The male and female breasts


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.

Exposing the marks of male physicality in our intellectual discourse

Yesterday I read an op-ed about the psycho-physical problem in philosophy. As I was reading the article I  was startled by the following paragraph (translated from Hebrew by me): “…Some stimuli are prioritized by the brain from the entanglement of environmental stimuli (e.g. pain, a beautiful women, a friend, a foe)”. I felt instantly transformed, from a thinking subject reading a philosophical text, to a mute chicken on a plate. What made me feel that way?

Refering to a beautiful woman as a “environmental stimulus” is common in texts written by men. It exposes something important about spoken and (especially) written language, higlighting several cultural assumptions, that are usually taken for granted:

a)     The general, unspecified, default reader addressed by the text is a man.

b)     That the general, unspecified, default reader addressed by the text is a heterosexual man.

c)    It is culturally acceptable for men to mark the texts they write with the signs of their physical sexed bodies and desires.

d)     Rational and intellectual modes of argument in our societies have been historically shaped by men.

These assumptions stem from a reality in which education, and writing, have traditionally been males’ territory. Today, when women express their opinions in writing, they are expected (and in fact have no choice) to inhabit this presumably “neutral” (but in fact sexed) subject position. When we write texts, we are expected to leave the marks of our physical and sexed body out of the text. And so, if I was writing a text for a respectable outlet, I would never have written: ” Some stimuli are prioritized by the brain from the entanglement  of environmental stimuli (e.g. pain, the bare chest of a well-built man, a friend, a foe)”. (The demand that women leave their corporeal bodies out of the text is reminiscent of the demand that we avoid using our personal (supposedly biased) experiences as a source of authority. For a critique of this demand, see Sandra Harding’s “Strong objectivity”).

 How would a language, a mode of argument and intellectual discourse shaped by women’s sexed bodies look like? Perhaps our daughters will  teach us.

Update: this is an example of using a beautiful women as an environmental stimuli.