Catching up on my blog reading, I read this post at Hoyden About Town that was both depressing and interesting, about how there's a minor panic on the blogs because it was revealed that Salma Hayek is breastfeeding a 13 month old baby. To calm, rational people, the response to this news is, "Yeah, and so what?" Naturally, this means that many people's reactions were a) complete panic or b) snickering jokes meant to make the reader realize that no matter how famous and beautiful Salma Hayek is, she's still a woman and therefore any random man has the authority to put her in her place. Both reactions are interesting, and Lauredhel has collected many from Huffington Post's comments.

If this keeps up, that kid will have to go to a college within 5 miles of home.

Honestly…What kid could give those up?

sooo hot

and people fight to ban breastfeeding in public…

Suddenly , I’m in the mood for chocolate-chip cookies…

It’s obscene! once a kid has TEETH, the breastfeeding can stop! THey can eat mushy food now!

ew. I know new moms who think breastfeeding after 6 months is indecent.

OK guys. Line forms behind me!

I am soooo jealous of that baby!

for the first time in my adult male life I suddenly wish to be a little mexican girl… ; )

I wanna be adopted by her.

Breast Milk is nasty.


Salma, please breastfeed me…

That photo has my mouth watering, and I’m in my thirties.

Here, here… Let’s belly up to the breast, er, bar boys!

The panic reactions are stupid, but easy enough to understand. In our culture, breasts are primarily considered sex toys that primarily exist for men's pleasure, and the function of breast-feeding causes people what you might call "definitional distress", and they react by trying to put strict controls on it. It's not cool, but it's easy enough to understand.

What fascinates and disturbs me are the men who seek any and every opportunity to revel in the Othering of the female body, through the traditional form of the back-handed compliment. It's hands down the favorite way to harass women and put them in their place in our culture. Telling a woman you want to drink from her tits, yelling "Nice ass!" at her from a car, or otherwise pretending to compliment a woman while actually conveying the information that she is a piece of meat (in contrast to men, who are people) is supposed to offend. However, the reaction of the woman is strictly controlled by it. Her offense absolutely must take the form of staring at her feet, properly ashamed of being born female. If she rejects the misogynist assessment of women and reacts with anger, then she is accused of having no sense of humor or not being able to take a compliment.

Discussions of this sort always turn into arguments over what breasts are "for" (babies? men? what percentage? what about lesbians?), and I think that's a waste of time. Breasts are no more "for" any one function than are testicles. We only even talk about what breasts are "for" because we're so mired in the idea that the female body is an alien thing that can be dissected and analyzed by functionality to others in a way that we don't do with men's bodies. Breasts especially invite this sort of attention, because they're a lot closer to your face than your genitals are. Comments about bellying up, or any other mockery of that sort is about mocking women for having bodies that are considered more animalistic than men's, and categorizing the human race into "people" and "women". It's amazing to me that we tend to talk about breasts in terms that make them seem alien or somehow separate from the body in a way that we don't talk about penises. There's dick jokes, but from a non-sexist, objective viewpoint, jokes about genitals make more sense than about other parts of our bodies, because they---more than any other external feature of our bodies---seem to be a bit out of our direct control, and that's funny. But dick jokes resemble, to my mind, lolcats---they're a way for guys to admit that this part of their lives is a little silly, but most feelings are affection. We don't joke about vaginas in the same way we joke about dicks, even though they work in similar ways. Having a vagina isn't yet something that you're supposed to find a little silly amongst larger feelings of pride.

If there was a news item about some celebrity's testicles---and it's not impossible, if word leaked about a vasectomy or a celebrity made a joke about having low-hanging ones---we wouldn't see women lining up to make jokes about sucking it dry. There's no context for a joke like that. Women simply can't diss a man by implying that he's there for sexual contact with her---it's assumed that she's the one who is degraded by any sexual contact. What's fascinating to me is that most people couldn't really articulate why the jokes would be different, but obviously we know they are, and we "get" jokes about how hilarious it is that women's breasts have a biological function that is supposedly degrading to them, and we "get" that similar jokes made about men wouldn't make sense.