See the entire conversation

238 replies and sub-replies as of May 13 2018

The Usborne book said that breasts have two functions: one, to feed children, and two, to "make the girl look grown-up and attractive".
Grown-up, yes. Attractive, no.
Is that where the anger comes from? Why is that? Again: I'm not being clever-clever here, I want to understand this stuff.
I suspect so. I think people are riled up because in this PC world you're not allowed to impose "society's standard of beauty" on others.
That may be it, yes.
Breast surgery to enlarge/reduce/make perfect, wouldn't be such big business if beauty wasn't measured by them. Not a good message
Article says quite clearly that the problem is excessive sexualisation. You might disagree, but the complaint isn't imposing standards
Reread article. Seems like they have a problem with "grown-up" too. Sigh.
But I don't think it's excessive sexualisation. Breasts ARE sexual, which is why they're censored.
Breasts play a sexual role in many contexts. That doesn't make them inherently sexual. See e.g. puritanism about breastfeeding in public.
hit the nail on the head!!
Ignoring the PC world, lots of attractive supermodels have small breasts but are still attractive.So that sentence is somewhat wrong already
Implies that the purpose of breasts is to please an external gaze - in this case, the teenage boys the book is written for.
And are we saying that that's categorically not true, then? Or are we saying that we shouldn't highlight that role to teenage boys?
In this case I think emotional intelligence is more important than fuzzy BioAnth. Boob owner's feelings should considered first.
Perhaps if they had said breasts look attractive but you just better not dare even make anybody suspect that you are looking at them.
It's telling young girls that having breasts makes you attractive, which is putting a lot of pressure on when some don't develop til later..
... and reinforces the idea that breasts are there to be admired by someone who will find you attractive (or not). More pressure.
ah, I see. So they're not saying it's not *true* per se, they're just saying it's not necessarily something to say to teenage girls?
I guess if my daughter was going through puberty would I tell her her breasts are there to make her attractive? No. It would make her think
But it's from "puberty for boys"; never been a teenage boy but I expect they've noticed they find breasts attractive by then.
Isn't it also better to suggest breasts are part of people enjoying each other's bodies rather than more objectifying "look attractive"?
Yes - that's what I was reaching for. Attractive is the wrong word.
You don't want to suggest to kids in a kind of Victorian way that sex is bad aren't breasts aren't fun. But aaargh this just makes me glad
You're talking like the average age of first exposure to porn isn't 11yrs old If you're talking to teenagers, you may be too late
That I'm not a teenager any more!
Yes perhaps. Wish I had the "for girls" book to compare how they explain boys' physical maturity signals (hairiness etc)
Good point. I didn't realise this one was just for boys (that'll teach me to tweet before reading the article in full...)
Normally I abhor "for boys" and "for girls" books but legit I think for puberty book.
But should a book be encouraging boys to think that way about women's bodies at such a young age? You're right Tom, it's tricky.
Yes, this is true. Better to say "you think they' re attractive ornament but not there for your delectation but biological purpose ...1/2
But like it or not one of the biological purposes is attracting a mate. (Most mammals don't have permanently distended mammaries like we do)
Yes. Book should still emphasise that male response should be more sophisticated than our biology.
... and while you might think they're great, teenage girls may well be appalled by their breasts and not welcome yr attentions" 2/2
Your points would however be excellent additions to tedious bits of biology.
Thank you. Do you think I have missed my calling?
You also don't *have* to - and some people can't - use them to feed children. Makes girls feel ugly/useless if boobs aren't as in books.
Does the Usborne book say the same about penises for boys? There to deliver urine / semen and also to make them look manly and attractive?
does anyone find penises attractive? I wouldn't be surprised if it said that, say, facial hair is there to signal grown-upness/virility
(I know lots of people find penises attractive, before I get angry tweets)
ha ha - hope you've managed to stem the torrrent!
Please pin this tweet.
I just look forward to it being screenshotted back to me in future
have done with it and just put it on a tabard
facial hair isn't an erogenous zone, Tom
Same as saying "pendulous balls exist to make boys appear grown up and attractive"
Author goes out of his way to stand up for breasts of all sizes being attractive - and puts the breastfeeding point first.
