Seven deadly sins: Breasts on the brain

Anatomy is grueling enough without a gang of unweaned college boys drooling over the specimens

Published December 9, 1998 11:12AM (EST)

I told the professor I was dropping anatomy because I had too much on my
plate, but the real reason had to do with breasts. Or more precisely,
guys' obsession with breasts.

It took me a while to discover this. Each morning for two weeks, I'd stand in the shower cataloging the reasons I should drop the class. I have a hard time motivating at 7 a.m. and the prospect of dead cats in trays wasn't much of an incentive; the dissection room smelled, well, let's call it "organic" -- and I don't mean organic the way health food stores use the term; the cats were soon replaced by disembodied human arms and legs strewn about, reminiscent of
wreckage from the Nova Scotia plane crash; and the professor had an annoying
habit of using old songs as mnemonics like, "Puuut your head on (snap) my
del-toid." Still, I figured I'd chug through the semester.

It was after a harrowing rendition of "Thanks for the Mammaries" that the
breast issue arose. Dr. T gets a big kick out of imparting titillating but
freakish trivia, as if he dreamed of being Jerry Springer but knew
becoming a professor was a more respectable choice. He had just finished
telling us about people who lack belly buttons (they're there, but they come
out through the urogenital region), when he projected onto the screen a woman
with eight -- count them, eight -- breasts. I'd seen a picture like this many
years ago in a literature class on H.G. Wells -- we were reading "The Island of
Dr. Moreau" -- but that was a half-animal fantasy creature, and this was, quite
distinctly, a real human woman. I kept studying the slide to see if I could
detect a bad cropping job like the photos in the National Enquirer with
Oprah's head on Halle Berry's body alongside the claim that she's lost 60 pounds again. But
the slide looked remarkably realistic, in a horrifying sort of way.

A nervous giggle filled the room. The women on both sides of me instinctively glanced away. Dr. T was droning on about how having multiple breasts is a perfectly natural phenomenon, but I couldn't really hear him because of the sighs and coughing and general discomfort growing in volume and echoing off the ceiling. Then, out of the blue, some guy in the last row yelled, "Would you look at those hooters!"

Fifty heads turned to the back of the room where three guys with baseball caps pulled over their eyes were giving each other high-fives. They sat up straight and tried to look serious when Dr. T addressed them: "Could you please, gentlemen, try to contain your enthusiasm for the subject matter of today's lecture? If not, I'm going to have to ask that you not attend tomorrow's discussion of the female pelvic region."

After class, the guys in question immediately began their own discussion of
the female pelvic region, but the subject quickly returned to breasts. While
the women seemed repulsed by what they had just seen, the guys seemed, well,
turned on. It's not that I'm naive -- I know that many men are on some level obsessed with breasts, but I always thought it was quality and not quantity that mattered. I, for example, wear an A-/B+ bra, which is a pretty good GPA but not a very good cup size. The guys in high school always went for the girls with the C cups and the C grades, and I'm just realizing the correlation now. In any event, it was due to this particular male fascination that breast implants became a highly profitable cottage industry, and living in Los Angeles, I'm perfectly aware of how important breasts can be.

What struck me about the incident in anatomy class, though, was how
permissible such a blatantly offensive comment seemed in an academic setting.
In advertisements, at bars and in the workplace, breasts are subconsciously,
subtly and secretly ogled, but nowhere is this obsession so completely out in
the open than in the hormonally charged confines of a college campus. Here,
guys don't even pretend not to stare; they impulsively express their drives
aloud; and PC, if it rings a bell at all, refers simply to a machine in the
computer lab.

I long ago accepted men's relationship with breasts as a fact of life, but I
was deeply disturbed by this new fascination with breasts en masse. With only
two hands and one mouth, what could a single guy possibly do with eight
breasts anyway? I asked Mike, the student who had called everyone's attention
to the hooters, about this. "Chicks don't understand," he explained.
"Breasts are like, you know ..." Mike's not an English major, so I helped
him out. "Beautiful?" I offered. Mike nodded and added, "And you can bury
your head in them." "How Freudian," I sighed, but Mike gave me a quizzical
look. Obviously, he's not a psychology major either. "The Louvre is
beautiful, too," I said, "but I don't need eight of them to appreciate its
beauty. What's so exciting about eight breasts?" Mike didn't need help
answering that question. "Look," he said, smiling to his friends with the baseball caps, "men have certain needs. We're like, insatiable. I mean, it might sound obnoxious, but it's because of our biology. We can't help it, you

That night, I complained to my friend Zipora about men's most irritating
quality -- bravado. It was perfectly obvious to me that Mike -- whose beard
consists of a few straggly hairs -- wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do
with an eight-breasted woman. I'd like to take credit for this, but Zipora
came up with a plan.

"Hey, Mike," I said the next day before anatomy. "I was thinking about what
you said yesterday, and I have a friend who has four breasts." "Get out!" he
replied. "No, I'm serious, I brought her to school today. Wanna meet her?"
Before Mike could respond, his friends started chanting, "Meet her, meet her,
meet her," and Mike had no choice but to agree. Then, from behind a nearby
tree, out walked Zipora, wearing two bras containing what looked like four
breasts. At the sight of them, Mike and his friends made a mad dash for the
lecture hall. I guess they didn't want to see my friend's hooters after all.

I know what I did was immature, but in this environment of frat boys who brag about who got laid and who puts out and who has big hooters, maybe humiliating these guys the way they humiliate their female counterparts wasn't such a bad thing. Or maybe I just needed an excuse to drop anatomy.

By Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb's new book, "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self," an L.A. Times best seller, has been optioned for film by Martin Scorsese. She is a first-year medical student at Stanford.

MORE FROM Lori Gottlieb

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Academia Books College