That engineer Darwin got in to do evolution has some explaining to do

It is the section on breasts that has drawn criticism, after writer and blogger Simon Ragoonanan, who blogs about fatherhood at Man vs Pink, posted a page from the book on Facebook. “What are breasts for?” writes Frith in the extract. “Girls have breasts for two reasons. One is to make milk for babies. The other is to make the girl look grown-up and attractive. Virtually all breasts, no matter what size or shape they end up when a girl finishes puberty, can do both things.”

Breasts are indeed a secondary sexual characteristic of post-pubertal women. They thus do signify having grown up. They are also a sexual attraction. So, the complaints must be about the milk, right? Because our close cousins, the apes, have their milk glands in the same place, obviously, but not breasts. Thus the function of the breasts is not milk but perhaps the age marker, perhaps the sexual attraction.

Or maybe something else entirely.

“This just seemed awful and completely unjustifiable,” Ragnoonanan told the Guardian. “Usborne are serial offenders in peddling gender stereotypes to kids.”

Oh, no, look, the complaints aren’t about that at all.

But Nicholls said that describing the “other” purpose of breasts – “to make the girl look grown-up and attractive” – was “extremely problematic”, because it “reinforces the sexualisation of breasts which makes girls and women self-conscious”.


Look, the underlying question here is why do human women have breasts and our close cousins not? No, it’s not the milk functionality. So, what is it? The apes do get swellings when the mlik glands are in use, but not normally. So, why?

It’s like trying to understand human sexuality without grasping the difference between oestrus and the menstrual cycle. You’re just not going to get to the right answer until you explain these differences.

22 thoughts on “That engineer Darwin got in to do evolution has some explaining to do”

  1. Note that Usborne has already caved in to the arseholes on this.

    Don’t do anything foolish like checking out Ragoonanan’s blog. I did and nearly vomited over my screen.

  2. Once again demonstrating the fundamental difference between left and right.

    The left views the world in terms of how it would like it to be; the right in terms of how it is.

    Thatcher’s “the rules of life are conservative” was a corollary of this.

    The same phenomenon explains the utter disfunctionality of most government intervention.

  3. Another clue – male gorillas have large pecs, male chimps have large testicles, male humans have a relatively large penis.
    Male gorillas, chimps and humans have different forms of competition and different sex lives.

  4. Actually if you read the quote from Usborne at the very end they don’t say they will be changing anything. It’s more like sorry you were offended and we’ll review the wording.

    Sounds like a sophisticated corporate media way of saying Piss off Snowflakes, of which I approve.

  5. I did hear an interesting theory that since we (evolutionarily speaking) stood up, the arse played less of a role in sexual attraction. Thereafter natural selection preferred those with an “arse” on their chest since it was much more noticeable than the but.

    Both work for me anyhoo.

  6. Following on from Rob, Desmond Morris covers this in his book “The Naked Ape”. His view is that it is all down to pair bonding, and maintaining the males interest, making sure that females are attractive all the time, rather than just when, as it were, on heat. This is necessary, because the human baby is so helpless, so survival depends on the males hanging around, rather than disappearing.

  7. @Firefoxx – “Usborne apologises for any offence caused by this wording and will be revising the content for reprinting.”

    Revise, not review ie change.

    @Rob – I wondered if that was the case. Women have decorative breasts while less upright primates have decorative bottoms.

  8. Of course, they’re not going to get to the right answer. They don’t want the right answer. They just want an answer that doesn’t offend the lefties.

  9. Dear Mr Worstall

    Should make for a few extra sales of the book. Publicity like that costs quite a lot if you have to pay for it.


  10. This makes me think of the aversion therapy scene from Tom Sharpe’s Indecent Exposure in which white South African policeman are shown pictures of black women while having electric shocks applied to their genitals so that they would associate black women with pain and stop lusting after them.

    Clearly all young boys will need to be subjected to similar treatment while looking at pictures of breasts in order to stop them gender stereotyping breasts. This is bollocks and contrary to nature, we certainly do not have to teach our sons to view breasts sexually, Mother Nature does that for us.

  11. “reinforces the sexualisation of breasts which makes girls and women self-conscious”

    SO . . . girls and women have psychological problems.

  12. Female breasts have a function not a ‘purpose’ or ‘reason’…purpose/reason implies design so we end up with God not Darwin.

    Breasts swell during pregnancy so indicate fertility. Males want fertile mates to propagate their genes, so breast shape being an indicator of this is a signal that attracts males.

    There is no ‘purpose’ or ‘reason’ it is just how it is; a byproduct of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution and natural selection.

  13. I saw a programme once in which a girl was just starting to transition. The thing that struck me was she said, as soon as she started testosterone injections then she noticed breasts everywhere, whereas before they were just background. I certainly notice breasts everywhere. Powerful stuff this testosterone.

  14. Following up to the to the quartet of posts: the 6th — the 9th: Not the first acquaintance you should have with the excellent voice actor but, *sigh*, so be it: enjoy, the ebullient elucidation of the matter.

    (It’s subtitled, as the spoken dialogue is Spanish-with-the-usage-of-consonants, but how many people here just leave them turned on? ‘Subtitles’ that is? Just gotten tired of the soundwork on modern productions/T.V.. Especially as a few commenters travel widely, do country-hop; like giant trans-continental bunnies.)

  15. The Naked Ape is largely rubbish, even chimps can fake it.
    How many women pretend to have an orgasm just to get it over with.
    Oestrus at the perfect time (GMT) would be about Christmas. No evidence I’ve seen that September births are higher than other months. So monthly is a bit of a puzzle.
    Bring on the harvest festival.

  16. @ My own post’s second half, as I think I’m insane whenever I read the last sentence back:

    When what you’ve written is little more than mental hopscotch* of the spontaneously constructed variety: don’t post it.
    Now let’s see if I can make that piece of self advice operative over time. It shouldn’t be too hard.
    *Or (aquatic) stepping stones. But is there a verb for that?

    Whysoever I was thinking that foreign lands broadcasted their televisual programmes with English subtitle tracks is… just proof that most things in life start out unrefined; thoughts especially.

    And to purely turn my already present mere question into a more mannered form: I did get in to the habit of leaving them on for a while but since broke it. Sometimes you do wonder what the sound people were doing, whether they’d tested the soundtrack with an audience unfamiliar with the script. Having had subtitles in front of you for a while does create an odd impatience waiting for the characters to speak after you turn them off.

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