Friday, January 25, 2008

The Anthropology of Boobs

Hi everyone!
Below is an excerpt of an email I sent to my colleagues earlier today. It has to do with asking them for what they know about how breasts are viewed cross-culturally, so that I can contrast other cultures with how American/western culture views boobs. Boob jokes can shed some light on understanding their place in our culture. Anyway, here's the email I sent:

"As you know, I collected boob jokes prior to my surgery. I thought about writing it up somehow and then Joan encouraged me to write an article about boob jokes. I considered talking about it at my Tan Sack [lecture] next week, but have decided to talk about King Island placename density instead, partly because I really need to keep making progress on that project, but also because I realize that I need to do some more research.

At this point, just based on the jokes I collected, there are three general categories of jokes: 1) jokes about what I'm calling the tragedy of sagging boobs as women get older [which is the view of larger American society]; 2) jokes about breast size; and 3) jokes that try to turn the table on men (e.g., the Manogram designed by women to check men for prostate cancer!). This all speaks to how our society thinks about breasts - the emphasis on youth culture, breasts as the object of sexual desire, and women making fun of men.

But this morning, I got to thinking that the article might be better if I talk about how breasts are viewed cross-culturally: is there the same emphasis on breast size? Breasts aging? etc. So, any information that you can share with me regarding breasts, sex or sexual desire, or whatever, would be interesting.

I had coffee with Andrew Valls [the friend who sugggested I write this blog] earlier this morning and he had a lot of ideas about how to look into this further - one idea was to look at breast humor from different disciplinary perspectives such as philosophy, political science, sociology, etc. Another idea was to look at how breasts are viewed through time in our society (e.g., he thought looking at New Yorker cartoons for the past XX years would be a good place to start).

My original thought was that I could write a more academic article on boob jokes for a folklore journal. And, I thought about asking the Susan B. Komen Foundation to fund a little booklet of boob jokes that can be given to breast cancer patients and survivors. Another idea would be to do an edited volume that either looks at breasts cross-culturally or
cross-disciplinarily. That might be getting too ambitious, but I figured I'd talk to Mary Braun and see what she says. At any rate, any information you can share with me, I would appreciate it!
Thank you"

In response, one colleague (who shall remain nameless unless he wants recognition) also suggested that I look at Playboy magazine historically to see how boob imagery changed through time - he mentioned that Playboy used to employ some good cartoonists). He also mentioned that in the early 20th century through the 1960s or 1970s, physical anthropologists were interested in classifying race through body morphology [which is now completely discredited] and that there was actually a male professor at the University of Oregon who took casts of women's breasts throughout the world. Apparently, UO used to display such "busts of busts" in their faculty conference room, which were removed when more female professors were hired. So, that gives me another couple of avenues for research.

If you have any other ideas, please let me know! Andrew thought it was a good idea to look at this academically so that I could "make lemonade out of lemons". Thanks, everyone!


Jeanne said...

Hi Dee--my first visit to your blog. I like it! I will put up a post about boob anthro tomorrow and link to this post, and you should get some stories.

I have some for you as well, but they will need to wait till tomorrow. My cold seems to be coming back (drag!) and I'm heading for a nap.

You might want to read Pink Ribbons Inc--I have a post on it:

I tend to think that the whole pink ribbon cause marketing thing as practiced by Komen is one bad boob joke.


Jeanne said...

Dee--My post is live: