Popping in for a jug or two
Sunday May 11, 2008
By Nicola Shepheard New Zealand Herald
It is, perhaps literally, a no-brainer. Most men like looking at naked breasts. Many women wonder why. Those in the business of making money out of mammaries are happy to exploit the mystery.
Take Jo Hanna, the 50-something female manager of a South Auckland bar which ignited a brouhaha by introducing topless waitresses on Thursday nights.
Waitresses at Jo's Place, in a suburban shopping centre, have taken off their tops since March.
Councillors have denounced the stunt as "tacky and demeaning", and inappropriate for a shopping centre.
"Excuse me," says an unrepentant Hanna, "but we are now getting naked newsreaders. What about all the pole-dancing bars in the USA? It's everywhere.
"We're not breaking the law. These girls aren't getting mauled or pawed. Okay, they're getting ogled, but nothing untoward goes on. It's just a gimmick to get patrons to come in."
And it's working: turnover has trebled.
Over at Alt TV, station managers are planning to welcome thousands of new viewers when their Naked News show starts this month.
Why, if half the population has them, are naked breasts still such a sought-after commercial commodity?
"It's primitive, instinctual, we're never going to change it," says Hanna, who adds her waitresses come in all shapes and sizes and are welcomed equally by her male clients.
"Men just appreciate being able to freely ogle the girls."
She's right, says Canterbury University social psychologist Garth Fletcher. The sex appeal of breasts has an innate, biological basis.
Fashionably full boobs can point to underlying health, and therefore fertility, in the same way a large peacock tail - while cumbersome and a target for predators (as any big-breasted woman can attest) - indicates good health.
But as your average man will tell you, a woman's well-being is not what he's thinking of when he ogles her cleavage. And anthropologists say it's the concealment that fuels the titillation - not the fact that breasts are there.
Social anthropologist Graeme Macrae from Massey University says societies where breasts are exposed in daily life do not share the Western fascination with boobs.
He says both men and women in Balinese society in the early 20th century went topless - and the erotic zone was the sarong-covered upper thigh.
"No one made a big fuss about breasts," he says. "But if you're looking for just one man's anthropological viewpoint, I think the interest comes from that line between what's being exposed and what's being concealed ... plunging necklines and cleavage are much more interesting than someone completely topless."
Macrae is not alone when he says the male fixation on boobs is "very peculiar". New Zealand's only 'braologist" - Bendon bra expert Carol Rashleigh - sees dozens of pair of breasts each week and says she has "no idea" why exposing them is still worth a lot of money.
"I can tell you we've debated that point so many times and I just don't have an answer," she says.
"Even when you tell people you work for Bendon, they're like 'ooooo' ... I've seen more boobs than you've had hot dinners and I might get a bit blase about it, but no one else seems to."
Back at Jo's Place, the punters were packed in on Thursday night. While Jo Hanna is musing about men's mother syndrome, the Venus de Milo and Edwardian pornography, the blokes are playing pool and ordering their beers from the girl with no top on.
"They're just letting their hair down with their buddies and freely ogling the girls," says Hanna.
"I just think it's such a relief for them to be able to look at a woman's breasts and not have to pretend they're not."