Bare chests and exposed breasts.

I’m stuck on an issue which on the
surface seems lightweight but for the moment it won’t leave me alone.  I’ve mentioned before the No place for sheep blog, where its curator, Jennifer Wilson,  puts up posts from time to time on controversial and to me
fascinating topics. 
Recently she posted a picture of
one Damon Young, philosopher from Melbourne university and a chap who has of
late developed a reputation as a social commentator and thinker at the
forefront of our community.  In
other words his popularity is on the rise.  He’s also the father of two young children, with an
accomplished wife.  An all round
good guy.
Damon put up a photo of himself, which
he took with his i-phone, and posted it on his website and on twitter.  In this photo he is naked from the
waist up.  It seems he took the
picture almost as an experiment but casually and I gather it might have something to do with
the furore raging here in Melbourne over the rights of women to breastfeed in
I suppose it comes down to the
business of bearing your breasts in public. Damon can expose his chest
comfortably with little fear of derision, 
but women as a rule do not feel as free and easy about exposing
In her beautifully written blog
post, Jennifer Wilson wonders about why this might be. 
This post has hooked into my
preoccupations of late with the ways in which many men seem so much more
comfortable in commanding the limelight, not all of them mind you, but as a
group in contrast to the majority of women who command the limelight in a
different way, if at all, primarily as objects of beauty. 
I could go on for ages about this
but it’s not what troubles me. 
I’m troubled by the fuss that
erupted in the comments stream of Jennifer Wilson’s blog when I dared to
suggest that the conversation about what to me was an important topic seemed to
have become derailed into banter, light mockery and what I thought of as a sort
of posturing, which I ascribed to the largely male commenters –like a posse of
‘bare-chested Damons’. 
This need to make light of the
topic I thought might have to do with infantile anxiety aroused in relation to
the notion of female breasts and I said as much, politely I hope. 
I do not know in fact whether the
commenters on Jennifer’s blog are male or female because they do not represent
themselves as a rule by their own blogs. 
Many comment only and hide behind avatars and often unusual names. 
But they are forceful in their
views and dare I say they clobbered me, at least one person clobbered me, in my
feeble attempts at protest.
It’s not the first time I’ve found
myself risking decapitation for daring to speak out, and it’s not the first
time I’ve wondered why it is that the very thing I’m protesting about seems to happen. 
It’s not the first time I’ve found
myself in trouble in the blogosphere and no doubt it won’t be the last. 
I remember my timidity when I first
dared to speak on line, how fearful I was of upsetting anyone.  Now I’m less fearful but still conflict can cut through me even as I tell myself it does not matter a jot. 
These people are virtual
people.  If I met them in real life
I might find myself drawn to them, even though online we have crossed
swords.  These people might in real
life be more timid and shy than they are on the page.
It could be worse.  I could be living in a country where
women are not allowed to speak at all.  Not just women, but people of particular classes, religions
or sects.  It need not simply be
between the men and the women. 
It reminds me of the war between
the big endians and the little endians in Gullivers Travels.  The
big endians believed we should approach our boiled eggs from the big end, while
the little endians had formed the view you can only eat an egg from the little
end down.  This was enough to cause
a war. 
I have answered my own
question.  I shall regard this
dispute on line as akin to the one in Gulliver’s Travels.  It is
such a trivial concern in the scheme of things however much it points to bigger
and more concerning issues.  

34 thoughts on “Bare chests and exposed breasts.”

  1. Gosh, Elizabeth….I am sorry you got clobbered by a comment re the bare breast issue.

    I did go and read the blog you referred to and I have no idea what your comment said, but I must admit this whole thing irritated the hell out of me.

    What idiocy in comparing a man's ability to post a bare chested photo with a woman's inability to do so without censure.

    As I see it, this has nothing whatever to do with women's rights…..women's breasts are sexual objects……period. No amount of intellectual evolution or women's lib is going to change that.
    If Damon had posed with his chest covered but his shorts off there might have been a basis for some comparison, but I dunno. I am woman and an advocate for as much equality as possible, but in this case……neh.
    It's apples and oranges.

    Hope I haven't stepped on your toes. I like y9our blog and your thoughts.

