother.
However, to suggest a woman needs to be "discreet" about breastfeeding implies that breastfeeding is, somehow, a naturally exhibitionist act—it isn't. Breastfeeding only becomes explicit when someone else views it that way. And how does someone become offended by breastfeeding? By having an unnatural view of what breasts are actually for.
Despite what they'll tell you, those narrow-minded neanderthals who have a problem with the sight of a woman breastfeeding her baby don't have a problem with a bit of a flash of breast skin. Lets face it—breasts are everywhere.
The reason that those narrow-minded neanderthals get so uppity about the sight of a woman breastfeeding is because they believe the baby is committing an adult act. They cannot see breasts as anything other than sexual.
For far too long, there has remained a patriarchal assumption that a woman's body is, first and foremost, for the purposes of a man's sexual pleasure. Breasts are seen as sex objects before their primary mammalian function. So for a vocal few, the prospect of a baby sucking on a nipple causes all kinds of cognitive dissonance.
In my opinion, the only time that breastfeeding stops being a naturally discreet act is when woman believe they should cover up—because then it's like a freaking neon sign pointing to something they are doing, that they are purposely covering up.
The only way that breastfeeding will become as uncontroversial as it should be is by seeing it happening. Breastfeeding is not a big deal. A breastfeeding mother is not 'flopping' her boob out, or 'flashing', or trying to prove some kind of political point. She is simply feeding her child.
Here's the second problem with what Kochie said:
A celebrity stating that a breastfeeding woman needs to be "discreet" enables the continued oppression-via-ignorance of breastfeeding women.
It doesn't matter how well-intentioned or benign Kochie's comments were in his own mind. Outwardly, what he said was critical of breastfeeding in public. His suggestions that a woman be "discreet" or "a bit classy" confirm the misguided viewpoint that breastfeeding should be hidden. So, for those with a problem seeing a breastfeeding dyad, it's a very slippery slope from Kochie's personal 'opinion' of: "I totally agree with breastfeeding in public, BUT..." to this:
|Yes, because excreting bodily waste is totally the same as providing life-giving sustenance to a child.|
I hope these people don't operate heavy machinery with that mindset.
Implying that a woman needs to be respectful of others when breastfeeding her child is a little bit like victim blaming. The problem with someone's sensitivity to public breastfeeding does not lie with the breastfeeding mother — it lies with the person who finds it offensive. In those instances, that person has a right to exercise that thing that holds their head up, and look away. Or move. And then, get some therapy.
Breastfeeding rates in Australia are depressing enough without having prominent public figures, such as Kochie, adding to a mother's burden. Breastfeeding mothers face enough roadblocks without having to worry about what a few other
Oh okay, Ryan, if you have to.