This is a word about which it would be possible to generate many bad puns, thereby making an ass of oneself and becoming the butt of jokes. The subject matter—and the rather beautiful form of the word itself—has lent itself to adoption by word-hungry authors, even though the first recorded use was only in 1880. Thomas Pynchon wrote in Gravity’s Rainbow: “Those dusky Afro-Scandinavian buttocks, which combine the callipygian rondure observed among the races of the Dark Continent with the taut and noble musculature of sturdy Olaf, our blond Northern cousin”. Its origin is in Greek kallipugos, used to describe a famous statue of Aphrodite; that comes from kallos, beauty (as in calligraphy, or callisthenics, or the lily called hemerocallis) plus puge, buttocks.
One of the trickiest things to accomplish for American women of the 1990's is successfully attracting worthy partners for purposes of breeding. While this may not be uppermost in women's minds when they go through their mundane daily tasks of applying make-up or donning their togs, it is a subject always close to the surface. Are they preparing effectively for the task that is set for them by an often capricious mother nature? The physical areas women spend most preparation time with is usually their faces. As the part of the body most often presented to the public, it would make sense that it is an important feature with which to take extra care. But a survey of available research and a look at cultural data may indicate that women should spend more time and take more care with other facets of their physical selves.
". . . efforts might be more productively spent on their breasts and buttocks."
An informal poll conducted among thirty-five male steelworkers, concerning what attracts them to women, asked them to rate, in order of importance, the female body parts or areas that most intrigued them. Just over half (eighteen) pronounced themselves to be breast men, and of those, twelve rated buttocks as second on their lists, and four chose legs. Just two opted for the face. Of the remaining seventeen men in the group, nine preferred buttocks, and five embraced the legs, with only one of the total group not having an opinion ("None of your damn business," was the way he phrased it). That left just two who professed a preference for the face. Among the sixteen non-breast men who had an initial opinion, eleven fingered breasts as their second choice, three buttocks, one the face, and one had no other preferences; "The ass is it; that's it," he said. When the question was rephrased to ask what first gets their attention when women are walking toward them and then away from them, the first choice, by a wide margin, was breasts (twenty-five), followed in order by hips (pelvic region)(five), face (three), and legs (one). When walking away, the response was overwhelmingly in favor of buttocks (thirty-two), followed by legs (two) with one subject electing the calves (Alsman).Based on the amount of men who chose breasts and buttocks as their first or second choice, it would seem women are working needlessly long hours on their faces when their efforts might be more productively spent on their breasts and buttocks (see Appendix).
". . .tended to rate breasts, thighs, and buttocks as 'most important. . .'"
It is entirely possible neither sex conciously knows what it is that attracts men to women. In a study conducted by William Griffitt, several males were exposed to photographs of nudes and were asked to rate them by various criteria. The men who were highly sexually aroused and generally positive tended to rate breasts, thighs, and buttocks as "most important in determining their initial sexual attraction to females." Men who were highly negative toward the models (though equally sexually aroused) rated breasts and the total body unattractive, but found the models' eyes and buttocks highly attractive (298). (The steelworkers never mentioned eyes as an attractant, but they were not shown any photographs and were commenting extemporaneously). It is interesting that men unattracted to the models would single out those features as appealing rather than breasts. This could possibly be a clue to what is really going on in men's subliminal minds. An explanation for this phenomenon might be hinted at by the Zoologist, Desmond Morris.
". . .the human female is almost always in a sexually capable condition . . ."
In his book The Naked Ape, Morris speculates that, as humans evolved from the other primates and began to walk upright, the human female breasts became fleshy and round. This was not due to a biological need to feed children. Females of other primate species are flat chested and have no problems feeding their offspring or attracting mates. But these other primates, as our ancestors most certainly did, use buttock presentation to indicate when they are ready to breed. Since the human female is almost always in a sexually capable condition, the breasts would seem to have become an ever-present sexual display and a form of "self mimicry" as they are intended to frontally duplicate the female's own round fleshy buttocks, a trait also not found in other primates and one to which the human male had already become conditioned (74-75).
". . .men . . .would still be aroused by primordial urges when presented with . . . buttocks . . ."
At least as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period, men honored their women in art. Commonly,these depictions were in the form of what archaeologists refer to as "Venus figures." These small sculptures were often "representations of corpulent women whose secondary sexual characteristics (their breasts and buttocks) were given special prominence, though their faces, feet, and arms were completely neglected" ("Female"). If Desmond Morris' theory is accurate it could explain why men who are unattracted to some women would still be aroused by primordial urges when presented with their buttocks, as they were in the Griffitt study. It would further explain the erotic value of the breasts as "buttocks by proxy" and elucidate the results of the steelworker interviews. This could also be an indicator to women as to what they should be concentrating on to attract the best possible variety of males when preparing for breeding opportunites; they should be striving for the ideals represented by the Callipygian Venus.