  2. I was disappointed in the way the article on 'the sheep blog' degenerated in schoolboy sniggering banter.
    I think they were all mainly men oudoing each other in trying being 'clever'but ended up being boring…

  3. It's not the breast itself that attracts censure but the nipple. women go out in public all the time wearing clothes that show as much boob as possible (cleavage, side boob, under boob) and it is OK as long as no nipple is exposed. that women's breasts are sexual and men's chests are not, I take issue with. I know many men who get sexual pleasure when women play with their (men's) nipples and yet men are allowed to expose theirs in public. I think the ban on women baring their chests/breasts in public is still a result of the repressive attitude towards sex that the mono-theistic religions imposed on societies. Many indigenous cultures had no problem with women exposing their breasts until christianity came along and told them how evil it was. I wonder if anyone has done any studies on the incidence of rape in cultures where a woman's body is not sexualized vs ones in which it is.

  4. You are completely correct about Jonathan Swift and his big and little endians Elizabeth. A good comparison – Swift was so good at highlighting things in this way.
    I don't think women do themselves any favours with the way they 'dress to kill' at the Oscars ceremonies and such like – if they flaunt their bodies then breasts become objects of desire rather than utilitarian things. I thought this when I watched a programme about the bushmen of the Kalahari this week – there the women have no qualms about baring their breasts and feeding their babies and the men take it all in their stride. Such is the so called 'progress' of the Western world.

  5. I had a look at the comments thread and see what you’re driving at, Lis. I made Jonathan a mammophile (well, really a hypermastiaphile) not because I am (although I’ve always had a healthy appreciation of the female form) but because it was an easy option and had a flavour of seaside humour (he lives on the coast remember). Where I grew up breasts were invariably covered up—my mother certainly never showed off her cleavage despite have the most pendulous breasts but to this day I still find I have a juvenile fascination with boobs; if a woman bends over I feel obliged to peek down her top, as if I’d be letting the side down if I didn’t and there’s still a side of me who’s amused when words like ‘boobs’ or ‘tits’ are used in conversation; like Homer Simpson I feel myself thinking: He said ‘boobs’. It’s been a long time since catching a glimpse of a breast has excited me but they still clearly interest me. I’ve written about the subject a few times. In my short story ‘Twin Peeks’ the female narrator remembers talking to various male friends over the years about the subject. I had fun writing the Frenchman Jean’s response:

    “Oh, no no no my dear. Size as nothing to do with eet. Like a diamond ze perfect breast as many facets. First, we are looking for a gentle slope zat extends from zust below ze clavicle to ze peak of ze breast at ze nipple. Yes? Secondly, ze nipple should be set een ze centre of ze breast mound. Eet should tilt slightly outward an upward; eet should—ow you say? —yearn. Oui. Zen ze line of ze breast should deep een a gentle arc from ze nipple to ze breast fold. Finally, an zees ees très important, cleavage ees always desirable, an when viewed from ze front een silhouette or from ze back, zere should be a gentle suggestion of fullness een ze midline an laterally. But zat ees zo clinical, non? Ow can you analyse perfection?”

    Ow indeedy? God he was so full of shit. And yes he did talk as if he’d just stepped out of a Cointreau ad.

    In ‘Electric Platitudes’ we have this description:

    She was skinny, about five-four, with pear-shaped boobs. They weren’t Bartletts—I know they’re the industry standard, oblong-obtuse pyriforms but these were more ovate-obtuse-roundish, Comice without a doubt: we got a book out of the library once and spent an eventful afternoon comparing them. I wanted to find one on peaches to see how her bum measured up but time ran out on us there.

    My mother’s were torpedoform and by that I mean shaped like torpedoes and not fish: once, late in life, she was out in the garden with me and as she bend over weeding they fell out and she never noticed. I was more embarrassed than she.

    And then there was this poem:

           I Spy

           You shouldn't look at women's chests;
                     they mind if you look.
           They know you can see
                     but you're not supposed to look.

           But you're allowed to notice;
                     they expect you to notice.

           It's hard to see why you can't look
                     at what you've just seen
                     but those are the rules
                     even though they don't make sense.

