Warning: this is going to be a rambly “thinking aloud” post. I saw something on Google+ yesterday which I felt like responding to but then wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say and felt that my ramble would be far too long and rambly for a comment on someone else’s post, so I’m going to try and think it through here.
The post was by a woman who does photography, and she included one of her photos and talked about why she thinks it’s ok to do that kind of photography – and I found that photo extremely disturbing, and I need to think and put into words exactly why.
Before I do that I should make it clear that I’m not here to tell other people what to do. If that photographer chooses to do that kind of photography, that’s her choice. I’m just here to talk about why I’m personally uncomfortable with it and why I wish I didn’t have that kind of picture shoved in my face. But “I wish you didn’t do it” is not the same as “you mustn’t do it”.
So, with all these preambles out of the way, what’s the story? Women’s breasts – that’s the story. The post (which I’m sorry I can’t bring myself to link to as that picture really is not something I want to give more exposure to) was talking about cultural attitudes and norms, the general gist of it (from what I remember) being something like this: what’s the big deal about showing women’s breasts, we see them when we’re babies and they’re just these baby-feeding things so why turn them into sex objects and… I’m sorry, I’d have had much more sympathy for her if she had accompanied her post with a natural looking picture of a mother breastfeeding but instead what I was seeing was a posed shot of a very large-breasted woman in sexy lingerie in a very unnatural pose, partly covering her bosom with her hands so the nipples weren’t shown, which I guess is an attempt to get round the G+ terms of service. I can’t read the photographer’s mind and maybe she meant it differently, but to me that picture screamed: sex object. And I think if you’re going to talk against women’s breasts being turned into sex objects, that’s not the way to illustrate your point.
But leaving that image aside, I’m thinking: what is so bad about our breasts being sexually appealing? Seriously – yes, sure, they have a practical purpose but can’t they serve more than one function? [insert obligatory joke about women and multitasking] When you’re in bed with the person you love and they get sexually aroused by your breasts, is that a bad thing? Do you really want to live in a world where you take your clothes off in front of your significant other and get no reaction because, well, it’s just your body which is just made of bits with various practical functions and what’s the big deal…
To my mind, context is the clincher. It can be seriously annoying, unpleasant, infuriating even, to get sexualised reactions to your breasts when the context doesn’t warrant those reactions: comments from strangers on the street, for example, or from a work colleague. But then that would apply to sexual comments on the whole – it’s not specific to one part of our anatomy. I guess the more bosom-specific issue is looks rather than verbal reactions – one of the annoying things that some men do is look at your breasts while talking to you, instead of making eye contact. That’s seriously objectifying behaviour.
(The other bosom-specific issue is about breastfeeding, but if I start getting into the ins and outs of that, this ramble will never end.)
So, what am I saying? I’m saying I think sexual attraction to breasts is lovely in the right context. Some of my readers will disagree with me about what the right context is. I believe the right context is within a loving marriage – but that’s not what this post is about, its about this: I don’t think there’s anything bad about the fact that men generally see women’s breasts as a sexual object, I just think there are problems with how they sometimes express that, when they express it in a situation where it’s not appropriate. And as a woman I find it offensive when I see sexually posed pictures of women with their breasts exposed – whether it’s online or on the covers of some magazines in the shops – because I see it as objectifying, dehumanising, demeaning. It’s out of context, that’s why. There’s a human being in the picture but we’re not invited to see her as human, we’re invited to stare at her anatomy as if she were just a thing. It’s an invitation to view someone sexually without relating to them as a human being. And I believe human beings are worth a lot more than that.
It seems to me that there are people trying to fight the wrong part of this equation, trying to fight the sexualisation of women’s breasts (as though that’s a bad thing) where the real problem is the sexualisation of women’s bodies (and, increasingly, of men’s bodies too) when the context doesn’t warrant it. It’s about human beings respecting one another (and sometimes, it’s about us respecting ourselves). It’s actually totally doable to respect a person while also, at the same time, finding part of their anatomy attractive. (But it’s a lot more difficult to do that when they’re posing as sexual objects.) (Difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Just difficult.)
end of ramble.