Sunday, October 26, 2008

Opening the Gates of Hell: Blouse Ripping

Women's breasts have always been the symbol of female pride, of female power, of female dominance. Forever at the center of male fantasies and forever fantasied about as long as there have been men on the face of the Earth, the female breast has been concealed from the western eye by dictates of moral, law and honour or shame. Cuvier, the French naturalist, used the female breast to ascertain the unimpeachable superiority of the white race over the black one. Helen of Troy bared her breast in front of Menelaus to gain his pardon. Medieval prieste referred to the lacing on the front of female bodices as the Gates of Hell.

One has just to read Shakespeare's THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (1594), a text frequently considered to depart from the ancient tradition of the rape and revenge story, born from the myth of Philomel and Procne from Book VI of the METAMORPHOSES by the roman poet Ovid, to grasp the importance of the female breast as the center of women's symbolics of power. Consider for instance the following passage, where Lucrece's breasts are described as the "heart of all her land":

His drumming heart cheers up his burning eye,
His eye commends the leading to his hand;
His hand, as proud of such a dignity,
Smoking with pride, march'd on to make his stand
On her bare breast, the heart of all her land;
Whose ranks of blue veins, as his hand did scale,
Left their round turrets destitute and pale.

In fact, Shakespeare lets us know early on that it was Lucrece's ample physical charms, allied to her husband's praise of her as being chaste (and once again we have "Her breasts, like ivory globes circled with blue/A pair of maiden worlds unconquered/Save of their lord no bearing yoke they knew/And him by oath they truly honoured") that inflame Tarquin into taking her by force.

So, is it any surprising that the simple act of ripping open a woman's blouse, shirt or bra has such an universal appeal? Such a titillating potential? Such a symbolic charge? The baring of the female breast is at the same time a manifestation of love (the mother's for the child, the lover's for the lover), a battering down of barriers between spaces that should be separate, or a manifestation of power. I don't very much care for the equation of rape to power, instead of sex, so dear to the extremist feminists like Dworkin or McKinnon. Rape is a much more complex issue, one that can range from a desperate act, to a violent act, through being an erotic game, an erotic fantasy or an evolutionary strategy. But that not withstanding, in fiction - in the realm of the fantasy - there is something to be said for it. And usually, its first step, is the ritualistic ripping open of the victim's blouse.

The baring of the breast.

Opening the Gates of Hell.

Unleashing the demon inside...


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A. Sherman Barros said...

Thanks! That's a great ego-boost coming from someone who has a blog that is something I can only hope mine will be someday...

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