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Michele Weldon

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Keeping Abreast of the News: The Body Parts in Your Face This Week

Posted: 09/16/2012 7:09 pm

In the media this week were several pairs of breasts belonging to the famous and the now infamous-- Adrienne, Kate, Rihanna, Kris-- as if each set was as important as all other critical breaking news on the globe. Apparently in the triage deadline discussions of newsworthiness, these functional, admirable assets of the female physiology trumped all and became suddenly noteworthy when bared, utilized, tattooed or discussed.

It seems the editors across the globe proclaimed, "Go with the boobs!"

In many cases editors decided these women's breasts deserved more coverage -- OK, pun intended -- than the fallout from an irresponsible video leading to widespread violence in Libya and beyond, the upcoming election fight or the Federal Reserve's new economic stimulus plans.

Get a grip. Or, more importantly, let's loosen the grip on our cultural breast obsession. Enough with the boobs.

Adrienne Pine of American University, stirred controversy by soothing a sick toddler during an anthropology lecture by breastfeeding in class. I reserve judgment since I believe mother on mother conflict is a reprehensible habit and one that creates a war on mothers, between mothers and about mothers.

But to the point, I am a university assistant professor and single mother as well. And though I began teaching at Northwestern University when my sons were seven, five, and two (past my personal breastfeeding limits of six to nine months of age per child), I understand completely the panic of a sick child, a canceled babysitter and a classroom of eager students expecting you to teach.

You do the best you can in the circumstances. You make snap decisions in emergencies. And you can't please all parties. I am more modest than Ms. Pine and when circumstance forced me to breastfeed in inconvenient situations -- on an airplane, in a restaurant or a bathroom stall - -I took the blanket approach and completely shrouded half my body and most all of my child's no matter what. But that was also more than 20 years ago and none of us were so liberated.

So if I was in her position, I would have offered my child a bottle or a pacifier. If that didn't work, I likely would have handed out the syllabus, lectured on key points and apologized for having to take a 10-minute break. During that break I would have offered a brief assignment -- write down your key questions or goals for the course in my absence -- and returned to a discussion.

Certainly, I applaud her transparency, candor and humanity. And in her defense, her audience is not small children; they are college students who are most likely all 18 and older, who can vote, smoke cigarettes and go to war. They also have likely watched more bare breasts in television, movies, Girls Gone Wild videos, or real-life spring breaks than could ever be offered from a harried single mother professor at the podium. And I get it that Professor Pine recoiled at the notion of the campus newspaper trying to make her predicament salacious news. On that point, I emailed her my support.

I understand her dilemma -- because as a working mother you are constantly weighing the need to be a good mother and a good professional -- juggling not just plates in the air, but butcher knives in flames.

Her breasts do not need to make news.

In a new book reviewed this week, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, author and historian Florence Williams takes an environmental, scientific, historic and cultural view of breasts. Her book is a decidedly more intelligent, insightful and meaningful look at the female body than Naomi Wolf dares in her tell-all orgasm tome, Vagina: A New Biography. Williams writes, "Perhaps not surprisingly, breasts have often eluded clearheaded thinking."

Agreed. And breasts for breasts' sake should simply not make top news anywhere on the globe.

Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's are now an international sensation. ew to the British Royal Family, but not new to the tradition of paparazzi mayhem -- Kate took off her bathing suit top -- a very cute bandeau number by the way -- apparently to avoid the horrors of tan lines. No subsequent amount of demure posings across Southeast Asia could erase the impact of the viral topless photos.

Yes, she was on the roof of a French chateau with her husband and not on South Beach in Miami. She could have a reasonable expectation to privacy. But did she not grow up with the images of her groom's Aunt Fergie's toe-sucking or Prince William's own mother's deadly relationship with crazed photographers? Could she not imagine that someone somewhere in the remote French village had a zoom lens and an agenda?

I think it is a grand idea to sue the French magazine Closer that published these shots, but a better idea would have been for Kate to keep her bandeau buckled and assume the worst from the media. And better yet, media outlets could have cried "rubbish!" when news of the newly bared royal bosom threatened to become the news of the world.

At least her breasts have taken the literal zoom off her mid-section, where the speculation of Kate's possible pregnancy has prompted news cameras to zero in on her abdomen. Did that toast of water instead of wine mean something? Let's look at her waistline and see!

Also this week, cameras clicked and tweets sang as Rihanna unveiled a left-to-right breast underwire tattoo of the goddess Isis and dedicated it to her grandmother. So what? Did I need to see that?

In another, piece of breast-session, NBC's Today Show was criticized this week for improperly skewed news judgment for foregoing a moment of silence on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and proceeding with a piece about Kris Jenner (the mother of all things Kardashian) and her breast enlargement.

University of Buenos Aires researchers from the Department of Physics reported in a May 2012 eye fixation study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that men were driven to look at images of women's breasts as well as buttocks. This is not newsworthy either.

Just because cross culturally we have been staring at and thinking about breasts doesn't mean the media has to report every flash.

In her 2000 piece, "A Short Essay on The Baring of Breasts," Libby Adler wrote in the Harvard Women's Law Journal about specific cases including the New York case of the Topfree Seven. The Northeastern University law professor quoted from the judge's opinion, "There is really no objective reason why the exposure of female breasts should be considered any more offensive than the exposure of the male counterparts."

A dozen years later, as a journalist and journalism professor, I dare to take that statement one step further. There is really no objective reason why the exposure of female breasts should be considered newsworthy.

To think and act otherwise, is to make boobs out of us all.

 

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