Monday, July 11, 2005

breasts.

Ive been meaning to write about them for a long time. But before we start any discussion, stop and try saying the word out loud. Not “boobs”, not “lajja”, not “assets” and most certainly not “tits”: just “breasts”. My gosh, what a rarity!

I always blow a fuse when I hear people referring to “her tits” when the “her” in question is not a cow, or some other animal. An adult human female has breasts. I find it infuriating and absolutely offensive to hear people call them tits. Because that word carries with it the insulting insinuation that the woman is a cow. While one doesn’t have to “hit on” a woman, theres certainly no call for such a malicious insult either.

Our language is loaded. There are undertones and whole books of meaning lurking behind every word, especially when these words pertain to sex. Using a word like “lajja” implies that a). a big built woman has to calmly accept an inevitable fate of harassment, b).that a small built or flat chested woman is not “woman” enough, c). that you cant ever just regard breasts as a part of the body with about as much erotic value as an oesophagus.

The last may seem funny to you. Why insist that breasts should also be regarded platonically, so to speak? Well because when theres always a sexual innuendo, theres also a huge amount of hypocrisy and hype, so some time, truth gets left behind. Here are some things that you may never have heard about breasts (especially if youre male) because they just don’t get discussed:

Dyou know the number of women who suffer agonies of guilt while breast feeding their child? Its common to feel aroused when suckling the child – and perfectly natural. Its just natures way of making what could well be an onerous task, a more pleasant one for the mother. Its also a very smart evolutionary strategy because if the mother got no joy from feeding the child and decided to ditch it, where would we all be!

But most women only feel terribly ashamed that they feel sexually aroused during breast feeding, because most of the times, nobody has bothered talking to them about it. Nobody can, because its taboo. It would be Talking About Sex, that too in the holier than thou context of motherhood, so its emphatically Not On. Period. (or should I say “periods” since were on the subject of taboos?!)

The bra industry is a booming one. As a feminist its one of my pet peeves that a comfortable bra should be so bloody expensive. It is. (note the irony there by the way: patriarchy has said breasts without bras are vulgar, and that bras should be expensive. hmm, look whos caught in the middle again. The concept of padded bras speaks eloquently for itself.)

And its yet another source of irritation that bras, like most branded clothing nowadays, should be made only for the “perfect” figure. What about 99% of the (im tempted to say “real”) women who aren’t built like that? Are we doomed eternally to ill fitting uncomfortable underwear? I guess we are. If breasts are so taboo and cannot be spoken about, how will we talk about how different breasts are shaped differently, how the left breast is never the same size as the right breast, and how we users would like the bras to be made?

Another issue that’s often ignored amidst all the hype on the breast front, is breast cancer. Breast cancer is terribly common, and usually not diagnosed until its very advanced. but please: like any woman is going to confess aloud that she palpitates her breast every month to see if the textures changed – shell get labelled some kind of sex maniac! (you know how realistic it is to expect someone to actually teach her how to do it…). Personally, I know very few women who know how to do a breast examination for themselves.

Actually, I know very few women who can say “breast” out loud and look you in the eye while saying it without undergoing agonies of shyness. I know throwing off the baggage from that word to reclaim it took me until undergrad! (And im still a little hesistant about posting this. Its one thing to say these things in person, and quite another to write em!)

From smaller issues like bras, to the worse ones like the fetish of bigger is better, there’s heaps that needs to be addressed about breasts. But it will all get swept under the rug and ignored or worse, made inaccessible by taboos, as long as we hide behind words like “tit”.

by the way, if youre male and you read this till the end, hats off to you. If women are embarrassed, this is another thing that decent guys usually squirm about – even after living with sisters and mothers!

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28 Comments:

Blogger S. said...

while i will not side for lecherous guys i'll tell you the evolutionary basis of this notion of big breasts being better....... we, all of us, have a huge evolutionary baggage we carry around. This baggage tunes us a) survival b) propagation of the species.....as you can see , in today's world these are not instincts that need to be all that sharp...thats why i call them baggage. So the minute a man sees a woman with big breasts this hooter (pardon the pun) in the brains starts beeping loudly and telling the rest of him that she will make a healthy mother for his child and that with her his genes will be safely passed on to future generations. Hence, for the women, big breasts become the source of competition towards survival of the fittest 'cos even the woman wants a nice man to pass on her genes with.
So while today's fixation is not altogether justified it is largely due to this baggage.

10:19 am  
Blogger Senthil said...

Once again, very well-written and informative. And incisive. And bold.

Now, about the bigger is better theory, speaking in terms of the evolution of the human species, it is not an evolutionary accident that breasts are features that have been developed for sexual attraction. It all started when man became bipedal, and the ventral areas of the body became as visible as the dorsal. If you are interested in evolution, I recommend The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. Morris studies the anatomy, behaviour, and the evolution of humans as one would study any animal species, and reports his findings. Excellent read.

