Feminists, serious cultural commentators and the average heterosexual man in the street were all astonished last week as a profound and essential report made the headlines.
Cynics might decry the Pleasure State My Fit "Cleavagely Correct" survey as a shallow marketing exercise by a bra manufacturer or question the validity of results where the sample group numbered a mere 500 buxom beauties. However, only puritanical imbeciles or the religiously challenged could remain indifferent to a study which seeks answers to an eternal, fundamental question.
Whether the interest is a matter of sartorial taste or salivating desire, most have an opinion on how much flesh is enough flesh. Should the female baubles quiver like jelly on the plate, simultaneously a symbol of sex and the thing itself? Or should their charms remain hidden, a bulging package of contained delight all the better to stir the imagination?
The prime survey question reflected cutting-edge methodology and the latest thinking in sexuality research. The lucky 500 young ladies were asked "When is it okay for women to show some va-va-voom cleavage, and when is it definitely not okay?"
Admittedly employing the colloquial term "va-va-voom" does seem a little anachronistic to untrained ears. I remember it used by Mike Hammer's Greek sidekick in the 1955 Mikey Spillane adaptation Kiss Me Deadly. That particular character - Nicky was his name - was surely a connoisseur of the female form but it is puzzling how his vernacular has resurfaced some 57 years later in a 21st century quiz about boobie exposure.
If leering men were to be referenced at all I would have thought that Benny Hill would be the man.
Whatever the peculiarities of the questions posed, the results have set off a tidal wave of nationalistic pride.
Apparently the New Zealand woman is far more "cleavagely confident" than her Australian counterpart. Nearly 60 per cent of Kiwi lasses are keen on boosting what nature gave them with some strategically revealing support, twice the number of Ocker slappers willing to thrust their norks into the faces of unsuspecting, patsy males.
Noted patriot and internet darling Charlotte Dawson is reportedly "stunned" at this statistic. Commenting with somewhat tortured grammar, Dawson states that "having lived in Auckland, I would have found New Zealand women far more conservative than Australians in using their breasts".
There was significant consensus among those surveyed as to the best time to display the puppies. The nightclub gets the green light for a whopping 80 per cent of respondents, with other favoured scenarios being a first date (69 per cent), an encounter with an ex-partner (66 per cent), weddings (59 per cent) and - much to my delight, considering the season - the work Christmas party (also 59 per cent). In other words, breasts are thought of as the weapons of flirtation and jealousy, a sensual promissory note or advertisement of what's on offer or what you might be missing out on.
I find it a little strange that "when feeding the baby" didn't feature at all in the reported responses. That kind of biology would seem to come a distant second to the creation of the offspring in the first place.
There are other anomalies in the results.
The time and places thought least conducive to mammary exposure are, in ranking order, when meeting your partner's parents for the first time (82 per cent), the first day of a new job (81 per cent), a job interview with a potential male boss (75 per cent) and family events (75 per cent).
Clearly the correspondents felt that sexualising home and professional life was not a good idea, yet I am not sure these results necessarily reflect actual practice.
I well remember bumping into a female friend at university one day, a strong and articulate feminist not given to wearing skirts. When I asked why she was dressed and made up radically at odds with her usual appearance she replied with a knowing wink that she was off to a promotions interview. Cunning enough to know how the game is played, the lecturer won her promotion that day and has since risen up the academic ranks. Of course the woman's career is no way beholden to her physical looks but she knew enough not to ignore them completely.
I am glad that on the only occasion my young lady met both my late parents her cleavage was very much a salient feature. There was no tut-tutting. In fact, I think Mother, much like the majority of her New Zealand sisters, rather endorsed the "if you've got it, flaunt it" philosophy.
- © Fairfax NZ News