Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Identity Politics of Breasts: Male Lactation and the Political Economy of Wo/Man (part 3)

PART II: Milk and the Nature of Things: Gender, Race, Class, Species
“The concealment of breastfeeding rests equally, if not more, on squeamishness relating to bodily function: the fact that food comes out of our bodies is an unsettling thought in a culture that rarely remembers food growing on trees”
--Fiona Giles Fresh Milk [*]

“Separate lexicons suggest opposite behaviors and attributes. We eat, but other animals feed. A woman is pregnant or nurses her babies; a nonhuman mammal gestates or lactates. A dead human is a corpse, a dead nonhuman a carcass or meat”
--Carol Adams “Foreword” to Animal Equality[*]

"[W]ithin Linnaeus terminology [Homo sapien], a female characteristic (the lactating mamma) ties humans to brutes, while a traditionally male characteristic (reason) marks our separation”
--Londa Shiebinger "Why Mammals are Called Mammals"[*]


Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” Londa Shiebinger writes:

the female breast ha[s] been a powerful icon within Western cultures, representing both the sublime and bestial in human nature. The grotesque, withered breasts on witches and devils represented temptations of wanton lust, sin of the flesh, and humanity fallen from paradise. The firm spherical breasts of Aphrodite, the Greek ideal, represented an overworldly beauty and virginity.[51d]
As we saw in parts one and two, female breasts may represent all that which is most beautiful and divine to humans (i.e. the virgin mother of God) while any digression from their use to titillate males (i.e. lesbian sensuality) or nurture the young (i.e. sexual feelings while nursing) may represent all that is wrong with the world.

I will argue here in section two that the function of the human breast acts as a particularly sensitive subject because it is a site that may not only contest gender identities but that which may also contest modern “white” men’s proximity to “the animal.” Just as gynecomastia, male breast cancer, and male lactation challenge presuppositions about male identity, so does the very biological function of human breasts. As Shiebinger notes, "that breasts have "long been considered less than human, yet simultaneously "more than human."[51f]
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