I think it's the word "attractive" - it's judgmental. Maybe different language.
That they're there to please other people - or for people to pass judgement on (am I attractive or not, how do I know?). It's just too much.
I can understand that. I don't know if we should ask educational books to self-censor like that, though. I honestly don't know what's best
more to the point the book is for *boys* – telling young boys that the purpose of breasts is to make girls attractive to them is unhelpful
Jesus I missed that. OK that's worse. It reinforces the idea that girls are there to be judged on their looks - which is awful awful awful
yep, takes it out of the realm of “what is accurate from an evolutionary point of view” and into “what values do we want to raise boys with”
I agree it puts it into the second realm, but does it take it out of the first? seems there are competing values there
Everybody is judged on their looks. Gender has nothing to do with it these days. Have you not seen Love Island?
Breasts don’t exist to make girls attractive. That might be a side-effect, but breast fetishising is historically recent.
But it is absolutely /not/ "true per se". The evolutionary function of mammaries isn't to make female mammals attractive to males.
not female mammals in general: I think it's well-accepted that sexual selection played a role in human breasts tho
Breast size: a human anomaly
Carole Jahme shines the cold light of evolutionary psychology on readers' problems. This week: breast size
Imagine saying that to children - boys or girls, though. "Boobs are for making girls look hot" - wtf? Many issues flat-chested ppl know well
Also: the shit we see with #breastcancer where misogyny kicks in with "save the tatas" nonsense; how about save women's lives..?
The over-sexualisation of breasts to the point where we are not allowed to be comfortably nude, or breastfeed, but male gaze (P3 etc) - cool
So regardless of truth of evolution's role in 2ndry sexual chars, the presentation of this in kids' book fuels bad fires re women's bodies
It's not even universally attested in observed cultures. In Japan the erogenous locus is the nape, in many African cultures, buttocks.
In most Papuan & Amazonian tries the breasts attract no special attention & are not beuatified or emphasised in traditional dress.
In ancient Greece large breasts (& penii) were considered vulgar & ugly. All the Venuses pass the pencil test. This "sexual selection" gig
is just 1950's Anglosphere researchers doing the usual "our predilections & mores are obviously the universal evolutionary optimum" stuff.
That's v interesting. Thank you.
*Runs back, breathless* 1 more! It's "Growing up for boys" - suggesting breasts are 'for looking attractive' cld harm a lot of gay/ace kids.
Not sure that works - does the book address same sex relations? - but FWIW, this is Donald Symons on the subject of breasts.
I meant by implying they should be attracted to them, it excludes boys who may not be 'straight'. Sorry if not clear. Twitter etc
That may be a reasonable concern given what I can see of the context in which the issue of, um, female anatomy is raised in the book... /1
...i.e. a couple of chapter before it gets into the question of relationships, where it does cover same sex relationship. Interestingly.. /2
...the parallel volume for girls, addresses the question of the function of breasts in the following manner. Is that significantly better?
I think it's better, people thinking they look nice takes emphasis off their 'purpose'. Don't like "are designed to" but v minor quibble.
But saying 'primarily they're for babies' is a bit shitty. Many women don't want to have kids, many who do can't/don't breastfeed etc.
Yeah, that's what they do, if they are used at some point - but it's like saying 'what are male nipples for' - they developed bc genes, eh.
Problem is it's a kids' book and people are fallible, and all the social problems we have are quite complex + too much to fit in an intro!
Yes, it has trying "trying to be frank but still pander to adult paranoia about adolescent sexuality" feel to it, which gives it the feel...
...of rather talking down to young people.
absolutely, someone else in the thread mentioned that, it's an important point.
It's disappointing - I worked with peer educators around 20 years ago and this is retrograde step from where we were back then.
I'm not sure that discussing breasts in an evolutionary and a social context at the same time is either desirable or possible to do.
No. Telling young BOYS - that's who the book was for - that breasts are for THEM, for their attraction, is what's wrong.
Breasts are very attractive. Statement of the obvious. How many female presenters are unattractive? Of course it's important. Confected rage
No, it said “two reasons” not “two functions”.
yes yes why are any of us here other than to be food or attractive. But is it a helpful reduction of pubescent girls to teenage boys?