". . . she pulls her toga up around her waist to show she isn't even wearing knickers . . ."
The Oxford English Dictionary states "callipygian" is a combination of Greek words meaning "stem of beauty" (calli) and buttocks (pyge). It further defines it as "of, pertaining to, or having well shaped or finely developed buttocks." The Callipygian Venus is a famous statue found in the Museo Nationale in Naples, Italy ("Callipygian Venus"). The Encyclopedia of World Art describes its name as meaning " . . . she who is showing the charms of her uncovered buttocks" ("Sex" 12: 904). And that is exactly what she appears to be doing as she pulls her toga up around her waist to show she isn't even wearing knickers and looks over her shoulder as if to say "you ever seen a set of buttocks that looks any better than this, my friend?" Her vanity is justified as the exposed anatomy proves to be every bit as enticingly and magnificently firm, smooth, round, fresh, young, and succulent looking as could ever be formed by a mere mortal man in a material so unsuitable as the finest marble on Earth (whew) ("Sex" 12: plate 564). In fact, it is such an attractive posterior that this could explain why "callipygian" has become exclusively attached to the feminine gender. While the definition of the word does not exclude males, it has never come to be used in reference to them. The male buttocks do not seem to have the same breadth of cultural meaning to humans as those of the female's. The main social importance of male buttocks has been in the area of administered justice.
". . .the gluteal area is totally bloody before the second stroke is ever applied ."
Someone who lives in Singapore might think of buttocks as a scapegoat. Corporal punishment is the norm in Singapore where martial arts experts administer judicially ordered canings to around one thousand people (two-thousand buttocks) annually ("Bush"). Americans, at least Americans in the 1990's, have mixed feelings about this activity. When an eighteen year old American boy, Michael Fay, was caught vandalizing automobiles in Singapore, he was sentenced to be publically flogged with six strokes of a cane. Ex-president George Bush described the act as brutal, but thought criticism of Singapore would be counter-productive ("Bush"). President Clinton felt the punishment was extreme, and his intervention got the sentence reduced to four strokes ("Singapore"). That was America's official position, but the opinions of the literate masses differed. The Ohio Dayton Daily News and Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune both reported their mail from readers was overwhelmingly in favor of the canings, and also in favor of bringing this type of punishment into the American system of law (qtd. in "Nation"). A caning to the buttocks is particularly gruesome. Administration of the first stroke breaks the skin, and the gluteal area is totally bloody before the second stroke is ever applied ("Nation"). It seems noteworthy that this was happening to a male citizen, and it would be interesting to hear the public's reactions if the offender had been female.
". . .too akin to paddling their breasts . . ."
Corporal punishment in various American school systems is still quite controversial, if allowed at all. As someone who spent twelve years in an American public school that allowed paddling for minor offenses, I can say that I remember only two occasions when female students were victims of this justice, and those events caused quite a stir at the following Parent-Teacher Association meetings. The paddling of male students was an event that occured almost weekly without comment. If Morris is correct in his analysis, then, perhaps the paddling of girls' buttocks is too akin to paddling their breasts for most people's comfort. Psychologically, then, male and female buttocks would be seen as two completely different anatomical structures and explains why "callipygian" could refer to the one and not the other.
". . .women . . .could enhance their reproductive opportunities immensely . . ."
Another surprising finding in the Griffitt study, which exemplifies the special difficulty unattractive women may face in snaring suitable sires for their offspring, concerns the different perceptions men have when they are sexually aroused and when they are not. This study found that women seen as unattractive in all their particulars by sexually unaroused males were viewed even more negatively by those who were sexually aroused. They interpret this to mean that " . . . undesirable characteristics are more salient and, thus, more aversive to sexually aroused male subjects" (298). Unlike the situations when men are negative but still find value in otherwise unappealing women's buttocks, physically unattractive women are seen to have no redeeming qualitities whatsoever. With the evidence of the importance men place on buttocks, directly and by proxy, it is unmistakable that women, especially those who are unsightly, could enhance their reproductive opportunities immensely through renovations of their sterns.
". . .straddle presses. . . butt blasters. . . pelvic tilts. . . sissy squats. . ."
