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Broadcast media yet to reject tired stereotypes

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Perth mums breastfeed for Kochie

Dozens of WA mums gathered in Forrest Chase this morning to stage a nurse-in, responding to controversial comments by Sunrise presenter David Koch.

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I'm largely uninterested in what anyone thinks about breastfeeding in public, particularly those members of the population who don't have breasts. Women have the right to feed their babies wherever they want, and the recurrent debates on the matter are repetitive to the point of irritation. The problem with recent comments about breastfeeding by Channel Seven's David Koch isn't so much about ignorance, it's that they are legitimised by a broadcast media populated by bumbling blokes in a society that heralds laddish masculinity.

Koch is clearly not a stupid man. His blokey everyman schtick sits comfortably with the kinds of values we allow to dominate Australian broadcast media. Our idea of acceptable Australian masculinity is reinforced by the kinds of male voices we allow to set the mainstream social agenda - think Kyle Sandilands, Sam Newman, Chris Smith, anyone on the Footy Show and all of 2GB. There's very little room for intelligence and thoughtful compassion, with most broadcast strategies deferring to an entirely outdated construction of masculinity whose cornerstones are mateship, blokeyness and hilarious sexism. Society allows its (extremely well paid) male hosts to behave like undisciplined little boys, and consequently it also excuses and punishes their transgressions as such. What can you do? Their humour is ''edgy''. Boys will be boys. Here come the PC police! We're sorry if you were offended.

It is no secret what the correlating expectations are for female hosts. Thought of as the ''handbrakes'', their role is to titter along as their male sidekicks push the envelope of taste and sensibility, but put a stop to things before they go too far. This admonishment is likely to be issued via some variation of mock horror along the lines of, ''You can't say that!'', or the staccato iteration of whatever ridiculously abbreviated nickname the man in question uses as his bread and butter: Fatty, Kochie, Fitzy, Jonesy, Lawsy. Our compulsion to assign abbreviated names to professional men speaks not just to our refusal to demand actual professionalism from the men in question, but our parochial fear of intellectualism and its presumed status as kryptonite for the masses.

Unfortunately, our mainstream broadcast media also reflects a social structure in which women are expected to prop up and legitimise the childish antics of Australia's alpha male elite. And although Koch doesn't directly reflect the qualities attributed to those particular men, he does occupy a curious position at the head of the Sunrise hierarchy and its (mostly) female audience. Consider the inexorably awful ''Kochie's Angels'', a regular segment which gives three women a patronising platform with which to discuss the kinds of niche issues that might affect 50 per cent of the population. This sort of diminishment of women is embarrassing enough, that Seven Network fat cats think they need to be parsed through the bumbling comprehension of a bloke who doesn't speak ''girl'' is laughable. (Note: Sunrise's opponent the Today Show has a similarly obnoxious segment called ''Girls on the Grill''. It's unclear as to whether Ten's Breakfast boasted the same, because science has yet to find anyone who watched it.)

Is it any wonder that Kochie - spawned from an environment that doesn't routinely allow for, let alone celebrate, women's agency and individual rights - would think it is his place to muse on the distinctions between ''classy'' breastfeeding and that which makes the public squirm, with no thought as to the visual double standards on display in such Channel Seven staples as Home & Away or Cougar Town?

When it comes to gender politics, the antiquities of Australian broadcast media leave a lot to be desired. So while I'm entirely unsurprised that one of our highest paid media personalities (also rumoured to earn more than his female co-host) has shared a moralising opinion on something that really has nothing to do with him, I'm also not the least bit interested in wading down the distracting rabbit hole that everyone else seems to have fallen into. The problem here isn't that David ''Kochie'' Koch thinks there are right and wrong ways for women to breastfeed, it's that Australia's larger media climate has failed to move away from the tired stereotypes of blokedom and ineffectual female representation. One is given all the power, and the other merely the illusion of it. Let's not be distracted from that just because there are breasts in the picture.

Clementine Ford is a columnist for Fairfax's Daily Life.

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