           21 October 1997

    I’ve always been fascinated by my fascination. Why? Seriously, what’s so fascinating about these lumps of flesh? I’m reminded of the scene in Birdy where when the opportunity arise to, as we Scots say, ‘cop a feel’, he lifts one up and lets it flop back down muttering something about “just overgrown mammary glands… like on a cow but in a more stupid place.” (I may be mixing up the book with the film here.)

    Women these days bare more flesh than ever before. I’d always thought that if I’d grown up in an environment where there was no mystique surrounds breasts I’d’ve been happier—my civilised self has always resented having primal urges—but I suspect that’s me being naïve.

  6. I tend to agree with Jim in the above comment. Boobs are merely mammary glands and women are just as guilty as men in making them not only a sexually charged issue but also an item that opens them to exploitation. I mean, what's with cutting yourself open and inserting silicone?

  7. the mono theistic religions…blah blah blah. Goodness me. And Christianity, the dirty dog.
    Oh yes? Well listen, If women want to go topless the only objectors would be women. I'm all for it.

    Really, the idiocy of some of these blog posts – and that sheep thing is one of the worst – gets me thinking it's all a waste of time. Anyway here's something
    I've discovered, proving I'm a scholar: Breast exposure is tied to finance; women show less tit in bad economic times. During the 1962credit squeeze there was lessened cleavage, and a total cover-up in the 1930s depression. On the other hand there was The Restoration, outrageous exposure! Bawdy? You bet! Confidence in the economy. Well Charlie II put out the message, anything goes. Bit like nowadays really. What do you think?

  8. Well, Elisabeth, if there's that much joking going on over the mere MENTION of women showing breasts in public, can you imagine how much more kidding around you'd here if bare breasts went beyond a mere mention?

    Personally, it's never made much sense to me that a woman can show all of her breasts EXCEPT her nipples, yet a man, who has no breasts (at least not in 3D) can show his nipples. But what about sexuality, and our clumsy reactions to it, has ever made sense?

  9. 'Trivial concern in the scheme of things' perhaps, but being flamed or clobbered online is distressing and does hurt. I've learned that too, and yet, if I'm interested/inflamed/agreeable/annoyed enough to put up my views, I will.

  10. So men titter about breasts, nothing new there.

    Why not take that observation and use it to ask the pertinent question… why?

    It may be part of a whole breast-dick-fart conjunction of comic triggers that speak to part of the whole nature versus nurture social debate about unhealthy attitudes we have about our bodies. And hey don't tag me for one minute as somebody who thinks they're necessarily unfunny right out of the box. You've got all your work ahead of you to establish that one way or t'other!

    As for comments and the commentariat on blogs; I note this one appears to provide no opportunity for me to respond directly to other posters here. That may be your preference, or just a blogger thing. But of course there will be less interaction, joking and needling of others polite or otherwise in the absence of that facility. I actually prefer to throw the debate wide open, but I understand that not everyone concurs. We may just be individuals of differing tastes in online discourse.

    I really don't think you were beaten up too much on noplaceforsheep, and if you were you're tendency seemed to be to respond with a new post each time as is apparently your wont, or just what you're used to from blogger. If on the other hand you had reposted directly to your interlocutor then we may have known. As it is what I saw was somebody who seemed to have only one real issue and that was that men were insufficiently qualified too comment on the subject of the female breast. Why I wondered? Certainly there's not shortage of interest!

    BTW: Jim Murdoch – that was a really nice poem, thanks. The anti-poetry seems to be working 🙂

  11. Well, why didn't you add this at npfs, instead of running back to write it all down in a corner most people wouldn't know about, to preach to the converted?
    You think that helps unpack and examine ideas?
    You think because I asked you to elaborate on a point I didn't quite "get", I was "harassing" you?
    I had always welcomed your posts as likely to "add", but the cryptic stuff at the other site seemed to come across as puritanical and priggish and I wondered at that.
    Should I discorporate because I run the risk whilst still alive of accidentally coming into eye contact with a woman's breasts?
    Come on, give us a break.

