Onward From The National Geographic Principle

The film critic Roger Ebert gave the name of The National Geographic Principle to the convention that breasts could be shown in magazines and on film provided that they belonged to black or brown “natives”. I have commented elsewhere on how this rule is not quite dead, in that the “avatar” or biotech remote in the Cameron film of that name voiced by Zoe Saldana could bare its breasts while that voiced by Sigourney Weaver could not, even though from the audience’s point of view both were merely CGI.

Thinking more about this, I suddenly realise that in almost every representation of bare-breasted hunter-gatherer societies I have ever seen, the women cover their genitals and the men do not. This does not seem to be a cinematic or other popular convention but the reality, and it occurs to me that I have no idea why. One would expect social anthropology to have addressed the question, but I remain in ignorance of their findings. Or could it be that something that goes so deep in the species that nobody has in fact asked the question?

One might be excused for expecting that it would be the men who cover up more, in that they have equipment of greater prominence. Some societies, however, not only let it all hang out but went to great lengths, no pun intended, to accentuate the penis, particularly in war; if I remember correctly it was New Guineans that used to mount a hollow column on theirs, with guy-ropes to the forehead. So that the warrior (and these guys were always fighting) looked as if he had a humungous erection.

In some hunter-gatherer communities, such as those of the upper Amazon, the women go as naked as the men, but I fancy that the scenario of the grass skirt (or fabric wrap) contra the dangling willy is far commoner. Assuming that this is correct, I ask myself why the female gear should have greater concealment. My Gnostic streak suggests a profound unease with or even guilt about the source of human life. Less radical, perhaps, would be an equally submerged unease with the male role. That is, the men may be proud of their junk and even paint, scarify or (ouch) pierce it, but at the same time they may want to tone down the reminder that they are being led around by the ahem, nose. Whether a grass-skirted tribeswoman is suffering under an evil male dictate or whether she is happy with having her genitalia specially concealed, and if so why, I do not know. I have never caught one to ask.

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 12:44 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: AGAINST NATURE, Against Nature, Miscellaneous

Leave a Reply