Dr. Isis the Scientist at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, has written an open letter to our sister, Zuska, regarding (in part) the exchanges between my Sbling and myself. Dr. Isis points out that she has had a long term academic interests in breasts, which is primarily political and pragmatic as it turns out. I would like to point out that I may be one of the only people involved in this conversation who has an actual research related interest in the unique phenomenon of the human female pendulous breast, but that is an entirely different story. I very strongly recommend Dr Isis’s post, and the rest of this post is a response to that, so you must go and read Dr Isis first.
But be warned. She has breasts on her site, presumably to distract and thus control certain male readers:
I myself did not look specifically at the breasts. I looked at the picture and thought “Renaissance fair …. why is someone sending me a link on Renaissance Fairs?” (Breasts don’t do anything for me, but if they are really large and suddenly swing into view with a lot of fanfare I tend to laugh spontaneously.)
OK, back to the point: Isis has written a thought provoking and important post. My belief regarding Sister Zuska in this matter is that she is not taking a position on this issue vis-a-vis my position, she is rather taking a position in opposition to me, and this in turn is only as a very small part of the dialog, not of any great interest to her. She is blowing me off without much consideration for personal reasons that only she understands but that I suspect (and explain provisionally below).
I’ll repeat briefly here what I’ve said again and again about th practice of looking at people’s bodies (and related issues): All of this is about communication. The woman in the picture is loaded up with symbols and statements, and her cleavage is a mere phrase in a possibly very rich (or for all we know inane) conversation she is having with someone, maybe no one. A man who leers at that woman’s breasts is also taking his opportunity to communicate. Such a man might think that she is asking for this leering because her cleavage is so visible. Maybe. But it is also possible that in this communication she is going in a very different direction. A woman who “puts on the lipstick” (to borrow a very mod phrase) may be sorting out men who are untrustworthy assholes. Or she may not be attempting to communicate with men at all. She may be talking to other women, or to herself. Very likely the leering man is rudely interrupting a private conversation.
Regarding a trope that has emerged somewhere in this conversation: At least in our society, I think men do have responsibility to communicate regarding their position on sexual control because of the issues Isis and some of the commenters on Sister Zuska’s site bring up. We are (to very very grossly oversimplify … but helpful here to make a point) derived from chimps living in a society structured in a way that chimps would be incapable of managing. (If you think human males leering at breasts is an obnoxious sexual gambit, try male chimps reacting to an estrus female chimp.) Mammalian brains are largely shaped to do what they do through experience and training (we are not born with knowledge or abilities, or attitudes) but at the same time, evolution (which is something that I think is relevant, though I shun “Evolutionary Psychology” for a wide range of reasons) does not re-design or re-shape brains or brain development. Rather, brains tend to be accretitive organs. New functions are often developed (evolutionarily) by adding structure that turns off or represses antagonistic functions.
Internally, again to oversimplify, both men and women are waking around in our world with a part of their brain constantly going:
“… don’t be a chimp…. don’t be a chimp … don’t be a chimp…”
(Given that, one would have to wonder, what would a chimp do with human breasts? Again, this is all an over simplification … Humans and chimps have utterly different sexual symbols, so one can not simply see a human as a chimp with a few mods.)
We know by comparing across societies that there is a huge amount of variation in how much control and of what kind is typically effected by individuals of particular gender and age. We hope that in our society a man and a woman who do not know each other can be in the same dark parking lot on the way home from somewhere and both can be — and feel — safe. We hope that a conversation with someone we don’t know (say, in a work context) can proceed entirely independently of the sexual premise which may or may not be represented in elected symbology of dress, body or facial signals.
In short, the sexual, reproductive, and child producing/rearing roles of men and women are profoundly different in ways that relate to reasonably consistent differences in behavior that when integrated with context could produce anything from a nun to a prostitute to a monk to a serial rapist (to use only a handful of arbitrarily selected points in a complex multidimensional reality of power, sex, and gender related constructs). One can define from this a ‘natural order’ but only fallaciously and only for political or selfish reasons. Rather, we humans are imperfect builders of societies (very imperfect) but as long as individuals are not provided with tyrannical control, or if there are tyrants that those tyrants are really great gals and chaps, we can make the society we want with due consideration.
Don’t be a chimp.
What I would hope we would not do (but this may be hopeless) is align ourselves with small highly territorial enclaves dividing up one relatively homogeneous end of a political landscape in order to fight quirky personal battles. I assure you, Zuska’s disagreement with me is not about the issue at hand. Her absurd attempts to force me onto the right wing wackaloon ice flow is a knee jerk reaction to the fact that I did not explicitly align with her on certain issues in a private setting (didn’t fail to align either, just did not drop to my knees) and because I dislike the overly profane aggressive belligerent style of her friend, Physiprof and have asked him (to no avail) to stop speaking to me in this manner of his. Zuska is a school yard queen in this instance. A bully. When I see her coming I start counting out my milk money. I honestly don’t think she’s even thought much about what I have said, and the degree to which she has to distort what I have written to come up with “tough luck, baby, this is human nature, live with it” is abundantly clear evidence of her lack of concern over the actual issue of male sexual violence, and her obsession with the strategy of being seen as some kind of important and recognized femi-guru. Or her unawareness of the Naturalistic Fallacy and its importance. Or something.
Did you just read this entire post without reading Isis? Bad move. Go read Isis.