1:16 pm  
Blogger Conan said...

OK OK I like your small ti er breasts, all right! LOL best wishes from USA

1:37 pm  
Blogger Never teh bride said...

Actually, the discount the first poster, bigger has not always been better. Yes, breasts are used as sexual health cues, but what sort of breasts evokes a "suitable mate" reaction in males varies with culture. There have been long periods in history when breasts were squashed and squeeze, flattened and bumped up in odd ways. Back when bipedal human sexuality was developing, science theorizes a predomently flat chested and/or small breasted animal.

That said, I hate hate hate that bras are so damn expensive. And that most of the bras one can find in my size are ugly grandma bras...unless I'm willing to pay for expensive designer bras. The Beard asked me why I didn't have more bras and I told him that I'd be happy not to re-wear bras when he's willing to pay $50 or more for one of the damn things to stock me up.

Ugh.

1:49 pm  
Anonymous Avish said...

Nice! Keep it up!

A Fan of you m.

9:29 pm  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

Excellent post. Each of your posts has something interesting to tell. I'm becoming a fan too.

BTW, I'm now 120 pages into The Female Eunuch. Excellent book. Sometimes startling, and almost always correct.

1:02 am  
Blogger Sagnik Nandy said...

very well written and what was very laudable was that what could have easily sounded as a very preachy post was not "on your face" preachy but rather informative and interesting

2:40 am  
Blogger morpheus said...

Nice work, supplements the 'live' version back on the sands of elliots!! btw misha, dont quite agree with what u said about the 'man thinkin healthy mother bit' trust me, for most of the population, when men see big breasted women, that is definitely not the first thought that comes up!! any backers ??

3:10 am  
Anonymous amit said...

indians are travelling a long way from very open culture to a restrictive orthodox and then western open culture and that too at speed of time.
i dont know where the future is but i feel "jisne lakho haseen dekhi hai, uski niyat kharaab kya hogi".
but mind you breasts are not always breasts.
i feel the thought behind the word makes the difference. that the reason we dont use titfeeding or boobfeeding. take this word "dhakkan".

"regard breasts as a part of the body with about as much erotic value as an oesophagus". this is not at all funny. this is totally il(bio)logical. if you consider kissing part of sex then what would you say a guy willing to kiss the same "oesophagus"?

i am thankful for informative part of post.

4:21 am  
Blogger Mediochre said...

@senthil : while 'the naked ape' is very well-written, i do think that much of his discussion about the female body wrt sex is biased towards the male. it is not as scientifically sound as the rest of the book. for eg. he doesn't discuss the clitoris as an organ of sexual selection (it is).

6:02 am  
Blogger Mediochre said...

@ misha: bigger breasts may be a more obvious visual clue, but lactation has NOTHING to do with breast size. small-breasted women may lactate as effectively as large-breasted ones & therefore make equally good mothers.
but obviously fashion dictates the norms.

6:06 am  
Blogger sensiblystoned said...

M, you dont have to be a feminist to be cognizant of the above mentioned things. You can be a male chauvinist and still know that the left breast is bigger than the right breast, the complexities of periods and implications of PMS :) But I didnt know that bras are expensive. Well I guess Ive never shopped for them, so maybe when I do, I'll jump on the bandwagon and curse them confounded designers.

Thought you might be interested in knowing, doctors and paediatricians in the US suggest using formula milk (incidentally in some aspects its supposed to be healthier than breast milk) for mothers who feel queasy, uneasy or for those who arent keen on breastfeeding. Another thing, doctors in the US encourage mothers to pump breast milk for deep freeze storage so that the babies can be fed via bottle which can help wean the baby from breastfeeding more gradually and it also gives a great advantage when you have to travel with the baby in hand.

Misha, funny you should be mention the word hooter. Its another slang for breasts. But "the bigger breasts make healthy mother for his child" theory doesnt hold salt, if you ask me. I dont know anybody who thought that way :)

7:55 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about women and their notions of bigger = better when it comes to a man's penis?

8:04 am  
Anonymous Charu said...

m, another superb and bold post! I guess saying 'breasts' equates it to any other organ, say hands - whereas saying tits or boobs gives it the sexual connotation?
as for the guilt pangs, I have seen women feeling guilty / ashamed about being aroused - in any way - it is just not the done thing fo a "good woman"

10:55 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@misha: mediochre speaks for both of us! :)

@senthil: thanksh :)science can be pretty patriarchal you know... if objective evolutionary theory were the only aim, whatever happened to clitoral responses??

@mike: EXCUSE ME?!!

@never the bride: i liked two words in your comment very much. "science theorises". that describes beautifully what science does very often! - make up a formal jargon filled theory to validate a personal/political opinion :)- and GREAT pt about the changing fads in how breasts should look.

