Monday, April 20, 2015

When Characters are Identified by Their Boobs

So, Carrie

First published book of Stephen King’s—an attempt to prove that he can write for women characters.

And when it comes down to the characters themselves, the internalizations, the motivations, the aspects of being real people, he can. Or at least from my perspective he can. I find these girls in the book to be fully flushed out, flawed, and human.

But let’s face it, sometimes it's obvious he's a guy.

Stephen King, like George R. R. Martin, enjoy the finer aspects of a woman and obviously appreciate sex. Mr. Martin probably more so. Both of these writers, who I consider fantastic, can create women that I actually like and are interested in watching. Even those that you want to beat with a club have their entertainment value, enhance the story, and don’t make you cringe every time they try to prove how strong and non-sexist they are.

I have long argued that men can write for women, and the idea they can’t due to our radical differences is insulting, but I have to say that I’ve seen this occur in a myriad of books penned by male authors: he has the female character remove her shirt and examine her breasts.

Or the narrator, told from the character’s perspective, describes her breasts, or her friend’s breasts, or anyone’s breasts. There’s not a lot of description on clothing or weight, but Sue Snell notes Chris Hargensen’s “tight basque blouse that accentuated her firm, upthrust breasts.

This is after Carrie White has stood naked in front of a mirror to look her boobs over.

In the isolated case of Carrie’s self-examination, I have little criticism. It is odd behavior, but she’s an odd girl. It benefits the book to show her perspective on herself, and the importance her mother has placed on how good girls don’t get “dirtypillows” or periods. Sex and puberty are big parts of the story. Considering Carrie has just received her first menstruation that day, her sudden interest in the sexualize parts of her body make sense. I do believe the book is improved by seeing that moment, and that the character’s fixation with a forbidden part of herself makes sense.

The problem is more so that it’s not isolated, but relatively common. There are a huge number of books written by men about women, and once that woman gets alone, she promptly removes her shirt in order to admire her chest.

Wicked is the worst perpetrator that comes to mind, in which it has three separate characters at three separate sections do that exact thing. And unlike Game of Thrones, in which the discussion and description of boobs fits in with the overtly sexual themes, attitude, and plot points, or Carrie which promotes the overall effect of puberty and sexuality on the characters, in Wicked, the book doesn’t benefit from having these characters check out their own tits. It’s not even titillating. Just weird.

I’m no stranger to narcissism, and mirrors and I have had an on-again off-again relationship for the past five years. And yet you’re not going to catch me standing naked before one to check my boobs out. Not without an external motivator anyway.

Maybe if I just happened to get out of the bathtub and caught a sight of myself, but even then my first focus would be on my stomach and thighs. If I were ever to make the effort of admiring my body—to actually take off my clothes for solely that act—it would be more because I got a new bra, and would the admiration of its effect on my cleavage. Many girls, especially vein ones, have a greater obsession with clothes, and if you were to walk in on her checking herself out, it would probably be in an outfit.

For those girls who like to take those provocative selfies—well first you’ll note that girls are more happy to send you a picture of them in their lingerie rather than a full nude. Secondly you have to realize that there is a huge difference between our interest in our breasts when sex is directly involved than when it’s not. A woman might be interested in her boobs when she is viewing them through the eyes of her guy (I’m excluding lesbians from this conversation because their perspective on breasts is obviously going to be different than a predominantly heterosexual girl’s), like when she knows he is going to be looking at them.

Boobs and ass tend to be what men notice first, and so it makes sense when describing a character, especially an attractive one, to talk about them. Even more when it’s a woman’s perspective because having a male character do it can look bad, but because it’s a woman, it’s not sexual right? Well, no. Describing your friend’s “upthrust breasts” is still sexual, which is why it seems more to be a meta-description than an in-character one.

It’s not impossible for a woman to first notice the magnitude of a fellow chick’s boobs. I remember one time I was watching a play and the female lead had on this white blouse that just made her chest look ridiculously gigantic. She looked good, but I didn’t hear a word she said, staring at them the entire time. It’s not common, but I’ve stared at a woman’s chest before. Generally it’s not sexual.

But keep in mind that I knew the actress outside of the play, and that it hadn’t occurred to me before then just how big her boobs were. I distinctly remember her nickname being something like Tits McGee amongst the guys, but I really didn’t pay that much attention to them until her outfit truly illuminated her figure. Some of my friends have huge cup sizes, but I actually don’t realize it until I find one of their bras and go, “Holy crap!”

I also had a friend in high school who was… well, one of those girls that the girls all hated even though she was supposedly our comrade. She was overbearing, bossy, judgmental. She had an opinion on everything, completely indignant when you didn’t give a shit about it. She also had huge boobs, and so there was a huge discrepancy in the fondness of the guy’s memories and girl’s memories of her. That discrepancy being the only thing that made me realize just how big her chest was. I noticed her chest size because it became relevant.

If I was to describe her and her ginormous boobs during my memoir, they would be the fourth thing on the list, accompanied by my reasons why it was important—i.e. that the only people who seemed to actually like her were the ones who only admired her from afar.

I’ve only really been jealous of one girl’s chest size, and that is because she had something (someone) I wanted. Even when describing her though—a woman I believed truly gorgeous—my compliments would be on her figure, not on directly about her chest.

Partially out of respect. You’ll note that women will comment on boobs when attempting to be sexual or vulgar—vulgarity including trying to be funny. Sometimes we’ll talk about them in order to be technically correct to convey specific information, “My boobs are sore” when allusion won’t work. But primarily women will refrain from talking directly about breasts in day to day life. We only mention our comrades chest size if we’re especially close to them or hate them. Maybe to make a point. All of this comes from how invasive tit references really can be, even when it’s not sexual.

Breasts, butt, the nose, sometimes the gut… anything that sticks out is extremely sensitive to discussion. The moment you start talking about it all her feeling goes straight to it. Boobs are the worst because they are literally more sensitive to touch. They are intimate and calling them by name is intrusive unless you know the person well enough.

Even in the case of self-exploration, women are less likely to actually think the labels of boobs, breasts, tits, dirtypillows, whatever. While not everyone is uncomfortable with it, most consider them vulgar or sexual, and are likely to ignore them until wanting to be sexual or vulgar (for the sake of insults, humor, etc.)

Having a character deliberately undress herself to look at her chest, having her mentally comment on the natural perkiness of her friend during a chance encounter at the soda shop, having her make note of her boobs over the rest of her body/wardrobe, is similar to having a sex scene from a male’s perspective and him discussing her bra for a couple of paragraphs. Not impossible, especially in the right context, but seems to be more likely attributed to the author’s priorities rather than the character’s.

More to the point, we do have better things to than look at ourselves naked. It’s like living in New York City and never seeing the statue of liberty, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming and never seeing Yellowstone. Hey, it may be beautiful, and we may even love it if we just tried to see it, but because it’s always there, it goes on the back shelf.

Women’s boobs are a great part of them. It’s just not often the first things we use to identify ourselves or each other.

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