Posted by: turtlebella | 10 May 2006

Scandalous breasts

While over at Bitch Ph.D. I found out about a scandal-with-no-scandal. This involves a professor at USC, Diana Blaine, who has photos of her breasts herself on her Flickr site, which is linked to from her blog. Some students took objection to those bared breasts, apparently unaware that their professors have them and told on her to the media. Because showing one's breasts is somehow … morally wrongethically reprehensible actually means nothing, at least in this case, than photos of her wearing jeans and no shirt. Dr. Diana, as she is known on her blog, has a wonderful post which you should read about this whole false brouhaha. She is much more eloquent, erudite, and scholarly than I could ever be about the subject. Which isn't surprising since she actually studies gender issues and teaches stuff like rhetoric.

But I wanted to post because this is a topic that is close to my heart (which is ack! kind of close to my breasts! Maybe there should have been a warning at the beginning of this post). And that is this apparent paradox we have in this culture about sex and sexuality. On the one hand they are all around us, all the time. Sex sells after all, even if some would argue the target is always men, regardless of whether the ad is for female-used products. What a surprise, as I write this now Miller is selling beer with cleavage! But sex is also bad, you shouldn't have it and it certainly shouldn't be discussed at school, otherwise all those kids might start having it without being married and without the intention of creating Life (capitalization intentional and sarcastic). And gay/lesbian sex?! This is so taboo that people can't even bring themselves to think about it. And then in moments of seemingly reluctant curiosity they feel the need to ask what lesbians actually do in bed. One day I mentioned bras at work and everyone acted like I had just announced I was a serial murderer. Bras. I mean, they touch breasts and are somehow rendered just as taboo? Anyway, the point is that I grew up in a world where talking about sex in an open and forthright manner was just.not.done and I'm only thirty-two. I had one girlfriend who used to lower her voice and say S-E-X when she wanted to talk about it, which wasn't often despite the fact that she quite enjoyed it.

I don't have any statistics so this is solely based on my opinion. But I just don't think that the juxtaposition of sex everywhere but no one should have it or talk about it or accept it as a part of our biology is all that healthy for our society. That's not to say that either of the phenomena are okay on their own either. First of all, the vast majority of depictions of sex and sexuality in the media are heteronormative and heterosexist. We don't need more of that in our society, we need less. If sex has to be used to sell (and well, I'll save that for another post, perhaps or for others far more conversant in media and cultural studies) at least advertising could acknowledge that gender is not binary and that sexuality doesn't just come in one (100% straight) variety, thank you very much. Oh, I can just *see* the boycotts by various religious fundamentalist groups! Which brings me to my second point. And that is by accepting sex-as-taboo we are complicit with those people who have some kind of anti-sex religious axe to grind. Allowing sex to remain taboo leads to the persistence of a number of socially-constructed ills in our society. Homophobia. Sexism. Misogyny. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse of partners. Of course, there are many other factors that contribute to these things, but I think overcoming our silence and fear and embarrassment about sex and sexuality would do quite a bit to move us forward in a positive direction.

It makes me want to weep in happiness when I read various blogs in which parents relate the discussions that they've had about sex with their children. And at various points in their children's lives. Not just when those children reach sexual maturity aka puberty. Personally, I was aware of my sexual nature as early as second grade. And certainly I was aware of "boy-girl" dynamics far before that: pre-school is the earliest I can remember flirting with boys. I think if my mother or father had openly discussed sexuality and sex with me earlier than they did (okay, "discussed" is not appropriate. I was pretty much handed a book) I would have been less confused and wary of my own sexuality as a teenager and less upset when I began to develop breasts earlier than anyone else in my class. And perhaps all the girls who made fun of me for doing so would have had less power over me (I pretty much just GAVE power away in junior high) if I didn't think breasts were somehow shameful because they were part of my sexuality.

I'll end with my favorite quote from Dr. Diana, which she writes in a comment to her Boring Lecture from Naked Lady post:

But my ultimate goal is to undermine the supposed disruptive power of the female body by normalizing it. In other words, they're just tits. When are we going to figure that out?

Amen, sister.

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