I am not up-to-date with theories about women’s breasts; like photography (a mix of light (nature) and writing (culture)) I imagine that breasts are entities which reflect a fusion, an amalgam, of nature and culture. Quite why they remain so beguiling and fascinating I do not know. But they certainly are powerful objects that attract the eye and excite the mind.
Cultures, it seems, manage the experience and meaning of breasts in different ways. And, of the English, some cultural observers and scholars have been moved to say that (we) the English are ‘obsessed’ with breasts. I was alerted to the possibility that, yes, we might be ‘breast-obsessed’ when I read some almost joyous newspaper reports that told us about a recent row over breasts that took place between two very senior women police officers. Apparently the row unfolded in the bar of a Hilton hotel somewhere in England. The two women in question had been attending one of those rather special conferences or conversaziones designed solely for women police officers with the intention of strengthening their profile within a still male-dominated organisation. Professional support of one sort or another would, presumably, be among the goals of the conference.
However, according to the press reports, the two women found themselves arguing over which one had the ‘best breasts.’ I am not sure of the immediate antecedents to the row but it may have had something to so with the fact that police women at these kinds of women-only conferences find time to dress up beautifully and enjoy the pleasures of the transformation from uniform to haute (or not-so-haute) couture. Perhaps there were jealousies over cleavage or shapeliness or whatever criteria people deploy when appreciating and evaluating breasts.
Anyway, the two ladies seem to have got into a ‘fracas’ over the quality of each other’s breasts. The newspapers were quick to point out that a ‘bust-up’ – or rather ‘a bust-out’ episode had occurred.
For a while I enjoyed playing around with some possible headlines to draw attention to this ‘Tale of England’. ‘Tit’s a fair cop’ was a possibility; or, ‘Cops in late-night bra-ney’ or even simply ‘Cops get knockers in a twist’. ‘A bar bra bracas’ was vaguely eye-catching too …
Then, to my surprise I read about the fact that the police hierarchy had gone so far as to suspend one of the police women involved in the ‘best breasts’ dispute. A ‘breast-gate’ was looming; moreover, time would now have to be set aside for conducting some sort of inquiry into the event. I recall that the police organisation in question was deploying the word ‘inappropriate’ in relation to the conduct of at least one of the women. I don’t like the word ‘appropriate’; it’s too vague – and has become almost sinister in its application.
More importantly the fall-out from the dispute strikes me as an unnecessary waste of police resources and police time. Quite simply someone in legitimate authority is merely required to remind the women in question that their role requires them to be extra special about their social behaviour in public places; where possible they should do their best to avoid getting into scrapes that could be seen as discreditable or improper.
This case reminds me of something I faced when I became director of the fast-track promotion programme in the police service. I took my role very seriously: policing in a liberal democracy is a devilishly difficult business and to design a programme that might help develop police leaders for the future challenges of command in our kind of society was immensely demanding. I found that the police officers who attended the programme were splendid people – and to this day I have great respect for them. (All sorts of very silly things are said and written about police by people who have no idea as to how difficult it is to fill the police role and cope with all its contradictions … as well as coping with the arationality of the citizenry.)
However, soon after taking on the directorship of the programme I learned that some of my officers had got themselves into a bit of a pickle. To cut a long story short they had found an SLR camera lying around in one of the residential blocks and, in a mood of Chaucerian ribaldry, had decided to use the camera to take photographs of each other’s bare-naked nether regions. Both sexes were present during the event. They may even have been playing on the theme of Young British Art. Who knows? Once the photographs had been taken the SLR camera was left where they had found it. This was injudicious …
At some point the owner of the camera (a senior officer from another course) retrieved it. He had no idea that his camera had been used illicitly. He later returned home and asked his wife to take the film in the camera to be developed. This she did. She also collected the photographs. She was then more than surprised to find that the developed photographs included images of people’s naked nether regions. Who were these people? Why were they naked? What had her husband been up to? And so the senior police officer a) had to give and account to his wife and b) was obliged to contact the college where the courses took place in order to demand an explanation – and activate a process that might lead to punishment. (Quite severe punishment …)
So what did I do? Well, it was clear to me that the young officers, who by now knew that their high jinks had gone too far and had had an unfortunate outcome, were both worried and remorseful. They knew that they had allowed a serious misjudgement to occur – and were now very anxious about any punitive consequences. (The police organisation is always a bit odd and can sometimes lurch into an almost medieval mindset in both its rhetoric and dispensations of justice.) So, at the first opportunity, I simply reminded the whole course that they needed to be especially aware of the high standards of conduct that their office demanded. The matter was dealt with immediately and wasted very little time. In fact, it provided us all with a way of thinking about the role-obligations of the police; it helped us to think through the ‘escape attempts’ we sometimes make when we are caged or trapped in highly regulated environments.
In short, I think that if two senior police women really did get into a barney over the quality of their breasts – well, they’re human – and in this particular instance – all too human. That’s all.