Two: Breasts and Titties
Women’s breasts are wonderful things. Soft and curved, they come in all sizes and shapes from flat to long to oblong to round, some gazing off to the side, some starward in indefinable yearning. Sometimes, one is a little bigger than the other, which generally corresponds to the dominant side in the same way right-handed people usually have slightly larger right hands.
Aside from being infinitely varied, women’s breasts, indeed all mammalian teats, are complex and intricate machines for the production of milk. The minute a woman becomes pregnant her breasts start to change. This is caused by four hormones called estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and oxytocin. Estrogen and progesterone stimulate the development of extra milk ducts and keep her from producing milk until after the baby is born, prolactin signals her breasts to make milk, and oxytocin makes her feel calm and blissful while nursing her baby. This fact, along with just about every other fact about using breasts the way they were intended, was never told to me by anyone before I had my first child. In fact, I knew almost nothing about female breasts except that men were always trying to grope them or get a gander down my shirt when they thought I wasn’t looking. In other words, what men deemed important about female breasts. What a delight it was to find out how wonderful the things actually are and what a bonus it was to discover that once the baby latched on, my entire system would be flooded with something that caused an almost opiate-like high. So much previously unknown became clear to me: the reason a cow, weighing 5 times as much as the farmer, allows him to milk her; and it’s also why some women choose to have baby after baby, or nurse the ones they have until they are ready to graduate from college. Who of us hasn’t been shocked by the sight of some hippie at the “Mommy and Me” group letting her five year old come up, unbutton her blouse and have at her. That woman is no earth mother; she’s just a bush league junkie.
Speaking of good feelings associated with motherhood, when my kids were toddlers and I’d hold their hands to make sure I didn’t lose them, the feel of their tiny hands in mine caused a sensation similar to the oxytocin rush of breast feeding. Oxytocin caused a positive feedback loop reinforcing me in the act of protecting my child.
Biochemistry is a gas, man. But back to breasts. Remarkable things and I feel genuinely sorry for people who don’t have them.
Unfortunately, most of the people who don’t have them are called “men,” and a lot of them are really pissed off about it. I don’t like the word “patriarchy,” because it’s a little too soft for what I want to talk about here. Patria means “father” in Latin, and “father” connotes a kind of cherishing or protective character, neither of which is necessarily there. As far as I can tell the male of the human species is dominant due to denser musculature, greater physical strength and propensity for violence. The “manarchy,” (Trademark) is so jealous of the fact that females have breasts and they do not, that they’ve created a whole culture bent on both minimizing the miraculous nature of the female breast and maximizing it as an object of sexual fetish. These things have caused womankind immeasurable grief.
It’s important to mention here that you don’t have to be a man to be a member of the manarchy. Well, maybe to be a Gold Star Member, but you can get a regular membership for the low low price of toadying up and forsaking yourself almost entirely.
But back to breastfeeding. According to Parenting Magazine, these days approximately 70 percent of American Women at least give it a try. This is up from about 50% in the 1960’s and who-knows-what percent because no one ever talked about it, in the 1950’s. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons a woman might not nurse her baby—perhaps due to poor nutrition or other disease processes she doesn’t make enough milk—but there are also cosmetic reasons. Many women cherish the look of their breasts more than functionality, believing that breastfeeding will cause them to sag. Sagging, so the argument goes, is the worst thing that can happen to a breast because men like them round and firm.
I just thought of something funny. During the mid-1980’s, when I began to get “broody,” radical feminist lesbians had a slogan. “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” What a dopey saying. Unless you’re a radical feminist lesbian, women do sometimes need men and sometimes men need women. There’s nothing wrong with that need unless it’s so powerful it makes you give up something important of yourself. But back then there was a lot of weird thinking going around. For example, we had Reagan and it was a time of extreme narcissism. Everybody was walking around thinking that their core beliefs about the nature of all things, were the right ones. So some gay men thought all men are really gay; the heteros were just faking it, and some radical feminist lesbians thought the same about straight women. Later on, if you’d claim to be bisexual, the extremists on either side would insist you were lying to yourself and just too chicken to come out.
