Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Boob Wars, Part II

The Part I would be the Jackson breast episode. In Part II, we move onto other areas of breast baring: demonstrations:

Police arrested two members of an organization called Breasts Not Bombs after they removed their tops during a protest on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday afternoon.

The women, who were protesting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot measures for today's special election, took off their shirts despite warnings from the California Highway Patrol last week that doing so would lead to their arrests — and possibly their inclusion on the state's list of sex offenders. A federal judge Friday refused to grant a request from Breasts Not Bombs to block the police from arresting topless protesters.

Officials at the Sacramento County district attorney's office said they have not decided whether to prosecute the protesters, and if they do, whether to seek to have them listed as sex offenders.

The poll attached to the article took the following form:

Do you believe female members of the group Breasts Not Bombs should be allowed to go topless in public protests?
Yes. It's free expression.
No. It's offensive.

Notice the language in the poll: "No. It's offensive." When the group that is discussed here calls itself "Breasts Not Bombs", calling their bare breasts offensive is hilarious.

The boob wars are about the meaning of the female breasts. Are female breasts largely for sex, and therefore something like penises and vulvas, something that should be covered in public? Or are female breasts not largely for sex, and therefore exposable (is there such a word?) whenever deemed necessary, such as for breastfeeding? And what about the argument that men can show their breasts because they are punier but women can't? Don't women go wild at the mere glimpse of a male nipple?

All this is made trickier by the sexual marketing of breasts: the more we tell people that breasts are sexy the more people will find nonsexy barings of breasts offensive. This causes problems for breastfeeding women and also additional bans on women's bodies about nudity, bans that don't apply to male bodies. Maybe we do have something in common with the bin Laden brigades, after all? Hmmm.

The eroticization of female body parts is heavily dependent on social norms. Thighs were the big thing in Elizabethan England, buttocks in some parts of the Caribbean even today and the nape of the neck in Japan. And the Victorians eroticized and covered up most everything as do the bin Ladenites. Though breasts are probably always going to have an erotic effect on most of us the American obsession with the boobs is unusual in its intensity. I should know, having goddessed all over the world.

So it should be possible to give the breasts a break, to leave them alone a little, to let them hang out without always being stared at or poked at. Which is a very long way of saying that bare breasts are not offensive.