The male and female breasts- part two

My post “The male and female breasts” is my most read post. I hope that this reflects the strong argument and clear style, rather than the photograph of a male and female breast on the top of the post.

I have encountered three broad types of disagreement with my position:

  1. Some say that women’s breasts (and not men’s breasts) have always been sexualized in all human societies, and this is evidence that there is something inherently sexual in the former and not in the latter. This claim is factually wrong. In many human societies women’s breasts are not more sexualized than men’s, and women are not expected to cover them (for example, certain African tribes).
  2. Others contend that women’s breasts are larger than men, and there are more ways to “play” with them, hence they are more sexual. But this is not true for many men: I recently read an article stating that about 50% of men have a condition of enlargement of fat tissues in their breasts, called Gynecomastia. Many men who work out at the gym have, at least by my impression, breasts that are just as large as the average woman’s breasts, only theirs are made of muscle and not fat. Moreover, if it was the size of the organ that sexualized it, then men’s sex organs should have been considered more sexual than women’s, which is not the case.
  3. Finally, there the argument that women’s breasts change and develop more during puberty and therefore signal sexual maturity. This widespread notion is also inaccurate. Men’s breasts change and develop just as dramatically during puberty- both body fat and muscle increase and body hair develops. Also, as many feminist authors have noted, “child-like” femininity (signaling weakness and immaturity) is celebrated and sexualized in Western contemporary society. If it were indeed signs of maturity that were sexualized, then an excess of thick, black, public hair should have been celebrated as the epitome of feminine sexuality.

So I stand by my original argument. The fetishization and objectification of women’s breasts is neither necessary nor universal. You will have no luck searching for its rationale in the domain of biology. As women, we would be better off without this fetishization. Perhaps there is room for another posy about the advantages men get from the fact that such a central and big part of their body is not sexualized and objectified.

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Measuring up to myself and not others

As a child, I was very afraid of falling, or of losing balance. I remember my mother telling me once that I tumble like a rock. One time I fell on my face and broke both of my front teeth. My entire childhood, I couldn’t do a simple forward roll. Once a friend had tried  to help me, and I rolled but I instantly felt rage because of the helplessness I experienced during the roll. So I never tried it again.

BJJ is the perfect martial art for me, because it involves mainly ground work. But when I came to my first BJJ training, I had to roll forward and backwards as part of the drills during warm-up. I cherish my first coach’s empathy, un-judgmental encouragement and competence in teaching. Thanks to him.  both the fact that I rolled at this first training, and it didn’t make me feel helpless or enraged. I persevered and now BJJ is one of the best and most enjoyable experiences in my life. Through my first coach’s help, I could transcend the limits of my body and mind, and genuinely improve myself. Improve myself in relation to me, not in relation to others.

I’ve been training for a year and a half now, and I usually “lose” sparring matches in both clubs where I train. I often get comments from my training partners, such as, ” You always gives me your back”‘, or “you shouldn’t put your weight forward in guard”, “why did you do this, last time you were better”, or “Why do you keep repeating this mistake”. I know their intentions are good, and that they are trying to help me to improve, but these comments make me feel helpless. I try to do my best. Really. I try to  follow the principles I learned, and I try to work well. But when I get these comments, I feel like I’m not as competent as I should be, or that my understanding is flawed. These comments make me appreciate all the more the teaching style of my first coach. When we rolled, he rarely criticized me. He always succeeded in finding the right level of game that will challenge me yet give me a clear sense of enjoyment and sense of competence.

When I shared my frustration with one of my current coaches, he told me to focus on my successes and not failures. So I want to focus on my success in transcending myself. Yesterday, I had to do a drill that mortified me. It involved jumping to a closed guard when you partner is standing. It was the first time I observed the drill, and taking part in it really scared me. Jumping was relatively easy. Being jumped, was another story. I don’t know whether my fear was related to my body (the fact that I am a woman, and that most partners are much heavier than me), or a mental one (the fact that I never had to stand up with the weight of another person on me).

This really scared me, and the fact that the first time that I tried it I fell on my face and on my training partner did not help. A blue  belt at the club stayed after training to teach me. He had the patience to break up the drill into several stages and I felt that he had faith that I could do it, despite my fear. After several attempts as well as escape attempts (on my part, I already said that I am a coward) I managed to stay on my feet for two seconds with the weight of another person on me. I know that it is probably not impressive in relation to others, and I know that I probably “barely” did it. But I succeeded in doing something that I was mortified from at first. And it was the best feeling I had in quite a while and an accomplishment I cherish. For me, this is the meaning of measuring up to myself, and not others.