Women's magazines expend a lot of print on tecniques for refurbishing and maintaining the buttocks through physical fitness, but they never seem aware of the importance of buttocks to the propagation of the human race. While advocating such medeival sounding tortures as squeezes, power lunges, donkey kicks ("Brand New Butt"), straddle presses, leg presses, side leg-lifts, butt blasters, stationary lunges, alternating lunges, pelvic tilts ("Amazing Butt"), weighted ball routines, static contractions (Cardozo), freehand jump squats, single leg lifts, barbell stiff-legged deadlifts, kneeling back kicks(Zinczenko), hip abductions, hip adductions, walking lunges, and sissy squats (Miller) -- the only benefits they tout are improved self-esteem and a more stable carriage.
". . . beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness is to the bone."
The "quest" for the callipygian ideal, while present in American culture, is usually cloaked under different terms and headings. Rather than refer to the buttocks in a sexual way, it is often done in relation to general physical fitness. Perhaps the Anglo-Saxon sense of humor which sees everything relating to the butt as cause for jocularity, keeps women from taking it seriously. However, American women's concentration on facial beautification may have more to do with commercial causes than misguided instincts. No large or small cosmetics companies have produced posterior cheek blush, age-defying buttock cream, or an overnight gluteal mask and applied the superb marketing skills American industry can bring to bear. This could very well be an excellent niche market for enterprising individuals. It shouldn't be a difficult sell in this age of commercialized feminine hygiene products. What's important is to give to those women perceived to be ghastly in appearance the same opportunities to experience the fulfillment and joy of child-bearing as afforded to acceptable looking women. It is also vital to subdue the prejudice men have regarding beauty that reverts back to their school days when they learned, and believed, that beauty is only skin deep, but ugliness is to the bone.
See 'Works Cited'
NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR ON THE STEELWORKER INTERVIEWS
The composition of the interviewees cannot be said to be a representative group of men because there was not enough diversity. Of the thirty five, thirty-one were millwrights (mechanics) and four were welders. They are all employees in the Steelmaking Mechanical Department at Bethlehem Steel's Burns Harbor Plant in Indiana. The age ranged from thirty-seven to fifty-eight years with one exception; a welder who was seventy-two years old. Twenty-nine of the respondents were White, five were African-American, and one was Hispanic.
The interviews took place in the Steelmaking Mechanical lunch room over the course of one day. The participants were told to imagine a woman dressed in a fairly conservative manner with a mid-plunge-neck sweater and a snug but not tight fitting skirt approximately three inches above her knees and were further told that "vagina" would not be an acceptable answer. The interviews can in no way be said to have been confidential as the lunch room is quite public and everyone was taking an interest in the total proceedings. In some ways the findings may be skewed because of undue influence by the bystanders. Surprisingly, over twenty men had been interviewed before anyone suggested that "nipples" would be an appropriate response. Upon this revelation, almost every respondent declared that when nipples could be seen bulging through a garment then that was what totally riveted their attention, and several of them wanted to change their answers. I eventually had to disallow the answer and make them understand that they had to keep in mind a woman with no nipples to be seen. The two men who refused to budge from the response of nipples were assigned to the breast category.
This survey is anything but scientific and I have no way of knowing what degree of accuracy it represents, though, I suspect it is not good. However, it dove-tailed nicely with my pre-conceived notions so I have to consider it an excellent source for my purposes.
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Alsman, Kensey. Survey. 27 Nov. 1995.
"An Amazing Butt." Madamoiselle July 1994: 128.
"Bush Criticizes Caning but Likes Singapore." New York Times 1 Apr. 1994: 4 1-2.
"Callipygian." Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.
"Callipygian Venus." Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language. 2nd ed. 1960.
Cardozo, Constance. "The Tightest Thighs Ever -- Guaranteed." Self June 1994: 162.
Griffitt, William. "Sexual Stimulation and Sociosexual Behaviors."
Love and Attraction: An International Conference. Ed. Mark Cook and Glenn Wilson. London: Pergamon Press, 1979.
"How To Get A Brand New Butt." McCall's March 1995: 34.
"Female Fertility Dieties." Encyclopedia Britannica On Line. 1995. http://www.eb.com.
Miller, Pamela. "Build Up, Slim Down, Break Out." Self Sep. 1995: 156.
Morris, Desmond. The Naked Ape. New York: McGraw Hill 1970.
"Nation." The [Valparaiso, IN] Vidette Messenger 3 Apr. 1994: 5A 1-3.
"Sex and Erotica." Encyclopedia of World Art. 1968.
"Singapore." Encyclopedia Britannica On Line. 1995. http://www.eb.com.
"The World Class Butt." Glamour May 1993: 270.
Zinczenko, David. "Butt, Seriously." Men's Health May 1994: 88.
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copyright© 1996, - Kensey AlsmanPosted by tstubbs at December 01, 2003 11:22 PM