More than a mouthful?
Back to the feminist stuff, as my grandmother would say. I was reading the always thought-provoking Susan Bordo again the other day when I came across her describing the joke about women's breasts, "More than a mouthful is a waste," as sexist and I have to admit, I was surprised. Crude? Yes. Sexist? Well, I never thought of it that way before.
I remember the first time I heard this joke in high school when I was still in the process of lamenting what was quickly becoming obvious--I was taking after my mother and I could hope to fill a B-cup at best when I was older. Coming out of the excessive 80s, it was still assumed when I was in high school in the early 90s that having big breasts was an absolutely necessity for being attractive to men, and I was naturally concerned. Expressing this concern over lunch, one of my girl friends quipped to me that more that more than a mouthful was a waste. We immediately died laughing, and I felt empowered by my friend's confidence in herself and in me.
Explaining jokes takes from the humor, but in this case I think it's important for understanding why the joke doesn't offend me. The joke works by pointing out that the size of breasts are irrelevant for the mechanics of sex, or of breast-feeding for that matter. A boob is a boob is a boob, and the size of said boob doesn't change its function either to the person who owns it or the person that is touching it for whatever reason. I also tend to think it evokes sex-as-intimacy instead of sex-as-conquest, because it's something that's done tenderly and for a woman's pleasure as much as a man's. It's telling to me that while in porn there is no end in sight of surgically enhanced breasts, you rarely see men even put a hand on a breast, much less a mouth. It's no coincidence, either, that breast implants detract from a breast's sensitivity.
The question that bothers me, then, is: Are all sexualized descriptions of women's (or men's) bodies sexist by definition? Is crudeness the same as sexism? Is objectification always sexist? If women feel empowered by objectification the subverts the normalized beauty standards, is that false empowerment?
I'm reminded of the song "Baby Got Back", which charted in no small part because women were enthusiastic about it at well. The song has resonance because it's a big, fat raspberry to the beauty standard of the flat-assed white girl that is not only sexist and racist, but also has little to do with even appealing to men's sexual desires. The white flat-assed beauty standard exists only to terrorize women. Of course, the good humor of the song makes it much more accessible, as is the way that Sir Mix-A-Lot allies himself with put-upon women by making it clear that he feels put upon by pressure to pretend that he is attracted to the "right" women, when he is just not.
I'm not saying that either of these examples are feminist rebellion or anything. In the end, women are still being objectified in a way that men are exempted from. So in that sense, jokes and songs like these are sexist, but more because of the unspoken assumption that men are not to be objectified in this way. (Can you imagine a joke about more than a pussy-ful is a waste? Well, I can but you know what I mean.) But I wouldn't go so far as to put these things in the same category as truly offensive sexist clap-trap like fashion magazines or breast implants, since the point of the joke and of the song is to straightforwardly express that women's bodies are fine the way they are and to rebel against oppressive beauty standards that mean to suck the joy out of sexual interaction and fill it with money-making insecurities.