The Cleavage Manifesto: One Man’s Thoughts on (Not) Looking at Breasts
If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. After all, I did nothing wrong — we were having a perfectly adequate business transaction, and then suddenly something came between me and the young lady working the counter at The Strand. Well, two things actually: her boobs.
What happened was simple: my nametag-reading was misinterpreted as cleavage-gazing. And although no verbal reproach followed, the look she* gave me was judgment incarnate. Case closed. A glare so frosty I could feel it in my teeth. It was also entirely unwarranted. God as my witness, in this instance I was 100% neutral. The Switzerland of Tits. An impartial party, neither ogling nor attempting to flirt. Although I may have momentarily looked at her chest, I wasn’t looking-looking — I was trying to figure out her name!
But I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always so innocent. The compulsion to look at cleavage is a constant struggle,** as the rewards offered by a stolen glimpse of upper-to-mid-boob are far outweighed by the risk of being viewed as a creep. But controlling the urge is a thankless job; in the history of gender relations, I doubt any woman has ever expressed gratitude for the restraint a dude showed in not copping an ocular feel. And that’s fine! We don’t expect to be thanked just for not being jerks. But how about maybe just quietly giving us a smidge of credit? We’re not monsters and we’re not homunculuses*** blindly flailing our sweaty, disgusting eyes toward any partially exposed breast that comes into view. Don’t we deserve the courtesy of not being under constant suspicion?
Although the incident at The Strand was the first time I was falsely busted (puns!), I often notice women preemptively adjusting themselves at the beginning of a conversation. It seems like a precaution designed to achieve maximum opacity of the rack, and it’s also kind of an insult. (Edith: Wait, as someone who has literally never done this, maybe it’s kind of a you thing? Exuding a boob-gazey, watch-out-for-your-boobs type vibe even when not boob-gazing? Maybe? Anonymous?) (Anonymous: Oh, if it were only that simple! However, anecdotal evidence from other men-folk suggests we’re dealing with an epidemic here, Edith.) (Edith: Anecdotal evidence! I stand corrected.) I was legitimately caught in high school, however, and it was excruciating. It was like blowing up the bathroom and then having a lady walk in. It was like being tricked by Steve Stifler into blowing up the ladies room, and then having several ladies walk in. I deserved it, though, and I learned a valuable lesson. The last thing I want now is to get mistaken for someone who hasn’t yet learned that lesson! That’s like my nightmare of entering the bathroom during a party, finding it recently blown up by someone else, and then making a swift exit only to realize everyone else on line now thinks it was me, and there’s nothing I can say that won’t make me look guiltier. Really, that’s the best way to describe it.
I can’t promise I’ll never look at cleavage again. In fact, I can promise I will totally look at it again, many times, for years to come — whether I’m single, married, or blinded from a physical altercation with an unhinged bookseller. When I do look, though, it’ll only be for a quick appraisal in keeping with a typical outfit-assessment. In fact, I think this is the crux of the issue — that it’s less about whether men happen to glance upon a lady’s mammorial abundance than whether we stare and make her feel uncomfortable. We can all agree that leering is lame, I think, and anyone caught doing so deserves a shame-flogging of the sort I received at The Strand.
As for the rest of us, though, let’s declare a truce. Ladies, you’ve got us pegged — our eyes are naturally drawn to your breasts, and there’s nothing we can do about that. But please give us the benefit of the doubt that we’re really, actually trying to fight it. Instead of assuming we’re a bunch of Peeping Thomases**** constantly scheming about the optimal time and angle to stare at your cleavage, think of us as heroes, bravely running through the flaming house of our own instincts to rescue the burning cargoes that are our dignity and our respect for you.
* Wendy. Her name was Wendy, and considering all the discomfort that finding out this name cost me, I have earned the right to use it.
** We also have to reconcile the fact that we like breasts to the ridiculously obvious oedipal implications of this enjoyment. It really sucks. Do not for one moment think that there is a single one of us who is unaware of these implications.
***** Peeping Thomi?
Anonymous is a guy who is afraid of being fired but wants to tell you his secrets about boobs.