Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Identity Politics of Breasts: Male Lactation and the Political Economy of Wo/Man (part 1)

[M]ale dominated society tends not to think of a woman’s breasts as hers. Woman is a natural territory; her breasts belong to others—her husband, her lover, her baby. It’ hard to imagine a woman’s breasts as her own, from her own point of view, to imagine their value apart from measurement and exchange.
--Iris Marion Young "Breasted Experience"[*]

According to Kristeva, the infant must substitute speech for its mother’s breast. It takes pleasure in the materiality of speech just as it did in the materiality of its mother’s body… this substitution takes place when child realizes that its mother is a separate being who can leave and does not entirely exist for its own gratification... the move from breast to speech is an organic evolution of the psyche through which speech is ‘literally’ substituted for the breast.
--Kelly Oliver "Nourishing the Subject"[*]

Milk is the one bodily fluid that is clearly symbolic of all that is clean, fresh, and wholesome.
--M. Potts, R. V. Short Ever Since Adam and Eve[*]

What is the nature of the human breast?

Far from a dryly medical, if not slightly erotic, inquiry, inquiry into the nature of the human breast holds the potential to disrupt unquestioned dominant discourses in our society. The subject of this post is not the mammary gland; and if it were, such inquiry would be only skin deep into “the nature” of the human breast. Rather, the “nature’ of human breasts is a cultural one, a “nature” with a history no younger and clean than the history of “civilization.”

The human breast is a battleground. It is a cultural site at which pervasive dominant discourses in western societies demarcate “nature” from culture and politics, “woman” from man, “Man” from “animal,” spirituality from sexuality, and altruism from self-interest. Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” The powerful emotions that may be evoked by the sight or touch of the breast may not be solely aesthetic; they may also signify deeper subconscious anxieties over our very identities as men, women, humans, animals, straights or queers.