by Jasmine Peterson
A few days ago on the Good Men Project, a couple of articles were published that praised women of a particular bust size. The first was a(n incredibly offensive) diatribe on the ‘perks’ of small breasts. In response to this, Josh Bowman replied with his tongue-in-cheek piece praising the qualities of large-breasted women.
While his satirical response is really very witty and clever, it is not immediately clear that it is satirical. And, while I love satire, I do think that satire in and of itself can be extremely problematic.
Satire, although I fully appreciate it, is a tricky thing. It requires its audience to be capable of discerning that it is, in fact, a satirical statement that is being made. And, had I not known ahead of time that this was satire, I may not have picked up on it immediately and would have instead been rather offended.
When satire is too subtle (or even when it’s not so subtle, but its audience isn’t able to discern that that is what it is), people believe it, buy into it, and then the satire is just reinforcing that which it is intending to ridicule or expose. I think this is one of the biggest dangers of this literary form, because too many people interpret these statements at face value, without realizing the author’s true intentions.
A perfect example of this was an article posted at The Onion about a year ago; it was an article lampooning the attack on women’s reproductive rights and on Planned Parenthood in the United States. It was so obviously over the top that I couldn’t imagine anyone taking it seriously – but they did. So, while I love this literary technique, I also recognize that often it only does what it is meant to do for those who already ‘get it’.
In that way, I find this article “In Praise of Large-Breasted Women” witty, but problematic. It’s problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, if not read as satire it polarizes large-breasted women against small-breasted women: “I’m the one staring at you, past all those rail‐thin model types” or in saying “Guys like me, we aren’t sexually attracted to angles…we like curves! When I get in my (dad’s) car, I’m not trying to drive in a triangle.” This reinforces the dichotomous discourse of attractive bodies. Memes have surfaced decrying thin bodies, while at the same time suggesting that larger women are ‘real’ women (the implication being that thin women are somehow not ‘real’). And in this way, even though it is a reversal of hegemonic ideals of attractive bodies, we continue to police women’s bodies. While it certainly doesn’t seem to be the author’s intention, I think that it does run the risk of reinforcing this ideology.
Secondly, if readers fail to recognize this rebuttal as lampooning the first article, it effectively essentializes women’s (larger) bodies and the notion that a woman’s value resides in her attractiveness – and in this case, in her large bosom. Again, I recognize that that isn’t the author’s intent, however it is an extremely likely unintended consequence, particularly for those who don’t realize it to be satire. Of course, in the author’s defense, he has explicitly stated in response to commenters that this is an attempt to bring levity to the situation. Regardless, as a woman who has been valued for my attractiveness over my other admirable qualities far too often, I think my approach would have been wholly different.
And finally, I think that joking about these things is not particularly helpful in elucidating just how harmful such conversations can be. Mainly because I don’t find it funny for any woman to be told that her breasts are some sort of asset (or, if they’re too big, or too small, perhaps a detriment) to her value with men. Even if only satirically.
(picture via Wikimedia Commons)