"all grown up"
I'm not outraged but I wonder if it's anything to do with women that are not chesty but are still grown up and attractive...
I also wonder if part of it is our societal fear of sexualising children.
You mean because they're secondary sexual characteristics and so, in evolutionary (?) terms, that *is* one of their purposes?
I mean, I'd have said so & I'd have thought it was relatively uncontroversial scientifically speaking. But that's not the only consideration
Indeed; social factor big in children's book context. cf "Abs/biceps/trouser bulges are for making grown men appealing to their partners"
+schools impose restrictive dress codes on (mostly) girls inc 'Hide your bra straps!'; prioritise boys' non-'distraction' over our comfort.
If a girl of 12-15 has visible breast development, men and boys (& girls!) known to use this to bully or as excuse for assault. "Looks 16+!"
Tl;dr huge number of issues around sexualisation of girls'+women's bodies inc breasts that this plays into; v poor wording, too. <fin>
More generally there's an unhealthy fear of adolescent sexuality which is helping to stoke many of these attitudes.
Hats off to everyone on this thread for mature and reasonable discussion that actually addresses the OP. Twitter can do it.
yes! I was DREADING the responses but it's been extremely polite and informative
What do you think it wd be like to be a 9 or 10yo girl developing breasts &wondering what it means that she's now "grownup and attractive"?
I don't think there's *any* equivalent for a boy -even queer boys usually older when they start perceiving thmselves as objects of male gaze
> so can you just think what it's like for little girls to be told by an authorative & ~neutral~ source -on top of msgs from media &c >
> that the *function* of a part of their body is to be attractive, with the heavy implication of "attractive to men"?
I think it's genuinely hard for men to understand how alienating & weird that is, so I think it's worth spending some time imagining what >
> it would have been like to get that message as a kid in year 4, year 6 etc.
that's a fair point, that regardless of whether it's true it may not be a good thing to say to 10yo boys (or girls, but the book's for boys)
If that's msg to boys, the girls will get it too. It's teaching boys how to view girls just as much as teaching girls how to be viewed.
I just don't figure boys need to be told they will find breasts attractive. They seem to figure that part out just fine in their own 😏
Yep. An attractive 11 or 12 year old.
Feminism rejects any part of evolutionary theory (e.g. sexual selection) that says there are innate differences between male & female brains
This might be the most ignorant tweet I've read all day
There's also the obligation to pretend breasts are non-sexual, as impure thoughts to the contrary might inhibit breast feeding.
I'm confused by your confusion. The idea that breasts' (presumably evolutionary) purpose is to 'make girls look attractive' seems bizarre.
That would seem to suggest that women grow breasts because men find them attractive. Is there any evidence for that?
If there's not, then the condemnation seems appropriate.
I think so. Other primates don't have permanent breasts; I think consensus is that it's partly sexual selection…
Oh dear, a Gdn column on evolutionary biology: like putting the crocodile farm next to the skydiving school. Hide from the wicked facts kids
Fair enough. Worth noting, though, that there is still important ambiguity in the suggestion of what something is 'for'.
yes, although we are dealing with a book for children here, so can't get too far into the evolution/teleology stuff
Absolutely - not suggesting this should be included in book. Kids more likely to confuse the evolutionary 'for' w contemporary 'for'.
An organ's function could be what it was selected for originally, or what it is useful for now.
For the appendix (on one view): we could say equally meaningfully that its function is digestive, and that it has no function for us.
A historical evolutionary claim about breasts may have been interpreted as a current function claim. Or it may be that ppl are concerned...
...about the possibility of such interpretation, particularly in a book for kids.
agree you have to be cautious about this stuff in a kids' book. Thought the language was fairly sensitive, though. I dunno. Tricky territory
Sexual selection is mainstream biology. It prob. explains female breasts, male beards, and poss. even intelligence.…
Ask some men if they find breasts attractive/ugly?
In fact ask some men if they find women attractive or not? And why?
That would be a very poor test of whether breasts evolved *because* men find them attractive.
Yes. That's not the point I was trying to take issue with. Sorry if it seemed that way.
Was trying to take issue with those that were denying breasts could be attractive, once developed, and wanted sci eV for such attractiveness
OK. I didn't see anyone denying that breasts could be attractive.