  12. Breasts and chests as 'apples and oranges', Lo. I think I understand what you mean, and I agree, only I think the issue under discussion is perhaps more than a comparison of breasts and chests but of the different and problematic ways in which women's bodies are viewed in contrast to those of men. And of course it does not preclude the realities of biology and sexual difference.

    Thanks, Lo.

  13. As you say it's a trivial issue, River, but for a trivial issue it can stir up as much angst as those battles between the big endians and little endians.

    Thanks, River.

  14. I was grateful when I saw your comments over at No Place for Sheep, Gerard.

    At least I'm not alone here, or so it seems to me. And maybe it need not be gender specific but it seemed to me as though there was an in-house of cronies getting together to poke fun not only at at one another but also at others who might remark on this.

    I think you might have copped a dose of criticism, too. It seems we need need thick hides in this virtual world.

    Thanks, Gerard.

  15. I'm inclined to agree with you, Ellen. The repressiveness of societies and their views of nakedness under the yolk of religion may be a contributor to this sexualisation of women's breasts.

    I suppose we can offer many different paradigms through which to view the issue. For instance, a psychoanalytic one might go back to the 'polymorphously perverse' infant for whom many bits of its own body are libidinised, to use a freudian term.

    We can also look at it through the lens of feminism and see the difference between the way men and women's breasts/chests are viewed as a source of female oppression.

    We can look at it in many other ways, including that of humour, the salacious etc.

    Perhaps that's one of the reasons why the female breast has become so loaded.

    Thanks, Ellen.

  16. I suspect that's one of the points that Ellen made, Pat, the sexualisation of women's breasts. But I wonder from whence this pressure to dress so seductively lies. Is it societally encouraged, not simply by young women alone, but through the media and an associated desperate need to feel loved or acceptable by whatever means possible, including through making oneself sexually desirable.

    Thanks, Pat.

  17. Bless those primal urges, Jim, we all have them, only some of us may not realise it. I haven't got a problem with primal urges as long as they're dealt with in ways that do not intrude on others unless adult others welcome the intrusion and that goes for everyone of both sexes and all the in-betweens.

    I enjoyed your poem very much. To my mind, it speaks to a child's point of view. I was with my grandson the other day . He's still breast feeding. His mother has large milk filled breasts mine have shrunk but nevertheless at one stage in his mother's absence and only for a split second he reached into my top as I held him in my arms and I felt that mixed thrill of sensation and discomfort.

    I reckon it begins here. As I've said before, in the baby's experience the residues of which go on all our lives breasts are experienced differently for girls and for boys in part because one has them and the other not. The feelings can overlap of course. Women can get excited at the thought/sight of breasts just as men can get excited at the thought/sight of penises. It's a complex and to me fascinating process.

    Thanks, Jim, for this trip down your mammary/memory lane.

  18. Now you introduce another element here, Rubye Jack – the stuff of breast enlargements. To me again it connects with our feelings about our bodies, our sense of ourselves on the inside that we try to control on the outside.

    I just read a terrific piece in relation to body and eating disorders awareness week in your country. You might be interested to take a look at it.


    Thanks, Rubye Jack.

  19. Funny how censorious I fear I become when you post a comment, Robert. In part because you like to stir and make outrageous comments, even as they are sometimes gathered in with serious observations. It can be hard for me to distinguish one from the other in this most limited of media where anything does not go.

    Even so, this idea of the amount of breast exposure being linked to finance is an interesting one. You might like to cite the research or have you extrapolated this idea from other sources?

    Thanks, Robert.

  20. I agree, Kirk, this kafuffle has largely to do with our almost universal awkwardness at talking about, thinking about sexuality, but it shifts into other territory too. Our bodies, our relationships, power imbalances and so on.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  21. It's tough being 'flamed' as you put it Kath, though perhaps that's too strong a word for my recent experienced. Heckled maybe, a little disparaged. But like you, if I have something that I believe I need/want to say, I'll continue to do my best and say it.

    Thanks, Kath.

  22. Welcome to my blog, HudsonGodfrey, and thanks for clarifying one thing I did not realise when I commented on No Place for sheep, namely that there is an order in which comments should be delivered.

