Both Clarke and Jackie O appeared in The Sunday Telegraph over the weekend: the trendy Clarke in jeans, a tee and boots with laces undone celebrating his 30th birthday in Bondi with his posse, including his girlfriend Kyly Boldy, notably being piggy-backed by a family friend; and Jackie O pictured brandishing new baby Kitty while walking across the street and picking flowers alongside the story 'MPs brawl over Jackie O' and 'Celebrity backing in feeding furore' (catch up on the full saga at mamamia).
Clarke, appointed Australian Cricket Captain last week on the eve of his 30th and no stranger to the limelight, has since defended his partying ways, seemingly perplexed by the media's attention and dismissing public interest in his private life. "My focus is here, my focus is on getting to Bangladesh and playing some good cricket and I think the public's focus is pretty similar," he said. "I don't think they want to read about what I do on my birthday."
Not so, as all evidence would suggest.
Jackie O has been defended by fellow women-in-media, most of whom are working mothers, including Lisa Wilkinson, Libbi Gorr, Georgie Gardner, Kerry Phelps, Kylie Gillies, Kerri-Anne Kennerly (all sought for comment by The Sunday Telegraph) and Caroline Overington, who lent her support in her Diary column in The Australian yesterday, pointing particularly to O's status as a vulnerable new mother. The Sydney media can be unforgiving but also quick to defend those within the circle – a blow for one of its own is a blow for all.
Clarke and Jackie O are, whether they like it or not, cultural talking points, as much as gossip ones. Such stories, particularly with glamorous figureheads, can create a healthy discourse at the intersection where the private and public spheres collide. Michael Clarke's birthday shenanigans give us an opportunity to reflect on issues such as duty, role modelling, work/play balance, image and the superhuman responsibilities we attribute to sporting figureheads in the celebrity media age.
The Jackie O story, while no doubt horrifying for O herself, gives us an opportunity to talk about women's issues: how career women are managing their family lives (or not), employer progressiveness (or lack thereof) with maternity and paternity leave (particularly in male-centric media organisations), the pressure to maintain 'superwoman' standards of living, grooming and working even after a baby is introduced into one's life and the value placed on motherhood.
For those in the eye of the storm, this all comes with a side-serving of judgement, from both media makers (in the way they present, contextualise and capitalise on the issues) and the reading/viewing public, some sympathetic but others (often louder) who decry "shame, shame, shame!". Instead of asking, "How can we help you navigate this tough position you're in?", "Is this working for you - why or why not?", or "What can we learn from this?", we gossip, judge and sledge.
SquiggleMum blogger Catherine Oehlman and I had a good chat about Jackie O yesterday, as I'm not a mother and wanted to understand better the situation from a mum's point of view. She shared: "You can't guarantee that a bub will want to feed when you want them to, and you can't guarantee that they won't change their mind five minutes after you give up and head off to your next appointment. I remember having to feed in the car, in a library, in church (!!) but I'm not famous enough to gather the paparazzi."
But on the flip side: "The photo of Jackie and Kitty does portray the image of mothers who want to have it all. You can have a career, you can look fab, you can have a Huggies-Moment... congratulations Super Mama! In trying to have it all though, you may have to feed your baby while crossing the street, and people will be quick to tell you that you aren't so super. What does "having it all" mean anyway? There's a cost to everything."
To me, both Clarke and Jackie O are culturally symptomatic, rather than the cause. It is very important that we are able to critique the culture – to challenge the status quo – which is a media construct perpetuated repeatedly until it is the norm, while not laying blame on the individual for their behaviours, much less how they are presented in the media (often out of context). Granted, yes, there is an added burden of responsibility when you are in the public eye, but who is setting the standard?
The only shoes we walk in are our own, and all of us fall short of perfection, but we expect much from public pillars – products of the prevailing culture in the public sphere; just people doing life like the rest of us behind closed doors – and are quick to tear down those who we perceive to be more blessed in the looks, career and life department than ourselves – the ones who are by these virtues "media friendly" by default, and therefore must appear (impossibly) faultless.
Girl With a Satchel
"When the disciples met a man who was blind from birth they asked Jesus, 'Was it because of his own sins or his parents' sins?' (John 9:2). They weren't concerned that the man needed help or that he'd spent his life in total darkness. No, they started discussing his shortcomings-right in front of him! It's easier to label people than love them." - The Word for Today