talking about tits

Yesterday evening I went back in time. I took a bus up to South Clerk street and walked along to George square, and felt a pang of nostalgia. Some of the best times in my life were here, I thought. But also some of the worst.

Thirteen years ago I had come here to my first ever lecture, and the lecturer had been Tom Webster (as I recall, I had been surprised to find out that Scotland was a separate country, and it had quite a bit of history of its own, which I hadn’t ever managed to pick up on at a-level). Now I was back in the Appleton Tower listening to Tom Webster again, only this time he was talking about sexism in the media, and he was followed by Lucy-Anne Holmes from the No More Page Three campaign.

What would I have thought of this thirteen years ago? I would have thought that it didn’t matter, that people should lighten up as a bit of sexism didn’t do any harm. I quite liked laddish culture. It suited me to smile prettily from behind my pint at boys who thought it was funny when I said rude words. Pictures of tits were ok, because, well, I had nice tits so tits appreciation could only be a good thing really couldn’t it?

so what changed? I had a daughter. And- as is sadly is so often the difference between being twenty and being thirty – I knew too many women had been raped.

I got to thinking about draft of a play I was working on a few years ago which featured a woman reading a tabloid newspaper. She described two stories, both of which were real-life stories from papers at the time. One of them was about a man who was arrested for having sex with a bicycle. At the same time a woman had been found unconscious, with severe bruising and bite marks on her thighs. The man she was with was not charged with her rape because it could not be proved that she did not consent. But the bicycle definitely said no. In the same newspaper, and again I stress it was a real newspaper, there was the obligatory page three topless model. The heroin of my (never finished) play poured herself another glass of wine, held up the image and said, look here, the message is clear, here is where all your anger should go, here is where to heap your frustrations and your feelings of inadequacy, here is the acceptable victim for everyone who has ever been put down or hurt and every man who hates his mother. I am glad that someone is challenging this misogynistic core at the centre of what many people rely on for their news and information. It might be the tip of the iceberg, but its a very significant tip.

I keep coming back to this Zeus jealousy thing. In the recent uproar about breast-feeding in public, one man commented something along the lines of ‘when it becomes ok for a man to get his dick out in public this will be a valid discussion’,  to which the logical response is ‘when you can use your dick to feed a child that will be a valid comment’. Surely this is Zeus jealousy, ie jealousy of the organic means to support life, at its most violent? And something else too. Suttie also tells us there is also Cain jealousy, that is the jealousy of being supplanted by younger siblings. Even if there are no younger siblings, the process of weaning creates some kind of trauma and resentment. if not correctly managed (by nurturing, and by providing creativity, play and friendships which ease the process, from whence flows inventiveness and culture) all this leads to tenderness-taboo, a repression of tenderness which renders anything associated with caring, nurture and infancy unpalatable. So gangs of boys call each other ‘wet’ as the worst possible insult, they grow up and form teams and societies and become freemasons says Suttie, and anything that is meant to inspire compassion can trigger harsh and almost violent responses. This strikes a chord with Any of us who have read some of the bile that is spewed in the comment of newspaper articles where compassion is called for, or who saw Edwina Currie’s savage behaviour on the benefits debate for example. Other symptoms or consequences of tenderness taboo which he identified back in the forties were the separation of sex and emotion, and the low pay of nurses and those in other caring roles.  This seems more relevant now than ever before. Might Suttie really have been onto something?

Can the violence which dominates our expression of sex be seen as anything other than tenderness-taboo? Dare I say it, but might the increasing obsession with anal sex have something to do with Zeus envy? Women: your breasts must be used for our gratification rather than to feed your children and we don’t even want your vaginas anymore. Moreover, what would be the ultimate triumph of these jealousies, what is the most effecting way of dominating someone? Not tying them up, or starving them, but tying them to their identity and then telling them they are free. Are women in danger of being duped when being empowered and sexually liberated seems to involve an awful lot of gyrating, or perhaps even the licking of inanimate objects, with not a whole lot of clothing on? Of course, if you like gyrating then fair play to you, but is hard not to see many women in the media as manipulated for someone else’s gratification, that they are not allowing their sense of self and sexuality to shaped by the men who film and choreograph them.

It was deeply refreshing to hear Lucy-Anne Holmes talk about her own sexuality, as an adult women a little older than me. Goodness me, I thought, sexuality, I remember having one of those myself. Or did I? Had I not bought wholesale into letting my sexuality be shaped by men? Looking back I think that for an awful lot of years my whole sexuality was about trying to make sure every man I met wanted to have sex with me. At least once. It was about manipulation and the illusion of some kind of power. And funnily enough none of that is terribly helpful to me now, in my thirties, with a husband and kids, and central heating that isn’t powerful enough to induce me to unbutton my pyjamas. Holmes says she’s like to see more open discussion about sex and I think I agree. Perhaps when the weather warms up a bit anyway. I would like to reclaim my sexuality, in the same way I reclaim my right to have and care for my own children, as part of all my organic womanly loveliness. And I am lucky enough to have a husband who won’t swallow me up for doing so.

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4 thoughts on “talking about tits

  1. Thanks Sally, very interesting. The parallels of the two news paper articles are astonishing, appalling. Sexual violence against the vulnerable is clearly acceptable to many.
    Your comments on a sexuality on ones own terms, yeah. Interesting. What was a little uncomfortable was the picture of how you’d seen your own sexuality, a carbon copy of how I’ve seen mine. That’s gonna take some thought. But not this minute. I’m actually too tired to go to the kitchen for chocolate. xxx

  2. Hiya, You make me want to go and read Suttie.. hmmm, if you’re ready to explore more, you would love Nick Duffell & Helena Lovendals’s workshops on sexuality, identity, gender and ground or their pure sexual grounding work which they’ve renamed recently I think – sorry haven’t got it to hand but you can look it up their Centre for Gender Psychology website 😉

    1. hey thanks and yes I would definitely recommend Suttie! Have read the Duffell/Lovendal relationship book at the library (for some reason it seemed to involve every librarian in the building booming ‘was it SEX, LOVE and INTIMACY you were after?) and if I ever get a job/win the lottery their workshops will be top of my list of things to invest in! xx

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