I'm not sure they meant to but the way twitter goes, the original parameters of the thread got changed. Storm in a tea cup, but interesting
I hate amp urls. I know that's not the issue here.
what are they there for?
Googles's thing for faster mobile pages but then they get shared and people click on desktop and it's like we're 10 years ago again
iOS11 will strip out the amp-ness, won't it?
I hope so. Also this newsstand bullshit. I mean, fuck off. This is the web going backwards being the shit.
Am I wrong that this is biologically And politically incorrect? Men (#NOTALLMENETC) respond to breasts. Not the other way around?
To claim that the function of breasts is to attract men places men in a weird but familiar and false position of power and protagonism.
At most you could say one of the functions of breasts is to indicate fertility. Better to say the function of men is to respond to breasts?
though there may be very good reasons for not bringing that up in a children's book, I acknowledge
Yes, regardless of the debate over sexual selection, using the word 'function' is really ill-advised. It doesn't take much to make a >
teenage girl feel dysfunctional.
Sure, so has everything due to sexual selection, including more hourglass arses. Not sure we'd list it as one of the functions of the arse.
that's a very fair point. You might list it as a reason for the hourglass shape of women, though?
You might absolutely, but the inference might be that hourglass is somehow innately more 'attractive', rather than a signifier for fertility
It doesn't outrage me, I should say. I find it interesting and want to understand it more.
can you use the hashtag #breastchat so fans can follow
absolutely not, under no circumstances
This is basically what a social anthropologist told me many years ago.
3-fold function of the penis: 1. Urinate 2. Ejaculate 3. Guilt trip male psyche into overcompensating due to perceived inadequacies
Lots of excellent (and one dumb) answer so far but I'll add that many girls grow breasts as young as nine. Some implications, there.
But the general principle is that we don't use evolution to justify societal issues. Evolution is okay with rape, for example.
I like to assume you know humans have developed ethics *despite* evolutionary traits such as superior upper body strength in males.
I agree with all of this! But it doesn't make the Usborne book wrong, does it? I suppose I don't fully understand your argument.
*sigh* Society uses evolution to justify sexually predatory behaviour that is not actually a matter of biological imperative >>
For example, most men aren't rapists. But you could justify rape using evolution. You would be technically correct to do so, like the book.
But it says the reason girls have breasts is to make them look attractive. That's not a reason. It's a cultural byproduct, no?
It might be cultural or biological. There are lots of examples in nature of body parts (or wings/tails!) evolving for attractiveness. 1/2
Breasts are 2ary sexual characteristics in that they are sexually dimorphic in adulthood, but not directly required for reproduction 1/x
I am unaware of evidence that breasts themselves have undergone runaway sexual selection though, only speculation thereon. 2/x
I am with Tracy: the fact that breasts are of sexual interest is irrelevant to the statement in the book that they are 'for attractiveness'
Compared to 2ary sexual traits in other animals which are specifically for attracting mates (e.g.peacock's tails etc).
to my slight surprise, I am pleased to have asked this question on open twitter, and have learned something from the answers
In so far as there's a prevailing evolutionary view, probably your best starting point would be "Beauty is in the Adaptations of the... /1
...Beholder: The Evolutionary Psychology of Human Female Sexual Attractiveness" by Donald Symons, in "Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture" ed...
...Paul R Abramson & Steven D Pinkerton (1995).
"steven pinkerton"? amazing. Thanks, I'll take a look
Yes, Pinkerton, not Pinker.
Desmond Morris et al speculated that permanent enbiggened breasts are unique in humans amongst apes as we lost the arse as a sexual signal..
...when walking upright. However, I think most people think that's bollocks now. I mean, it's untrue, not that bollocks became sex signals
...which they might be.
"boys have testicles for two reasons..."
Grr, don't get me started on this one. Let's tell kids that women's breasts are there for other people to ogle & judge them on *sigh*
Balance, innit. At least, that's what Aristotle said.
... and the second is as a target following sexist statements:-)
btw, I have a small section on breasts in my book, in which I debunked breast size as being a driver of selection...