@avish: thanks :d

@aditya: thanksh very much, and hey! im serious: DO try whole woman - if you like female eunuch youll love this :)

@sagnik: whew, thats a beeeeg relief! :D thankoo! (btw, i really like your blog: i come, read, laugh and go!)

@morpheus: thanks, and if you say so! im *supposed to be* clearer and less confused now :s

@amit: youre welcome, but what you feel puzzles me cos my hindi shtinks! :))as for the second part, uhm, it was not meant to be funny, and i think its very sensible! i didnt say dont ever think of the breast erotically : i said lets think beyond its erotic value. i stand by that.

@mediochre: danke for being mouthpiece! :D ;)

@ss: no, you dont, ignorance is not particular about politics! :D
the very same hotshots in the us also publish voluminous papers on how the physical contact with the mothers body helps the child enormously, and how often its absence leads to psychological problems and confidence issues later in the childs life.
if i may point out something in what you said: "help wean the baby from breastfeeding MORE GRADUALLY". meaning breastfeeding is critical and should not be abruptly stopped :)

@anonymous: what about them?

@charu: thank you verrry much. (not so bold though.. i was debating for quite a while whether or not to post what id dashed off!:)) yesh, that whole thing about "sex is for men and no chaste woman should enjoy it" is such a truck load of garbage!
so many of those old traditions exalting feminine sexuality have been conveniently dumped along the way to make space for such patriarchal nonsense.. whoever said were through with feminism?!

6:09 am  
Anonymous Charu said...

m, dont thank me ) I really enjoy your posts - next time just sit back with a smug smile:))
and one of these days, I am going to mail you to ask your name - that is a definite threat. (or you could mail me and tell me yourself!)
and are you still in any discomfort about this post - if not, i want to nominate it for this weeks blog mela - I think more ppl shd read your blog :)

6:56 am  
Blogger sensiblystoned said...

:)) my point exactly, breastfeeding in babies cannot be stopped abruptly. so feeding breast milk through a bottle every now and then, say after the first 8-9 months would make it easier on the baby and the mother. the formula milk should be the last option if you ask me. but its good to have options right?

8:29 am  
Blogger m. said...

@charu: right. since youve given me the go ahead, ive been quite unbearably smug since last night :))jus saw: thanksh very much for the nomination! as hjs would say, "the smugfulness is terrific" now! ;)

@ss: im still not very hot on the feeding bottle idea. but yes, if the mothers working or something and shes not able to properly breastfeed the child thats certainly an option (and yes, we likes options :)).
id put those milk formulae and subs right at bottom of the list: who knows what junk chemicals they dump in that synthetic stuff? i certainly wouldnt trust any child of mine to an mnc's loving care! :)

1:20 am  
Blogger Gaurav said...

hi....
ur posts have always been amazing....dis one ws real straight and frank....the Breast Cancer issue is a serious one...and due to the way society behaves the correct way of breast examination is not known to all....
more and more women need to be informed about it esp when they are in their teenage years.

About the rest of the part others have already left comments...but then for bigger is better - human psychology comes into play and societal trends...go to place where tribes are in existence and u can easily observe...their preference for big sized breasts...but in our society...the statistics of 36-24-36 has been stated as benchmark....

great posts...love visitin ur blog...

2:33 am  
Blogger gawker said...

"The bra industry is a booming one. As a feminist its one of my pet peeves that a comfortable bra should be so bloody expensive."

As a husband who can buy 10 pairs of male underwear for 5 bucks, and who has to shell out 100 bucks for the same number of brassieres for his wife, no one empathizes more than I do.

6:28 am  
Blogger m. said...

@gaurav: hullo! thank you so much :)

@gawker: LOL, poor you!

7:05 am  
Anonymous The Mystic said...

One of the things that has always amused me is that people think that if you discuss sex related issues in a open forum or offer sex education in classes, you are likely to avoid incidents like the MMS scandal in the Delhi school.

Which is just a piece of rubbish. Agreed that youngsters are learning about sex from the wrong scources like the net but even if their parents offer counselling,it is hardly going to help any. Unless you actually have sex, nothing is going to help.You are "educated" in schools about each others body and how it is pleasurable and the first thing youngsters would want is to try it out for themselves.And we are going to stop that anyway.Right?

So all that we are doing is telling them how tasty chocolate is and expect them not to taste it till they are asked to.No way that is going to happen.They are bound to get caught masturbating or end up molesting someone.Like it is happening everywhere.

I have observed that in this blog, you always feel that discussing these issues out in the open without any inhibition is going to solve a lot of things. I wonder if it will......

7:11 am  
Blogger Megha said...

Came here via the Blog Mela. Kudos on a very well-written and incisive post that doesn't get too rant-like or preachy!

