A Wondersox response to National Cleavage Day

A Wondersox response to National Cleavage Day

Date: January 1, 1970
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So, National Cleavage Day has come and gone. In protest, some women buttoned up, in support some buttoned down, while others forgot entirely and avoided the debate and world of questions I?m wading through now.

So, National Cleavage Day has come and gone. In protest, some women buttoned up, in support some buttoned down, while others forgot entirely and avoided the debate and world of questions I’m wading through now.
But before we get to that, a little history lesson. National Cleavage Day, I’ve been told, was started as a ‘sneaky marketing campaign’ for Wonderbra, and has been running in South Africa for the last two years. No-one has been able to explain to me how a marketing campaign became a national day of celebration, and I’m a little suspicious of this origin, but still one notable feature is that proceeds from the day, go toward breast cancer treatment, research and awareness programmes. Something I am always in full support of. Having said that… I’m going to bypass what it does for combating cancer and instead try to understand what people think it does for gender rights. Two notably different things.
You see, recently, on the Agenda newsletter and website, a bra snapped and out popped the biggest debate on the objectification of women since Gender Links’ Strip the Backpage Campaign. It all came down to two questions. Should South Africans, women and men alike, use this day as a celebration of womanhood: of all the sexuality, sensuality, beauty and (most importantly) choices women possess? Or should women and gender activists be kicking themselves for letting something like National Cleavage Day pass under the radar and allowing it to further objectify and degrade women? I guess, at its root, the question is: Does this day create pride, or insecurity and fear in the majority of women in our country?
The problem might lie in the terms. You see, cleavage, by any other name, is not as beautiful or problematic: ‘breasts’ was already commandeered by the Breast Cancer Awareness planners in October; mammary is too clinical; and the unavoidable titties, hooters, boobies, melons, knockers and headlights are words seldom spoken or owned by women. Which finally leaves us with ‘milk-delivery devices’, which is a mouthful and not likely to make anyone want to look while they celebrate their function. So, cleavage then – despite being loaded with sexual and sexist connotations – is what we are left with. A day dedicated to the little triangular space between orb and orb.
Which brings us to the debate. Does this little space give men a justifiable excuse to look? And by the looking, does this mean they do/will objectify women? Is there a threat in this objectification? What about lesbians and bisexuals? If men can look and in this looking objectify, then would this mean the same for women who love and look at women? And is there a threat in that too? What about the women who dress (sparingly) for this day? Are they objectifying themselves, and if so, are they allowing the world to objectify and degrade them?
But no-one, in the debate I witnessed, was fighting against the women who look at other women, or the women who make the choice to look at themselves and then showcase their assets: the debate centred solely on the reaction of men. It focused only on men who will look and who will think they are justified, on this day, to do more than comment and look. Note: there was very little discussion about men’s choices on this day. Men, it seems, have only one expected form of behaviour, which is to leer, make crude comments, lean over and pinch through the boundaries of acceptable personal space and just generally be, excuse the much loved cliché, chauvinistic pigs. Now you can call me naïve if you wish, but I do think this argument hinges on implying that men have no choice in the way they behave when faced with luscious temptation. As a result women must, as always, behave defensively and not allow the men to be tempted in the first place. But, hang on, this is starting to sound familiar. Is this not the same socio-cultural and religious argument we as gender activists have been fighting against since the birth of Feminism?
“Women…”, it was shouted below burning bra’s, (a campaign probably not started by Wonderbra’s marketing department) “must have, take and be given more power and must not be controlled in any way by men.”
But now, a revolution later, they seem to be controlling us again through our own expectations of how they might behave. What ever choice you make on this day, you can’t win. If you celebrate: you are letting women down and perpetuating a cycle of objectification and abuse. If you don’t you are allowing men’s potential behaviour to influence your decisions. By not celebrating, you are saying, on some level, “if I allow men to see my cleavage, then I am encouraging and justifying the way he will behave toward me”. Which, if I think about it, is not such a far cry from saying, if I wear a mini-skirt, I will be raped. I’m not saying this mindset doesn’t exist. Some men do rape, and will look for justification of their behaviour in any place they can find it, whether it be a day dedicated to cleavage, or a mini skirt you have every right to wear. What I am saying, is that the cleavage day debate is not about how men will behave. It’s about the fact that women are basing their choices on the way they think men will behave.
In many ways, the choice we make to hide or showcase ourselves on National Cleavage Day, says more about women than it does men, and from what I have seen… women still give a lot of power to men because of the fear and distrust they show over an issue involving women’s sexuality.
I think the only safe way forward is to balance the scales and allow men to have their own day too. All those women who feel men objectify them will have a chance to officially objectify men. It’ll work for everyone. Women will be happy, gay men will be happy, the wonderboxers of men’s underwear world will be happy. It seems the only cost of this equality, is that some men might feel a little insecure and wear an extra pair of socks on this day – (we could call these wondersoxers and start an entirely new revolution). I even have potential names for the day and all the proceeds can go to testicular cancer research. We can call it, “Hung-like-a-horse Day” or “National Codpiece Day.”
Christine Davis is the Writing Programme Coordinator at the Agenda Feminist Media Project based in South Africa. For more information about Agenda please go to www.agenda.org.za, or contact Agenda on +27 031 304 7001.
Alternatively you can email Christine on editorial@agenda.org.za
 This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. janine@genderlinks.org.za for more information.

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