Uh oh Tom hasn't read your book klaxon
tom is currently 36% through it on Kindle, if tom recalls correctly, but keeps getting distracted by shit science fiction novels
Trolol I fully confess I am also partway through Adam's book but have been distracted by reading IT for the first time.
I first read IT on a bus from Aberdeen to Edinburgh. The bus stopped off in Inverness. Next to a corner shop called ‘Pennywise’. 🤡🙀
It's VERY dated, and accidentally hilarious. But still great.
...which was suggested by reporters and scientists alike in one serious aDNA/human evo paper. Bascially, it became obvious that there is...
...almost no research into breast size at all, and any statements about size and human behaviour are speculation or wish fulfilment.
That's one helluva thread.
This is illogical - what are the function of human breasts then? Given other apes do not have them except when sexually signalling for sex
or during pregnancy/ after birth
Oh great, Opinion Spock is here
Not everything is a positive adaptation. The function of human breasts is lactation. Permanent enlarged breasts may merely be genetic drift.
What is the function of ginger hair? Or blue eyes? Applying a modern function as decreed by selection is adaptationism, or Panglossianism.
Or to look at it from where I sit: what is the function of consent? Why is there no equivalent 'to be attractive' in males? (Rhetorical q).
Are ginger hair and blue eyes dimorphic in the way enlarged breasts are?
Wouldn't any research now be so overladen with social noise as to be useless? Art suggests preferred body shapes change with fashion.
I just idly imagined a book for disabled kids that says leg muscles are for escaping from predators and now I need a drink.
There is a general issue with the use of teleological language in biology, strictly speaking no body part is really "for" anything (1/2)
Nevertheless, if the question is why did breasts evolve then I expect that most theories would make a link to sexual attraction (2/2)
But agree primary function is not attractiveness. Not ideal to suggest this in children's book, esp as breasts develop early in puberty.
this does seem a fair criticism, yes.
Teaching boys they're entitled to access to women (breasts) on grounds of evolution is a central theme of Men's Rights Activism and rape.
Big breasts like women but not other mammals have are prob to attract mates, no? Like chimp bums, and beards?
If you tell little girls their tits are there to attract a mate, you teach them that their bodies are for male consumption and you >>
Tom, I found Sara Pascoe 'Animal' to be a thoughtful primer on the interaction of the science, the presentation of science, and society.
thank you. I shall look it up
Sexual selection probably designed male facial hair, female breasts, and many other things. How to tell kids this is a different question.
rob them of essential bodily autonomy and agency. I assume you know that political concepts like feminism are about moving past our >
"natural" biological roles which, if we're going to be monkeys in shoes, dictate that women have babies and nurture, and men kill and rape.
If a book for children wants to single out breast development as being attractive then it should also point out being gay is a problem.
No issue at all with educating girls that their bodies evolved to be gawped at & please men *whistles*
Worse - educating boys. The book is "for boys".
Wtf. Boner uber alles.
Impressed by your fluency in Spanish.
Or, in translation...
I am a speaker of the international language of penis
There should be a word for the confusion that arises from comprehending a problem, not necessarily agreeing but wishing to understand.
Secondary sex characteristics are partly about signalling reproductive fitness. I'd be interested to see if all SSCs are treated this way.
I haven't seen the book but I'd be surprised if increased male bulk was framed as sexual display.
Does the book also say that during puberty, boys will find their penises get bigger and this makes them look grown-up and attractive?
Attractive is one thing. But grown-up? That's basically the language of the Daily Mail and your skeezy uncle.
well, it's also the language we use to denote "adult" to children, which is what makes it the Daily Mail skeezy tone (faux childishness)
Right, but the *specific* problem with that language is that it's very often directed at children (as defined legally & morally.)
Prob is we women are rightfully nervous of emboldening alpha male objectifying. Need to tread carefully without denying facts tho.
yup. It's a complex situation
because you're telling young girls that the natural features of their body are there functionally to please men?
Bad phrasing is a landmine field when communicating with kids.
that seems to be the main criticism, and I think it's a fair one
Also not a great idea to tell boys breasts are for showing a girl is "grown up" when girls start developing them as young as 9.
What's wrong with this sentence? "What are hands for? Women need them to eat and write, and also to give men hand jobs".