If you are just joining us, we’re going through eight pointers (pun intended) for living a life with breasts. If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2, you’ll want to head over there and read those first. We’ll see ya when you get back!
Saddle up, girl. This one can be really confusing. A cat-call is something nearly every woman experiences at some point in her life. Before we dive in, here’s how the Oxford English dictionary defines cat-call: “A loud whistle or a comment of a sexual nature made by a man to a passing woman.”
I know, that doesn’t seem very confusing, does it? A sexual comment. But let me give you a quick example of the confusing part. When I was a sophomore in college I was on a walk with a friend when a car rolled past and a male voice shouted, “Hey! Nice titties!1” Now, since my breasts were then DDs and my friend’s barely a B, it was clear to both of us who the intended recipient of this particular cat-call was.
My cheeks burned and my heart pounded (you know how that is) and I stared straight ahead and kept walking. There was a long, low whistle and the blare of a horn and then the car rolled slowly past while the two men inside looked me up and down before finally speeding away. My friend, in an obvious effort to ease the tension, put her hands over her own breasts and said, in a tone that was both bitter and wistful at the same time, “Well, they definitely weren’t talking to me!” We laughed awkwardly and continued our walk.
But do you see why it was confusing for both of us? While my friend was clearly relieved not to have been the recipient of the cat-call, she also seemed sad about it, if we’re being honest. The men hadn’t paid her any attention at all. Her body didn’t command a second glance and now that my breasts are much smaller I understand and appreciate the feeling of invisibility this exclusion brings. That’s the confusing part. We don’t want it but we still kinda want it. You see? Our culture has conferred the power to men to name what is desirable and who doesn’t want to be desirable?
As for my part that day I was incredibly uncomfortable, being leered at and spoken to in such a way, but I was also kinda, sorta pleased. What I mean to say is that it made me feel good even as it made me feel gross. And it wasn’t the first time I had felt that way. When I was a teenager one of my coaches used to make subtle remarks about my breasts with a wink and a smile, a few of the boys on my diving team in high school thought it would be funny to name my breasts2, and more than one man at my church growing up made sly (and sometimes not so sly) reference to them.
And usually the women who were in close proximity at the time of such remarks made their own comments as well, like my friend on the walk that day, leaving me with no doubt that I was supposed to consider myself the lucky one. I had the golden ticket. I had something men wanted. It was a secret weapon that I could wield should I ever feel unattractive or uninteresting, which I often did. My overabundant breasts commanded the attention of both the boys at school and the deacons at church and I understood, always, that I was supposed to be pleased. I had terrible acne and a burgeoning overbite but I sure was stacked. Men noticed me. It made me feel powerful and alluring. Forceful and distinctly feminine. Yet at the very same time it also left me feeling lewd and deeply ashamed.
As females, we are socialized to desire the gaze and approval of men so it’s hard to know how to react to a cat-call. Should we be pleased that men are noticing us? Would it be better if they didn’t? Which is worse — being noticed only for our breasts or not being noticed at all? Honestly some days it feels like a tough call. I don’t want to be invisible. But I don’t want someone yelling “nice titties” at me from a moving car either.3
Ad (vertising)-ing to The Confusion
Did you know that you see as many as five thousand advertisements on any given day? Billboards, magazines, ads or commercials on your phone, your television, your tablet. Five thousand. In the 1970s, people only saw about 500 per day. Which is also a lot. But nowhere near five thousand. That means that by the time you were 8-years-old, before you were cognitively or psychologically capable of comprehending the nuances of advertising, you had been exposed to (this is a conservative estimate) more than five million advertisements. And one million of those were sexual in nature. What do I mean by “sexual in nature?” You guessed it. Boobs. Breasts are the most prominent and likely feature in sexualized ad content.
Advertisers rely heavily on something known as the repetition principle. The repetition principle works like this: If something is repeated often enough, even if we know it intellectually to be false, we will eventually be persuaded by it. Think of Geico. Geico is the perfect example.4 We might despise that ridiculous gecko but by sheer repetition over the last nineteen years, we can’t help but wonder if we, too, could save 15% or more by switching to Geico. You see how that works? They repeated it so often for so long, it stuck.
So when advertisers endlessly exalt breasts as something that can sell, something that can soothe the rough edges off a mans’ hard day, something that can entertain men while they eat or make their morning commute just a little more scintillating as they blandly stare at the buxom woman emblazoned on the back of the bus, these advertisements repeat ad infinitum a very specific message that pushes into our collective psyche; the message that breasts don’t belong to the women who have them but to the men who look at them.
- Another term used almost exclusively by men
- “Twin Peaks” btw. Originality wasn’t a strong suit.
- A moot point these days. See introduction.
- Or that grapefruit / tangerine ad. You know that your tangerine-sized breasts are just fine but still… when you see that ad every damn day on the billboard by your house, you start to wonder.
- physiology, nerve endings & boobs that are religious!
- Private or Public? Love or Hate?
- Code Switching & Boob Jobs!