Breasts? Huh! What are they good for?

If you gave more attention to viral videos than they perhaps deserved, you’d think that men had suddenly stopped being interested in tits. Worse than that, you’d think they actually find them disgusting, to the extent of asking women who are exposing them in public to cover themselves up, and this isn’t even in Tehran or Riyadh.

The first video features a woman breastfeeding on a London underground train and being berated by an excitable man who asks her to do it at home or instead to express her milk. He’s jolly cross about it, and won’t stop going on and on at her. The other passengers intervene on the woman’s behalf and tell him to go and sit in another carriage if he doesn’t like it. He tells them to mind their own business apparently unaware of the hypocrisy that he is clearly minding hers. ‘She has a perfect right’ says one passenger. ‘She doesn’t have a perfect right! I have standards and morals!’ he replies. It looks like it is going to get violent. It doesn’t.

The second video is an experiment where a breast-feeding mum and a hottie in a tittie top are remotely filmed (with their agreement) in a shopping mall, to gauge the reaction of passers-by. Naturally enough, the lady with her tits not completely out gets her share of drooling glances from passing men, and at least one is bold enough to ask her name. More surprisingly to me, the woman with a baby at her breast gets a succession of people saying how disgusting it is. Finally, they are both shown together and a nearby loafer is asked why he thinks the one is hot while the other is disgusting.

Both of these videos are baffling in their way. Both of them, in different ways, also are fake. Though widely circulated without the header explaining it, the first video is also a ‘social experiment’ by the youtubers Trollstation: the woman and the angry man are both actors, and the only real people are the members of the public who unanimously tell him to get stuffed, and rather heroically intervene to protect her. The second is up front about being an experiment, but a discerning viewer will probably conclude that the passers-by are actors. Take a look at how she carries on smiling when he says ‘Seriously ma’am? Do you have to do that here? It’s disgusting!’ Listen to how scripted all the responses sound. Draw your own conclusion.

This is a shame. There undoubtedly is a problem with the shaming that women get when breast-feeding, and it could do without things like this that muddy the waters. These videos contrive a polarised response. Naturally, any sane person of reasonable intelligence accepts the current consensus that breast-feeding is an entirely natural and wholesome process, and that doing it in public, with a degree of discretion, should not attract any complaint.

But wait. A degree of discretion? What does that mean? Why shouldn’t breast-feeding be done flamboyantly and wantonly, and with milky nipples shaken and swung out into the sunlight before the child is attached? Why do the breasts need to be kept hidden so far as is humanly possible for the baby to feed? By that argument, why can’t these women attach a rubber teat to their nipples and then pass them through a hole in their clothes so that they can remain decent throughout? Surely that’s the solution? Conversely, why do breasts need to be covered at all, whether full of milk or not?

In the comment sections of these videos and where they are circulated on social media, it is widely asserted that this is the most natural use of breasts, because that is what they are for. To an extent, that is obviously true. Women lactate because they are mammals, and they feed their young. But whales don’t have breasts, neither, clearly, do cows. Chimpanzees, our closest animal relatives – at least, our closest surviving animal relatives – only have breasts when they are lactating, probably a time when they are at their least sexually attractive.

So though breasts are obviously used for lactation, they are not just for that. Penises are used for pissing more frequently than their other main function, but almost none of their ‘features’ are required for it. Women manage to piss perfectly adequately without – though in a busy toilet queue they may feel otherwise. (Whether women would use a urinal even if they could, is a subject for another day. Maybe.)

Evolution is far from efficient. It certainly has been very little influence on human society, which is only a few thousand years old, far too recent to have been changed by it to any significant extent. Certainly, you can be sure that women had breasts since well before the last Ice Age. And who caused this? Men, pretty much. Quite why the full female breast became attractive to our branch of the family tree does not seem to be widely agreed upon, but like all forms of sexual selection – the peacock’s tail, for example – once established in the gene-pool, it – well – inflated. It goes like this: Ug likes Og because Og has slightly rounder breasts than Eg. Their son Ig inherits his father’s predilection along with carrying in his genes a tendency to round breasts which may be expressed in his daughters. Lots of men liking larger breasts leads to girls with larger breasts reproducing. This virtuous circle continues with the breasts becoming fuller and plumper until they become such a hazard in some way that those girls become less attractive, or less likely to survive.

So to say the breast is primarily for feeding, and not about anything else is to miss a big part of the question, particularly the part about why people say it’s ‘disgusting’. People say nudity is disgusting, though they are probably themselves nude daily. Concealing the breasts and the genitals is a trick in this fun game called sexual selection. Women want men to notice their breasts, and paradoxically, this is best done if they are concealed. Clothes can be used to enhance, disguise or reshape their forms, and for this reason it has become socially unacceptable, at least in the West, to expose them. It’s ‘disgusting’. That is why the breast, even when being used for its feeding function, must still be concealed. Because we’re all muddled up about what they actually are for.

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