You don’t need a scientist to tell you that guys stare at breasts. (They’ll tell you anyway: Eye-tracking studies show that when looking at women, men spend more time focused on the chest than anywhere else.) Nor is it a secret that some are card-carrying boob men, while others go for a flatter physique. But what might their preferences say about their perception of women?
In a forthcoming study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr. Swami set out to investigate “the way that social factors like sexism can impact people’s judgment of others.” He showed 361 white, heterosexual males a video depicting 3-D models of five women, from the small-breasted to the very well-endowed. After watching the figures rotate 360 degrees on the screen in front of them, the men were asked to rate the one they found most attractive.Next, the men took a survey designed to assess their gender viewpoints. The questions were based on four scales: hostility toward women, attitudes toward women, objectification of women and “benevolent sexism,” which reflects a tendency to idealize traditional gender roles, relegating women to a subservient class—like they’re doing us a favor or something.
Overall—feel free to smile at this—the men most often chose the woman with medium-sized breasts as the most attractive. But—feel free to stop smiling—large and very large breasts beat out small and very small ones, no contest, especially among younger guys. (In a separate experiment, Swami found that men were more attracted to big boobs when they were hungry. Go figure.)
It gets better. The men who were more sexist, hostile and objectifying significantly preferred knockers over mosquito bites. No shock there. But surprisingly, the ones who went the most gaga for gazongas were the benevolent sexists, those gentlemen who believe a lady should be a lady. Evidently, being a lady means sporting an outsized rack.
“This suggests that benevolently sexist men perceive larger breasts as attractive because they associate larger breast size with traditional notions of femininity (i.e., women who are more submissive and less threatening to patriarchal power structures),” says Swami. “I don’t think this finding should be viewed positively. Benevolent sexism is still sexism, with its roots in traditional stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, and it may lead some men to believe that a woman can only be feminine if she has large breasts.”
Particularly troublesome is that men who display benevolently sexist attitudes are likely to perceive their own beliefs as positive—they don’t hate women or wish to denigrate them; they feel that women are to be provided for and protected. Gee, thanks.
Of course, not every guy who falls for a full figure is a sexist pig. But just because the Prince Charmings pulling out our chairs and leaping to hoist our roller-bags into the overhead bin are less vocal about their affinities than the chauvinists and cat-callers doesn’t mean their judgements are any less hurtful. What really matters is that we don’t let it change how we judge ourselves.