I have heard the word “Boobs” uttered five times this week. Three times by women on TV, once by my female dental hygienist, and once by my 72 year-old female neighbor. I found myself gritting my teeth each time, although in the case of my hygienist that didn’t go well. My questions are these–when did “Breasts” become a dirty word? And if, as a society, we’ve decided to replace it in our social conversations with another word, why is that word as demeaning to women as “Boobs?”
As women, we live most of our lives with our breasts in mind. We checked the mirror anxiously to see if, as everyone kept promising, we were going to grow them as if some sort of turning-point miracle. We protected them from, or bestowed them upon, groping teenaged boys and young men. We evolved from training bras to the engineering marvels at Victoria’s Secret to show the world that we not only had breasts, we had gorgeous ones. Many of us breast-fed babies in an act of nurturing as well as nourishing.
And sadly, many of us have lost one breast–or both–to cancer. Breasts, not boobs. I discovered that I had a strong opinion about the matter when I listened as my 85 year-old mother struggled to talk about her second mastectomy. “It was just a breast,” she said, and then amended it with a laugh, “Just a boob.” Her try at the casual current slang statement, as a way of saying that the loss hardly mattered, broke my heart a little. She had lived a life-time with that breast. Even when she said it herself, hearing it referred to as a “boob” seemed terribly wrong.
I’m a writer, so I looked up “boob” in my Thesaurus. Boob is synonymous with dunce, it told me. With chump, booby, dolt, dolt head, fathead, goof, goon, or lunkhead. This is the word we’ve chosen to embrace in describing one of our most beautiful, defining features?! For me, hearing the word “Boob” calls to mind the cartoon caricature, Betty Boop. Certainly, her breasts are prominently featured. As a cartoon, I guess she can’t be taken too seriously, but aren’t we saying the same thing about ourselves when we discuss our bodies with words not worthy of us?
I can’t imagine many men referring to their penis as “dinky,” or “shorty.” In fact, if anything, I’ve heard a tendency to go in the other direction. “My sword,” you’ll hear, “My weapon.” I’ve yet to meet a woman who defines her breasts as “My weapons,” although I guess that that’s been proven a time or two.
Men have a history of demeaning women and offering up plenty of terms to deny our worth. So you would think it would be only men who referred to our breasts as boobs. Instead, I’ve noticed (in my own very unscientific survey) that women use this term the most. I’ve also noticed that when women refer to their “boobs” they do so with a little self-deprecating laugh, as though down-playing their breasts in word choice down-plays the importance of what they have to say about them.
Why would women choose to use a word that denies our greatness? As women, the last several decades have been about stepping into the world and laying claim to what we feel is our due. Isn’t using, in fact claiming, the word “boob” giving up some of what’s been gained?
So, this is my own “Call to Breasts”.
If we change the cultural language, don’t we change the culture a bit too?
by Janice Lee
Feel ’em up, girls!