Sunday, November 07, 2004

Paper for Women's Studies

I wanted to post this paper that I wrote for my Women's Studies class. Kim it was inspired by your post on breast feeding in public. I never realized that I felt so strongly about Women's rights and the sexualization of women. Let me know what you guys think.

Breasts and the Sexualization of Women

If a child were to learn everything he knew about breasts from television and the media he would think that breasts are meant to be shameful, sexual, forbidden, big and upright, and existing solely for the pleasure of men. Exposure of breasts is considered indecent exposure in many places, and a man by the name of Joe Francis is now a millionaire from a home video series called Girls Gone Wild that features young women frequently baring their breasts to the world. Young girls who are exposed to the “fake and perfect” breasts of Hollywood develop a distorted view of their own bodies, eventually yearning for this perfection and attempting to realize it through plastic surgery. In all actuality, breasts are only reproductive organs because they produce milk. As a culture we must realize that though breasts are a part of what makes a woman female, they are not intended for a sexual purpose.

To understand how outrageous it is for breasts to be regarded in the way that they are, it is important to understand what other cultures value, as well how they view a woman’s bosom in their own culture. In our own culture during the 1920’s a flat chest was seen as the ideal. Bra’s were invented during this time to flatten a woman’s chest; strange to imagine in our society of push-up bra’s and implants. It is not just our culture that resorts to strange methods to changing the natural shape of a woman’s body. Padaung women in Burma are considered appealing if they have long necks, through the use of metal rings introduced around the age of five a young engaged girl can have a neck that is stretched up to 25 cm. In Vanuatu, Malakula a young child’s head is bound from the time that it is 1 month old. This process is continued for about 6 months to produce the desired, elongated shape of the head. A person with a finely elongated head is thought to be more intelligent, higher in status and closer to the world of spirits. Ironically, the women of the 1800’s worried about being too thin. In an advertisement from 1890 Professor Williams comes to the aid of women who would like to gain a few extra pounds.

Don't look like those poor unfortunates who, shorn of her artificial inflationary devices & pads, must, in the confines of her bedroom, through shame, try to cover her poor thin figure from the gaze of her beloved spouse.

"In four weeks Professor William's famed FAT-TEN-U Foods increased my weight by 39 pounds, gave me new womanly vigour and developed me finely."

Professor William's "Fat-Ten-U Foods are guaranteed to make the thin Plump & Rosy with an Honest Fleshiness of Form!

As we reflect on what we value as American’s today, it is easy to see that the things that makes a woman beautiful change extensively over time. Today when women are seen wearing leggings, extremely big hair, and gaudy makeup, they are termed to be “living in the past” or “living in the 80’s”. Yet, twenty years ago those things were the very height of fashion. Just as the view of what makes a woman’s overall appearance enticing has changed, so have the ideas about what is the ideal shape of a female chest. Not all men in the world have such a distorted view of the mammary glands however. Carolyn Latteier, the author of Breasts, The Women’s Perspective on American Obsession, relayed some of her views on the subject.

"Well, we do have a peculiar obsession with breasts in this culture. A lot of people think it's just the human nature to be fascinated with breasts but in many cultures, breasts aren't sexual at all. I interviewed a young anthropologist working with women in Mali, in a country in Africa where women go around with bare breasts. They're always feeding their babies. And when she told them that in our culture men are fascinated with breasts there was an instant of shock. The women burst out laughing. They laughed so hard, they fell on the floor. They said, "You mean, men act like babies?"

The women of the Mali culture were amazed to hear that men could have such a fascination with something that they had to deal with every day. The sexual attitude that the Western culture has developed concerning a women’s chest has classified them as sexual organs, another part of the female genitals. This assumption is incorrect; breasts have no part in producing a child, merely in nourishing one. The basic anatomy of the breast is the glands, fatty tissue, ducts, and nipple. Instead of honoring it for the miracle that it is, men have turned the breast into an obsession. It is interesting to note that it is the nipple itself that seems to be causing all of this stir. Some of the string bikini’s seen on music videos are nothing more than two tiny triangles on top, but as long as her nipple is covered the soft porn on display is allowed. The nation was shocked to see Janet Jackson bare her breast during the halftime show of the Superbowl game, yet they had know problem with the provocatively dressed dancers surrounding her who were bumping and grinding with everything they had.

Many women across our country, as well as countries much like ours have attempted to confront this backwards way of thinking. The Topfree Equal Rights Association was started to fight back against this view of breasts by emphasizing that fact that if a man is able to take his shirt off in a public facility, so should a woman. Many people will attempt to fight against movements such as these for varying reasons. Conservatives will simply not approve, but it would be the pornographic industry that would fight back the hardest against the de-sexualization of women. Without the mystery and forbidden nature of a woman’s chest the porn industry would lose billions of dollars each year. Arguments will also be given that defend the biological and chemical differences in men and women and in their brains. These arguments cannot hold their own, since it is not all cultures that feel this way about breasts.

Though the concept of women walking around topless equally with men is a bit extreme, as a culture we need to change our view about women and their bodies in general. Women should never be rebuked for breastfeeding in public, and young women across the country should not feel so extremely bad about their bodies that they would resort to methods as drastic as plastic surgery. It is unfortunate that the upcoming generations of children will be raised to think that the purpose of the breast is to sell beer, instead of providing the best possible nutrition for the baby.


funny videos said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Jen.I'm wondering if the reason that men in the west have fetishised the breast has been it's forbidden nature-that if they had had open access to the breast as children it would have served it's developmental purpose for them both physically and psychologically and they would then be able to move on.Interesting to know if there has been any research on this.

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