*Trigger warning – this post mentions sexual assault*
An article in today’s Age, titled, “Grow up men! Breasts are not public property” reminded me of a post that I had intended to write on being female and being public property.
But first let’s start with this article. Despite being titled with “Breasts are not public property” the picture associated with the article is a depersonalised woman (shot of cleavage down to waist) wearing a low-cut leopard print top. The first fail.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the image choice was made by a sub-editor, but as my husband is nearing the end of a 4 week stint as the Screen Play journalist at Fairfax while the regular journalist is on leave, I suspect the author, Brendan Black, chose that image himself because adding images to the online CMS is the journalist’s (well in my husband’s case) responsibility. Even if it isn’t, the article’s incredibly sexist tones would suggest that Brendan Black did not fight against having that image placed there.
The next fail is a result of this:
Breasts are celebrated as an extremely erotic area of a female’s body, and males are all too happy to assert any apparent ownership rights to them. We love to sneak a peek at a woman’s cleavage, cop a feel when we’re allowed to (and even when we’re not), and have pride if our partners are “blessed” (as long as other blokes don’t look at them). Some women will use them to actively gain male attention, while others will feel anger if we dare to acknowledge the existence of their breasts, while forgetting they also have a face.
I’m guessing that Brendan Black was attempting to be a feminist ally with this piece, but he fails at every turn. The first sentence of the section I’ve quoted above talks about males asserting ownership of breasts, as if breasts were property to be owned… and since they’re on a woman’s body you can own her too.
Then he enters incredibly dangerous territory with, “cop a feel when we’re allowed to (and even when we’re not)” effectively condoning sexual assault as being ok, because you’re only touching a woman’s breasts and they’re public property anyway, or property of her boyfriend/husband. Lesbian’s breasts must be public property as must those of single women… yeah… or something because they don’t have a man who is claiming ownership of them.
Apparently heterosexual men will also be proud of their partner’s breasts if they are “blessed” without defining exactly what he means by blessed… having two breasts perhaps? And then goes back into standard ownership territory with “as long as other blokes don’t look at them”.
Brendan finishes this section with a dig at feminists and women who don’t want to be harassed by men staring or groping their breasts by suggesting that it is not preferred that women would like to be more than their cleavage.
The next fail is:
Once my son was born, I quickly realised what I had long dreaded: my wife’s breasts had to be shared with someone else, even though he had a greater need for them than me. … Nevertheless, seeing my wife’s naked breasts several times a day, even with lessened ownership rights and in a new context, is still enjoyable, as it beats asking for permission.
So Brendan is back on the ownership stuff. I’m sure Brendan doesn’t actually feel this way, but the way he is writing about his wife, it sounds like her breasts are far more important than the rest of her. She sounds like she is a vessel to carry around breasts that he likes TM. I actually struggle to believe that he really typed “lessened ownership rights” in a piece that is meant to be taken seriously, except I keep seeing it there, and it keeps making me more and more angry. Brendan is speaking as if his wife is his property, that she has no agency, no thoughts of her own, that she is an inhuman object to possess like a car or a dog. She has no dreams, wishes, ambition, likes, dislikes or passions. She is just breasts and a feeding machine for their son.
Brendan actually gets to the point of the article after this section and talks about studies about breastfeeding and societal attitudes towards it… and by societal attitudes, I mean Western attitudes, and probably white-Western attitudes.
“The transition from sexual to sustenance object can create confusion in the minds of us mere males; we want to look because we like breasts, but as their raison d’être has been stripped of all sexual connotations in this context, we feel that we shouldn’t, and this can create embarrassment or disgust.”
I’m not sure at this point whether Brendan is summarising from the study he has quoted earlier or elucidating on his own, but he seems trapped in a world where breasts are sexual objects over their biological function.
When sitting near other breastfeeding mothers, I have wondered at my own feelings of embarrassment, given my pro-breastfeeding, pro-funbag stance, especially if I know the mother well.
Yes, he used “funbag” to discuss breasts in an article ostensibly about breastfeeding (and ownership of women).
If sexual relations recommence during the breastfeeding period, one would assume that the breast has not lost any of its sexual potency, even if its function has widened, its appearance has changed or discomfort has increased; a baby suckling at the breast is not akin to sharing your bed with an unwanted man with equal access rights.
I’m not sure that Brendan really understands the point/s he is aiming for in his article. It’s like he’s suggesting that breasts are why heterosexual men have sex with women. Without breasts they’re isn’t sex or something… and perhaps even that breastfeeding mothers can still be sexual women, which would be nice if it were phrased that way.
And then he dives right into “an unwanted man with equal access rights” which suggests to me that he has potentially likened his newborn son to being like another lover for his wife before realising that that is nonsensical.
Whatever the method, bottle or breast, the act of feeding and sustaining a child must override any selfish feelings we have regarding a woman’s body, whether in private or public. My own feelings of embarrassment have now dissipated, as I have reconciled that breasts have different uses, they need not be in constant battle with each other, and there’s no need to be a hypocrite. If a breast “on display” is there with an attached baby, chances are the mother is more concerned about her baby’s survival than giving you an eyeful. The sooner we realise that the world and the breasts in it are not there purely for our enjoyment, the better.
Yes, override any “selfish feelings” you have. Let me reiterate my earlier point. A woman’s breasts are her own and not yours. Brendan has also finally learnt that breasts have different uses… not really. Breasts are for breastfeeding, they have auxiliary uses if that works for the woman concerned.
Overall Brendan failed miserably here at being a feminist ally, and I think he was hoping to head that way with the last two sentences of the article. His focus on ownership of his wife’s breasts, his casual acceptance of sexual assault by non-consensual touching of a woman’s breasts and complete failure to treat an important issue seriously leads to a big fail.
Women already have to deal with being viewed as possessions enough in the world without it being reinforced in an article like this. Slavery ended over 150 years ago, and yet women are often still viewed as possessions or public property. Some men feel that they have the right to look, touch or comment on women’s bodies and appearance without invitation or permission. Telling them to smile, “complimenting” them while they’re going about their own business, and invading their space and bodies without permission.
It’d be nice if those men would stop and think about what they’re doing, but since they’re stuck in their sense of entitlement and strong belief that they have every right to demand that women respond to them. But seriously guys? This is my body, my space, my thoughts and dreams and you are not welcome to mess with them, because violence will ensue as I kick your arse.