And since I cannot leave without a hopeless pun, let me just say that I'm glad you got that off your chest :)

Cheers!

12:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi M,

Sauntering from one blog to another came to yours and read your profile.
Having read some of your posts and this one about Breasts, I feel great. Being a woman I can relate to all that you have said.
Indeed a bold post and informative, just as many have commented.
Something that really struck chord was "like most branded clothing nowadays, should be made only for the “perfect” figure. What about 99% of the (im tempted to say “real”) women who aren’t built like that?". Apart from being informative about breasts, the media madness of protraying "THE" perfect looking woman was also rightly highlighted.
Would like to visit more often.
- Another M :-)

2:03 am  
Blogger m. said...

@the mystic: its a common misconception that sex education is about telling people not to have sex. sex edn is about arming people with information therefore enabling them to make the best possible choices for themselves.
that translates to birth control and safe sex options, skills for negotiating for these, awareness about sexual responsibilities, sexual orienatation issues and so on.
a lot of sexual experimentation happens at the adolescent level because of the hype built up by the media, which makes children very curious to know what its about. healthy curiosity is fine, and should be encouraged. its the kind of trash and myths that mass media propagates that we need to counter.
so yes. talking helps. a hell of a lot in fact. try conducting/ sitting through a GOOD school level sex education program and watch its value.

@megha: LOL... im glad too! thanks a lot ... bosom buddy?! :))

@M (deja vu?!): hullo namesake! glad you hopped here - its always nice to meet another feminist... youre always welcome back for more if you feel like it :)

7:07 am  
Anonymous The Mystic said...

@m,

I am not so naive to say that sex education means asking people not to have sex.You took that sentence out of context. I know it is about making people aware about all aspects of sex and enabling them to make an informed decision. That part is fine, no problem.

But what about the next part where students want to experiment themselves? Since its such a pleasurable act.Arent you going to stop them and ask them to repress and ignore their genuine body impulses till society approves of them having sex after marriage?(No wonder people marry these days exclusively to satisfy their sexual urges and end up getting divorced double quick).

And are you saying that if there is no hype from the media,people would be less sexual? Do you feel hungry only because they show a pizza ad on tv?
Irrespective of the hype and stuff, people are bound to be sexual and there is nothing any "education" can do about it.As I said, only having sex is the solution and that is not allowed for students anyway.Or will you?

And pray tell me, what according to you is "healthy" curiosity? And how do you stop it from spilling over into a molestation incident over a prolonged period of continued repression and denial?

9:10 pm  
Blogger Ekam-Sathyam said...

Well, I wouldn't quite call discussing breasts as taboo. This reminds me of an incident involving a friend of mine. My friend, his wife and a friend of hers decide to go shopping. They find a huge bra sale in the mall and the women decide it is time for them to look for good inner wear. The women take time to look through the pile of bras while my friend watches. Finally, his wife's friend calls out to him and says "what are you doing standing there, look for 32C and if you find any, let me know". My friend was quite stumped hearing this from his wife's friend but, decides to search anyway. We all got together one evening and, he blurted out (in the presence of both the women) about this incident and we discussed pretty much everything associated with breasts (both sexual and otherwise) and had a hearty laugh about the incident. When you (being a woman) took almost 20 years to "throw the baggage" and write about it after having second thoughts, you can very well imagine a guys plight.

It is true that people refer to breasts as tits or boobs. Quite honestly, I have seen a lot more women use the word than men. Women prefer to use tits or boobs in the regular course of the conversation and use breasts in more formal gatherings. I guess who you are talking to also matters. Quite true that our language is loaded and not to mention our linguistic abilities as well. It is also true that men (me included) are attracted to big "built" women but, that is not the only thing that guys look for. As a matter of fact, to me it doesn't matter and I am quite sure there are lot more men like me who really don't care if they are going out with flat chested woman or someone with a big "build". Women know very well that guys do look at their breasts. Having said that, aren't more and more women going in for breast implants/silicone implants? As a matter of fact, women refer to it as "boob job" rather than the more complicated "breast implant". The most common reason given by women is that they want to feel more confident. More confident from the point that they will get the (more than) required attention making them feel more confident. Very valid argument but, If women don't think breasts have sexual connotation, then why would they want to go in for breast implants? Is it just the attention or much more than that?

This is the first time I am hearing someone say "she (big chested woman) will make a healthy mother for his child and that with her his genes will be safely passed on to future generations". I and all the guys I know of, have never thought about something remotely associated to that statement. I am not quite sure if that statement has come out of experience but, exceptions are not examples.

You have brought about a good point on breast cancer!

I wouldn't know much about how expensive bras are... *blush* ;-))

11:15 pm  
Blogger Whoiscb said...

One Word : Bold

12:20 am  

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