These days many of the young’uns are embracing a fluid sexuality, which is great; I’m all for it. I’m also totally lost. But that’s okay. Beyond the age of 55, you’re not only allowed to be totally lost, it’s expected.
Right, preoccupation with how the manarchy wants female breasts to be. The first time I ever saw surgically altered breasts was in the late 1970’s. My neighbor had lost both breasts to cancer and though I barely knew her, she saw me in the backyard one day, came outside, lifted her shirt and said, “look!” They weren’t perfect—she still had visible scars—but they looked okay, and she was a young woman; I was happy for her. Several years later, it must have been the early 90’s, I was standing in the shower at the local gym. The nozzles were all out in the open lined up on opposing walls and as I turned around to rinse the shampoo out of my hair I saw two half grapefruit shaped things with nipples looking as if they’d been aligned by the International Strategic Defense Committee, on the chest of a 40 something female. My entire sensibility was jarred. The breasts didn’t match the person behind them. It was like seeing a hog with antlers.
Since then, like most people, I’ve seen tons of fake breasts. They always look the same: half grapefruit, melon, or in rare and Stormy Daniels cases, basketballs. Nipples perfectly aligned. But what I want to know, but can’t from these women is, “how do you feel about your breasts?” This is because they don’t have their breasts. They have someone else’s. Someone else’s design, size, materials, projections, fantasies, preferences, and desires. I want to ask them, “what does it feel like to you, when someone caresses those breasts? Is it the sensual thrill it should be or is it simply good because the person who is doing the feeling is all puffed up because his girlfriend has breasts like a porn star? How about breastfeeding? Current studies find that only a third of women with implants successfully breastfeed. I guess you can’t know what you’re missing if you are genuinely missing it, but what must it feel like after giving birth, when your milk supply lets down and it’s crowded out by a pound and a half of silicone. I can’t imagine even trying to breastfeed if my chest contained huge wads of liquid plastic. It makes me think of a newborn sucking on a tube of bathtub caulk.
There’s a way of thinking about our bodies in western culture. Most of it comes from Aristotle, Rene Descartes, and religionists of all stripes. It is the belief that our bodies are something we inhabit, in the form of souls, in the way a person driving a large piece of machinery, a backhoe for example, inhabits the cab of the thing. The operator in the “human being as backhoe” theory, lives in it for awhile telling it to do things like pet the dog, get a job, drive the car and eat the dinner. Once the machine wears out—I mean, seriously, how many 1957 Carmen Gias do you see on the road?—the operator or soul, goes somewhere else. Who knows where? Christians say Heaven, Buddhists transmigrate into another incarnation. Almost all religions have a story about where the “essential” self goes, that is, the part of you that is other than the physical body. But let’s suppose, just for a minute, that there is no such self. Suppose the complex arrangement of trillions of neurons existing not just inside the brain but including every single part of the body, ARE the essential you. There is much more scientific evidence for this point of view than what any philosopher or religionist has ever come up with. Any musician will tell you that sometimes fingers, for example, “learn.” It’s why they must practice constantly to perform reliably. The neurons in fingers do not have as complex connections among themselves as the network in brain, but with repetition they can be taught, that is, habitual neural pathways can be built. Within this model the fact of the female breast as a part of who we are can be not just incorporated, but entailed. If in fact we are our own individual bodies in all their marvelous unique complexity, what does it say about us to disown any of our parts for the sake of a cultural catastrophe invented by penis wielding bullies.
I love my breasts. When I was young they lent me soft beautiful curves. When I became a mother they nourished my beloved babies. These days they may not be as firm, perky, or of the same altitude they used to be—in fact they seem to be in a race to become one with my belly button—but they are a part of me no less than my feet, or hands typing, brain thinking, or eyes reading this, are. I would no more forsake them nor accept the judgement of others, than I would cut off my hands.