On the body and shame

I don’t remember exactly how old I was. I was transitioning from childhood to adolescence. I started growing hair on my armpits. I was probably in fifth grade because I remember a friend showing me her two new hairs on her armpits the summer before at summer camp for fourth graders (and I didn’t have any hairs then). Somehow I knew that growing hairs on my armpits is not good. That it was embarrassing and that these hairs should be removed. But I wasn’t sure how to do it. I think that I said something to my mother and she dismissed it, saying that I was only a child.

Then I went to the swimming pool. A group of two or three boys around my age or a bit older noticed my new grown hairs. They started to mock me and make fun of me because I had these new hairs. I was frozen with humiliation and didn’t know what to do. I dived deep into the water so as not to hear them laughing at me.

Somehow this early experience of body shame was made into a part of my body. I carry it with me ever since. If I had to physically locate this experience, I would locate it near my armpits. Like invisible irremovable hairs, which cause shame and embarrassment. I guess that over the years new “organs” like this joined my physical body –  I will always be that kid that was laughed at because she was fat, or deemed ugly and unattractive.        

I am my right arm but I have a left arm

I am my right arm, although I have a left arm. A sense of ownership versus a sense of being one with. I enact the most complex movements I want to execute with my right arm. It seems to execute my movements immediately and fluently. This sense of uncomplicated immediacy, the fact that the route from my conscious thought to my movement is so rapid, is probably what grants me the feeling of being one with, or inhabiting my right arm.

My left arm is a completely different story. It feels like a tool for me most of the time. It feels clumsy and a bit stiff when I try to execute complex movements with it. I can hold the tomato in place with my left arm, while chopping it with my right arm, but not the other way around. I am usually more aware of the existence of my left arm then I am of my right. The former is a small fleshy presence next to my torso. The latter is transparent to me. It was simultaneously surprising and not surprising to me to discover that my right hand is slightly more developed and large than my left.

Injury disconnects my feeling of being one with my right arm. The strange sensation, pain, damage to my normal range of motion, causes alienation. I now have a right arm. I need to stabilize it a bit in space next to my torso. When my left arm is injured it is made even more alien to me than it already is.

Perhaps it is the immediacy with which my right arm corresponds to my conscious thought that makes me feel I am it. I have a somewhat similar relation to other humans that are very close to me. If someone is close to me to the degree that he or she can instantaneously grasp what I am feeling (and I was blessed with the ability and opportunity to forge such connections), I have a feeling that we are no longer completely separated from each other.

Does this stream of thoughts bring me closer to the question of why most of the time I have a feeling of objectification/alienation regarding my body, while feeling unity with my mind? Immediacy seems to be the answer. My conscious thought immediately reflects my conscious thought. But this is a tautology. And I am no less my flesh than I am my conscious thought.

The male and female breasts

Image

My view of the body is a variant of the social constructivist approach. I don’t deny the power and significance of the organic-material body and biology. I do, however, believe that the experience, interpretation and definition of biological events can only take shape through cultural schemas modulated by the social position of individuals in society.

Many have written about the construction of human sexuality as the domain of the secretive and the forbidden. In Western contemporary society, the human body is clothed and treated as a secret. That is why exposure of certain body parts in specific contexts is arousing. Normally, children’s bodies are not socially constructed as sexual; that is why there are fewer restrictions on children’s bodily exposure.

This interplay of concealment and exposure is at the heart of the differential treatment of male and female breast in Western contemporary societies. As the image above serve to illustrate, biologically speaking, the male and female breasts are not that different. I hope no one would seriously claim that the fact that the bulge is mainly of fat in one case, and mainly of muscle in the second, makes any difference in the two breasts’ potential to elicit arousal. What is dramatically different is that only the female breast is sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification is also evident in the differential treatment of male and female breasts in the martial arts. In some competitions in certain martial arts, men are forbidden to wear a shirt underneath the gi, and women are forbidden not to wear a shirt. In the popular MMA competitions, all men fight bare chested. I assume that the bare chest of men has the same biological potential to elicit arousal in humans that are attracted to men, as the potential of the bare female chest to elicit arousal in humans that are attracted to women. So I can see two possible interpretations of the social legitimacy of presenting the bare male chest in non-sexual settings:

 1.  Either society/culture represses and denies the potential of the bare male chest to elicit arousal, and hence represses the desire for men (just as society emphasizes the (often) male desire for the female body); OR

2.  Society overwrites the potential of the bare male chest to elicit desire by systematically excluding it from the concealment/exposure game (to which the female breast is subjugated and in the name of which it is commercialized and exploited ), sending the message (to those who are attracted to men): don’t make a fuss.

I believe that it is  in the interest of women that we demand to exclude greater parts of our bodies from the cultural concealment/exposure game.