    As you surmised, here at blogger I'm used to simply clicking on comment in response to the last response. Also, I filter comments here largely to keep out spam, not to limit the conversation or my visitors, but I recognise it can slow things down, which I sometimes value. I don’t always have time to get back to comments when they’re delivered and I also like to take some time in thinking about them. Not for me the knee jerk reaction, at least not all the time. You'd be amazed at how long I agonised over my decision to speak on No place for sheep.

    The rollicking conversation that goes on there after the first several comments tends to lose me and that's what I was trying to say. After this particular post, which I found inspiring, the banter seemed to go on forever and in many cases bore little resemblance to what I had heard in the beginning such that I began to wonder what we were doing there.

    It has since become clearer to me that No place for sheep is a place where certain bloggers who know one another well – if only in the blogosphere- joust and jibe.

    It’s fine for them but as Samjandwich put it so eloquently 'Imagine, if you went into a bar and there were a whole lot of blokes in there with grey beards, bandannas, sunglasses, and little black leather waistcoats with “No Place For Sheep”, and perhaps a little ovine-inspired insignia embroidered thereon, making disparaging comments at you as you came through the door, would you go up to them and tell them all your secrets?’

    People can be intimidated online. It doesn’t make them sheep, but perhaps folk like me need thicker hides or less sensitivity, and far greater perseverance to continue in such discussions.

    Thanks, HudsonGodfrey

  23. Welcome to my blog, Paul Walter.

    I'm not sure that I preach to the converted here. Ask RH about that. He challenges me regularly.

    Nor is it uncommon for people to reflect on their experience of other people's blogs, at least not in my experience. I'm not sure I could have written what I wrote here over there at No place for sheep.

    I mentioned once before recently on Face book as I recollect, Helen Garner once spoke about certain responses to her book The First Stone: 'Being permanently primed for battle,' she said, 'they read like tanks. It’s a scorched earth style of reading. It refuses to notice the side-paths, the little emotional and psychological by-roads. It’s a poor sort of reading that refuses the invitation to stop reading and lay down the page and turn attention inwards. And it’s always easier or more comfortable to misread something, to keep it at arm’s length, than to respond to it openly…'

    I have thought long and hard about this issue and about my failure to communicate as I'd have liked at No place for sheep, and I'm sorry to have offended you. I was trying to speak about process rather than the content because after a while it felt to me like the content got lost.

    That said, I'm pleased to meet you here.
    Thanks, Paul Walter.

  24. I just looked at the blog and the comments, Elisabeth. Reading them all at once made them seem very clamorous. When people post so often I wonder if they are lonely.

  25. Not regularly, how dare you, like I'm some fixture; regular old grouch.
    You're a Camberwell girl, I know you, your gang, I went past your house every Sunday to that outdoor market.
    Good heavens, we've done business; thousands of dollars in questionable goods! Aha, tell the truth, everyone's a crook; the Rosary never blocked a bargain. Well price is everything, let's admit it, the closer you get to death the more you worry about the cost of living.
    Oh so posh, yes you are, but I prefer you to the latte set. They're posh too, but conceal it.
    Well to tell the truth I'm a castout and I'm resentful, wanting entry all my life to decent crooked society. A RECONCILIATION! A return. But then what would you do, with no one inferior?

  26. Perhaps I should have described you as an 'irregular' visitor in both senses of the word, Robert.

    Once again I did not intend to offend you. I even considered it an inclusive comment but it's amazing how things can come across to others who read.

    There's a real fallacy as they say to the author's intention. It doesn't much matter what I had intended, it's the way you read it that counts.

    And the idea of me as 'posh' feels laughable to me, but again that's how I read the word. It might hold a different meaning for you.

    Thanks, Robert.

  27. Trolls will always be trolls and true posters will always be true posters and keep the spirit of blogging very much alive. Fret not about those who attack you wearing the safe veil of anonymity.

    On bearing (breasts or otherwise) it's one rule for women and one for men, unfortunately. I wish it weren't like that, but it is. Education is the key, as usual.

    Great post. It's nice popping by every now and then. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  28. How lovely that you pop in from time to time, Cuban, and yes, I agree, trolls will be trolls and those who are genuine will also be genuine. We need more education.

    Thanks, Cuban in London.

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