Some Great Australians also happen to breastfeed, David

Not very discreet. Tsk tsk.

This is not about an opinion. This is about a law which says discrimination against women engaged in feeding little humans is wrong. How can this possibly be so contentious unless maybe, just maybe, it’s really not about that at all?

Can you imagine a week long raging national discussion, including newspaper polls, about fathering and how it is publicly performed? Can you imagine a week of pundits and folk of the broken spell check club (Hint: discrete. It does not mean what you think it means.) tossing around jokes about how much flesh men should reasonably show at public events? If you can’t imagine those then you can be pretty sure that a conversation about “the personal choice” to publicly provide normal nourishment to babies and children isn’t really about breastfeeding at all. It’s about the desire to control women’s performances as political entities in a western culture which is beyond obsessed with how women dispose of their own bodies. Plus there are a lot of people out here with boundary issues.

Western culture is based around the assigning of characteristics to women and men, called gender which is a performance based way of expressing to other people what we think we are, what we want them to think we are and hopefully letting them know what we think they are too. Bluntly, sheilas are sheilas and cobbers are cobbers and ne’er the twain shall meet. We police these boundaries an awful lot, possibly more than other English speaking places like, well, England, for instance.We could hypothesise that this is linked to the inherent instability of living in a (former) colony. In a colony, where the very surrounds of our society are moveable, impenetrable (ha!), dangerous and likely to swallow us up (please look up all those 19th century stories involving Lost Children in the bush.) it can become all the more vital to cling on to what we think we know: the identities we’ve attached to our genitals since those genitals are unlikely to alter despite this rough terrain. I sometimes suspect that we cottoned on to this early and have developed our public discourse into the blood letting sport it has become as a result. I have also watched the pornographying of the world in a remarkably short span of time since the early 90s and how that supports and promotes the belief system that women as public property can be discussed, defined, analysed, carved up and particularly importantly: never. right. no. matter. what.

When I read (reading seems rather too dignified for some of the worst baying and its attendant spelling) (Yes, I have issues with poor spelling and I have the freedom of speech to say so, so shut up.) the bizarre self righteous ramblings of those desperate to preserve something they call “freedom of speech” because a privileged white cobber earning a mere mill per day had his attention drawn to how he is encouraging those who break the law around anti discrimination policies, I find it the same sad, disconnected rambling attached to all the issues of the day. And when it first started, I found myself rather taken aback having only recently reconsidered Kochie in the wake of some fine stuff he wrote about asylum seekers and how poorly they are treated in Australia. You can read it here.

He also wrote this rather sweet piece personalising those who’ve come to Australia to live from other places. Nice. I’m going to borrow a little of it.

Perhaps it would be nice if it read like this:

The reality is that refugees mothers contribute a hell of a lot to our country, both economically and culturally. Not only is accepting them the compassionate thing to do, and the right thing to do. It’s the Australian thing to do. We have a great country built on multiculturalism acceptance of others. Why is everyone scared of a few hundred desperate people women running for their lives breastfeeding?

Let’s stop looking at refugees women as numbers objects. Lets start looking at refugees women as real people.

I so agree, David. Let’s stop looking at people as numbers and see them for who they really are. (Although the numbers around breastfeeding tell their own story about how poorly we support women in that too.) I could tell some utterly stand out stories about the women I know both personally and via community networks who spend many hours of their lives caring for not only their own babes and children but other women and their children too. Just quickly:

milk donors
milk donation facilitators
breastfeeding peer support
communities of women who breastfeed and share support informally
Women who donate milk to babies whose mothers have died or been incapacitated, or who are physically unable at this time to produce milk.
Women who staff, without pay, hotlines offering advice and support for breastfeeding.
Women who run groups like Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
Women who collect and drive milk to and from others at their own expense.
Women who express milk into a cup in the car to make sure a baby won’t go without.
Women who feed babies they didn’t birth to help families in crisis, give a mother a break, provide sustenance to a babe whose mother’s milk producing is compromised.

It is endless.

It is as endless as the stream of milk humanity is capable of providing to our young. And all those things women do for free. Because it’s needed. Because it’s right. And because our society can pay seemingly endless amounts of money to men who play sport (or host day time telly) but we place precisely no value whatsoever on the work of women who support other women. And even less on the feeding of the human infant.

And as boringly ordinary as the capacity of the mammal to produce milk might be, for some reason we still need laws to preserve the right of the human infant to take in sustenance wherever that mother/baby dyad might find themselves. So when someone in a public position, who earns a great deal of money and embodies a great deal of privilege makes comments as ignorant and damaging as those made by Kochie last week, it really really does matter and it really really isn’t just about an opinion. We are all entitled to opinions but we are not entitled to spout damaging nonsense which harms people. It does actual harm to actual people, not numbers, when we try to fashion the lives of others to our own prejudices. And discouraging women from breastfeeding when their baby needs it impacts supply leading to what we hear so often, “I ran out of milk.” We don’t run out of milk – rare physical issues or other crises aside – we fail to support the breastfeeding relationship adequately for it is a 24 hour a day contract and not to be timetabled. Oddly like babies and children.

I would hope that given the capacity of the Koch mind to open beyond the myths around asylum seekers, that the Koch mind would also realise criticising mothering, especially aspects of mothering with legal protection because of this kind of criticism, is of doubtful propriety and apologise. A really actual apology. A real “Jeepers, what was I thinking, I screwed up, I apologise unequivocally, here’s a donation of a day’s pay to the nearest women’s refuge.” kinda apology. Given that earning capacity and continued tv contracts seem to depend upon stirring up the beloved Kontroversy(!!!!) surely to have Kochie say, “Actually we’ve got it all wrong and breastfeeding is just normal.” would score more than the normal knee jerk dull railing about modesty, mummies and muslin. And I would really like to one day see a world where women’s bodies and actions are not considered fodder for entertainment because trying to fit into that iron maiden of classy and discreet laydeedom is like living in the midst of a lot of invisible electric fences. You know they’re there but you never know quite when they’re going to zap you when you think you’re minding your own business, at the pool, seeing that your baby has enough to eat.

11 thoughts on “Some Great Australians also happen to breastfeed, David”

  1. Beautiful, Janet. Your words are a breath of fresh air and a voice of reason in this stormy turmoil. Love this. Thank you.

  2. Janet, this is the side of the argument that I just can’t seem to articulate well enough. Thank you for doing so in such an eloquent manner.

  3. Together we can re-build a society where breastfeeding a natural way of being, sort of like spoon-feeding a baby in a food-court or drinking a coffee while walking down the street.

  4. I for one really hope Kochie reads this. Wonderfully written, really honest, true and to the point. Fantastic work as always, Janet! I will be sharing!

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